What You Don’t Know About Oregon Coast Sneaker Waves Could Kill You

A sneaker wave on the Oregon coast
Sneaker Wave. Photo by Neva Swensen via Flickr CC2.

The Oregon coast is scenic, beautiful, and awe inspiring. It can also be treacherous if you aren't paying attention to your surroundings, are ignoring warning signs, or aren't aware of the possibility of sneaker waves. 21 people have been killed by sneaker waves on the Oregon coast since 1990, and even more have been severely injured.

What Is A Sneaker Wave?

A sneaker wave is an unexpectedly large wave that travels with great force and speed up the beach. These waves travel further up the beach than expected, often catching people unaware and sweeping them away into the ocean.

Beachgoers are often lulled into a sense of security because the surf looks calm, and they believe they're far enough away not to get wet or hit with waves. In reality, sneaker waves can appear even during calm surf, and surge more than 150 feet up the beach and last as long as 20 minutes. They happen with no warning, which is how they get their name, because they sneak up on you.

These waves can come up over rocks and lift and carry heavy logs, hurling them into people. People caught in these unexpected waves are often dragged down into the icy surf and swept away by swift ocean currents. Victims of sneaker waves are often affected by cold water paralyses, which affects the limbs in just a few minutes, and saps the victim of their energy. These waves also bring with them heavy sand and gravel, which can get trapped in the victims clothes and weigh them down, making them unable to stay above the surface of the water. Watch the short video below to learn about the woman who was crushed by a log along the Oregon coast after a sneaker wave lifted it up.

The National Weather Service has everything you need to know about sneaker waves here, and is on a mission to spread the word and stop these tragic deaths from happening.

Things To Note About Sneaker Waves In Oregon

  • Most sneaker wave deaths in Oregon occur between October and April, but that doesn't mean the waves don't occur at other times of the year.
  • 21 deaths have been caused by sneaker waves in Oregon since 1990.
  • Sneaker waves are unexpected and cannot be predicted.
  • Scientists still aren't sure what causes sneaker waves.

Is It Safe To Go To The Oregon Coast?

Sunset over the needles near Cannon Beach. Photo by Leigh Anderson via Flickr CC2.

The Oregon coast is an amazing place to visit, and should be on every Oregonian's bucket list. Many people head to the coast every weekend, and others make it a point to get to to the coast at least once a year.

Cannon Beach Oregon Haystack Rock
Haystack Rock at Cannon Beach in Oregon. Photo by Mike Monaghan via Flickr CC2.

Is the Oregon coast a safe place to visit? That depends largely on you and the precautions you take. There are several things you can do to keep yourself, your friends and family safe when visiting the coast:

  • Never turn your back on the ocean.
  • Don't stand, climb, or sit on logs along the beach.
  • Be aware of your surroundings at all times, and be aware that just because the surf is calm, it doesn't mean a sneaker wave can't come up unexpectedly.
  • Obey all signs and warning signs when at the beach. Don't climb over or under fences to get closer to cliffs or the surf.
  • Don't climb on or around natural rock formations or cliffs.
  • Know when high and low tide are for the day.
  • Plan for the weather.

Get more information about sneaker waves here.