The Infamous Sneaker Waves that Scream ‘Never Turn Your Back on Us’

The ocean is constantly beckoning us to visit on a more frequent basis that we just can deny it’s beauty, the intensity of the waves and the fact it is so peaceful.  The waves can mesmerize you in more ways than one.

However, there are those times when you must be on guard watching for the waves wishing to pull you under its strong currents and tides, out to an unforgiving sea.  Being prepared and having a watchful eye on these types of days will literally save your life.

This past weekend, my husband and I visited Long Beach, a small Washington beach town approximately three hours from Seattle.  It appears the weather may have changed somewhat since we were last down here in the Summer.  We came prepared by hearing the multitudes of warnings from The National Weather Service warning of “sneaker” waves.



A “sneaker wave” as it is commonly called is a larger wave than the others suddenly out of nowhere rushing up on the beach, taking with it unknowingly swimmers and those walking down the beach.  Many have been taken out to sea, losing their life along the way.

Here’s a look at a “sneaker” wave.

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These waves are commonly found on the California, Oregon and Washington State coasts.  Generally, The National Weather Service will list the “sneaker wave” warning on their website and broadcast over radio.  Clue #1.


Warning signs like this red and yellow one are obvious and those should heed their message, not as an advisory but as a requirement “not” to get into the water.

This sign is at the beach entrance and clearly states there is a strong undertow and no Lifeguard on Duty. This should be Clue #2.





As we visited the beach on Saturday, we found these kids playing in the surf.  We all love the beach, but not with large waves crashing all around us.  For those of us whom were safe up the beach, we watched with worry.

Kids swinging off of a warning sign in the pending surf.

The size of these waves give a clear indication on how angry the seas were on that day.

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The Lesson those of us want to teach others is simple. “Never turn your back on the Ocean.” Clue #3.

Sneaker wave

The photo above shows a “sneaker wave” coming up on shore catching this woman walking on the beach off-guard.  Notice at the bottom of the photo foam from the ocean quickly approaching.

Long Beach waves

Waves were beautiful to capture in action but not so much for playing in them.

warning waves

A sign is engulfed in a “sneaker wave” coming at a high rate of speed.  The waves were running super high taking anything it could in its path. Though we were not witness to anyone being dragged out into the sea, we were however watchful of where we stood in what we called the “safety zone”.

We are not necessarily saying “not” to go to the beach, but be watchful for all of the clues to be safe as possible.


One location we love going to is the Cape Disappointment Lighthouse just inside the State Park where you can see it on top of a huge cliff and the waves crashing in just below it.  This year, however, appeared to be a lot different with report of large waves and warnings to be careful while walking on the beaches or any place where waves were present. We were told they’d be “big”.

We found lots of logs floating in the water crashing up on the beach.  This was Day #1.

Log debris at Cape Disappointment

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A Park Ranger stands at the water’s edge assessing the waves and driftwood being pushed on shore.

On Day #2, we came back to the same location and found less logs on the beach, higher wave action and surfers taking chances, turning them into perfect opportunities.

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If you see someone being carried off in the current, don’t try to go after them because you too may face the same fate.  Instead, call 9-1-1 and let the professionals handle it. They are trained for this time of incident and can do much more to save a person’s life.

When calling 9-1-1,  make sure you know where you are.  Location is everything and is so important for rescuers to arrive as fast as possible with the required equipment.  Report what you saw or seeing.  Don’t hang up with the Dispatcher until they say it’s okay.


When you get ready to visit the beach, no matter what time of year it is, Be Prepared.  Plan ahead.

Here are some guidelines we follow and recommend for you as well:

  • Carry a first aid/disaster kit with you at all times.  Always good to have one on hand, whether you are going on vacation or staying home.
  • Check the weather forecast.  Some towns have cams you can view to see the weather, waves and beach conditions.
  • Make sure your vehicle is fully gassed up.
  • Make sure all cell phones are charged up.  No one wants to think about that scenario. We bring vehicle and wall plug-in chargers.
  • Pack for all types of inclement weather.
  • As we have mentioned several times over, be prepared for your environment and never ever turn your back on the Ocean.
  • Most importantly, have a FUN and safe trip to and back from the beach.

[c] 2014 L.R. Swenson [Photography & Content]

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