Sneaker Waves

The Moment of Impact by a Sneaker Wave
The moment of impact by the sneaker wave

Sneaker waves.

Waves that sneak up on you, generally during or just after a big storm.

Frankly, I did not pay too much attention to the Ranger’s warning.  I figured that no way was I going to get smacked by one of these waves…after all, I would be careful and vigilant when walking the beach.

Well, until Sunday, October 12, that is.  My wife, Dee Dee, and our dog, Charlie, had been walking up and down the beach for a couple of hours and had seen a few come in…we almost got hit a few times, but managed the scurry out-of-the-way (the dog was not as lucky.)  No big deal, really.

However, later in the afternoon I was out back on the beach, by myself, carrying my camera on a tripod.  Attached to the camera was an electronic cable release (see caption under photograph.)  I had on my well-worn favorite baseball hat and a hooded sweatshirt, the kind with the hand-warmer pouch in the front.  In the pouch was an adjustable neutral density filter and my 25-year-old Honeywell spot meter.  My phone was in my right-hand pants pocket.

What happened next brought me about as close to drowning as I can remember.

The tide was on the way in, with a big storm still raging out at sea.  There was a lot of surge and foam, great stuff for some maybe-good images.    I was walking high on the beach, near lots of huge logs and stumps.  And I was watching out for sneakers.  I never turned my back on the ocean.  Never.  Never say never, I guess, for suddenly this 2′ high wave came ROARING in…before I had any time to get out-of-the-way.  It washed over my tripod, on its way to dislodge almost every log on the beach above me.    The force this thing carried was immense.  I managed to stay standing for a couple of seconds, but then another, bigger, wave hit me above the knees and knocked me against the now-floating logs, some of them more than 18″ in diameter.

Then, I went down – hard – on my left side.   I held my tripod and camera up in the air, just as one the big logs started slowly rolling towards me and then knocked me into the surf.  Picture some guy on his back in the waves with a camera and tripod stiff-armed up in the air.  I hit so hard that my favorite hat flew off and vanished in the waves and foam…gone forever.  For a second I was sure the log was going to roll on top of me when the wave went eventually receded – I really thought it was over because the beach was virtually empty – there was no one around if that log came over me.  There is a very good chance I would have been pinned, and maybe crushed.  It was so immense I doubt that 10 big guys could have lifted it off.  (The images that fly through your mind at times like this are amazing.)

But, I managed to push-off from the log (I was still floating in the surf) and get my stiff, old and tired, body up and vertical again just as the wave was at it’s peak and stuff was surging around me.  I was pretty much soaked, but my camera, tripod, phone, spot meter and the filter survived.  (Unbeknownst to me at the time, I managed to pull every muscle in my lower abdomen and was very sore the next 5 days.)

I am sure that the whole event did not last more that 60 seconds, but it seemed like an eternity.

But maybe the worst part was having to make the walk-of-shame back to our camp.  Fortunately, I only passed one old couple who, upon seeing my physical state, just turned and looked the other way.

No wait…the worst part was loosing my favorite hat when I went down.

No, wait, wait.  The very WORST part was the scolding I took from Dee Dee when I straggled back in…

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