Ah, the beach, the ocean, the gentle waves. So pleasant on a rare sunny day in Oregon to cavort in the surf of our public beaches. But beware, for the ocean is without feeling and cares not whom or what is pulled into the watery deep.

Visitors to Oregon beaches are advised to be aware of sneaker waves. A sneaker wave is an unexpectedly large wave, higher, stronger and reaching farther up the beach. Beach goers can quickly be caught in the undertow and pulled out to deep water. Sneakers frequently toss around large driftwood logs that may fall on a person, injuring or even killing the unlucky. Every summer the local media is filled with reports of tragedy on the Oregon beaches as unfortunate visitors, often small children are caught by sneaker waves.

Even as the ocean appears calm, every third or fourth wave has the potential to be a sneaker. Larger waves, moving fast, pick up smaller waves and carry them toward the beach. Some people erroneously think that sneaker waves can be counted as every fourth or fifth wave, but in truth they are unpredictable.

In the early eighties, when I was just a wee lass in a blue gingham bikini, I learned of sneaker waves firsthand. What I remember of the experience is as follows:

Going to the beach was an everyday thing. Living in the Philippines and being so close to such gorgeous beaches literaly meant daily trips. I was already very familiar with the idea of rip currents and stingrays (the most notorious dangers), and the beaches were guarded constantly during daylight hours.

The day, as it happened, was no different than any other day and the beach conditions were calm. The only unusual thing was a curious number of jellyfish washed onto the shore.

I was building a sand castle near the high tide line, well above waves. In an instant I was ass over end, completely disoriented. There was no transition from sitting, building a sand castle to being flipped end over end underwater. I was under long enough to be distinctly aware of a driving need to breathe. When I came up, I was startlingly far from shore, but there was already a lifeguard at my side. He grabbed me, swam parallel to the shore and after getting beyond the rip current, turned toward shore.

When we got back, my mother was terribly upset, but thanked the lifeguard. She later said she had thought he was asleep, but he was in the water before she realized anything was wrong.

My attitude was ambivalent; other than being underwater for too long, I hadn't been scared. My mother tells me that I even said it was "fun", although I was probably more enthralled with the attention, rather than the experience itself.

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