Pro Tips: How to Stay Alive at the Coast

With the summer halfway over and only a little over a month left to get high off UV rays, plenty of us are making last-minute plans to hit the beach to enjoy the surf and sand before typical Oregon weather returns. But it’s not all fun and games. Many officials believe that the Oregon coast is one of the most dangerous places around. The Advocate is here to warn you about the more treacherous obstacles you may face on the beach, so you can decide if it’s really worth the risk to visit.

The most obvious way people die in the ocean is drowning. Though most Oregon natives are better-than-average swimmers and are well versed in checking up on the weather before hitting their favorite spots, they don’t always pay attention to posted tide or wave warnings. The most significant risks to all humans are sneaker waves. Numerous people have been swept off to sea by high tides full of sand, but this isn’t due to any tropical storms or tsunami activity. Most define a “sneaker wave” as just that— something that sneaks up on you without warning. Plenty drown, or even vanish, when they turn their backs on the tide. 

In March, Portland’s National Weather Service issued a public warning for increased dangers of sneaker waves popping up along the coast, and in May, a father and his son were both carried away by the water. According to several local news outlets, the wife and mother was forced to watch in agony as her family was lost forever. 

According to Oregon’s Parks and Recreation Department, the best way to avoid being swept out is to never turn your back on the ocean. Sounds simple, but people seem to have trouble remembering not to turn around. Oregon coastal sneaker waves have claimed the lives of nearly 20 people— averaging about three a year— since 2000. The beach that holds the highest risk for sneaky tides is said to be Smelt Sands, located near Coos Bay. In February of 2011, the Oregonian reported that two Eugene high school boys lost their lives to another lethal wave.

The Northwest weather warning site weatherbug.com reported that Oregon State University researchers were about to complete a long-term project that they hoped would result in an improved sneaker wave warning system along the coast. 

The most dangerous part of a sneaker wave is the amount of sand carried in the water. Anyone who gets soaked becomes immediately much heavier and this makes returning to the beach difficult, if not impossible. 

Even more lethal are the giant pieces of driftwood that the ocean drags to shore. In March, a 14-year-old Eugene high school cheerleader died after being crushed by a log that rolled over her body after she tripped on it while taking a selfie. The accident, which Oregonian reporters say occurred on Bandon beach, ended in death for the young girl, who succumbed to her injuries after being rushed to a nearby hospital. The Oregon State Police says that these logs are far more dangerous than they look because they can soak up enough water to weigh tons.

The key to staying safe and not dying at the coast is fairly simple: just follow the rules! Several lists of beach safety tips for both young people and those new to the coast are available online. In addition to reminding us to stay away from large logs and to never ignore the tide, Oregon’s Department of Parks and Recreation advises beachgoers to beware of rip currents and steep cliffs that can become slippery and unstable. The Oregon Coast Visitor’s Association recommends anyone planning to swim to abstain from alcohol consumption and to wear a wetsuit to avoid hypothermia. 

Please visit visittheoregoncoast.com/beach-safety/ for more helpful tips, have fun and do be careful.

By Kiki Genoa

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