Years ago, I was shooting the Golden Gate Bridge from Baker Beach. The waves from the Pacific Ocean were washing up along the shore. I was keeping an eye on the waves and thought I had plenty of time at the location because the sand was still dry for at least a couple hundred feet from me. So, I placed my camera bag on the sand and started changing the lens on my camera. With my camera bag wide open, and my camera and four lenses sitting exposed, I suddenly felt a wave crash into me at about knee high. As quickly as I could, I lifted the camera bag and dumped the salt water from it. Fortunately, the lens caps were in place and none of the water touched any of my glass. I rushed back to my hotel and spent the next few hours cleaning my gear with canned air and a vacuum! I was very lucky not to lose all of my equipment on the very first day of a two week photography trip. This experience taught me a valuable lesson about waves. Here's a picture from Baker Beach from that day:
This lesson came in handy during my recent trip to Hawaii. One night I was photographing the sunset from Waimiea Beach on the North Shore of Oahu. I, along with about ten other people, walked a bit past a "no swimming" sign to set up for the sunset. As a result of my experience at Baker Beach, I no longer lay my backpack on the sand. My backpack was on my back.
During my time at Waimiea Beach, I was fascinated with the big waves. Until then, I never saw waves that high. I'm sure they get higher there, but these waves exceeded 30 feet. After a while, I started concentrating on getting photographs of the sunset--which was taking place to my far left. Apparently I wasn't paying enough attention to the ocean.
Suddenly, I heard a lifeguard shouting over a speaker system that everyone better move back because a big wave was approaching. I looked to my right toward the ocean and was stunned to see what appeared to be a wave of about 30 feet quickly approaching the area where all of us were standing. I grabbed my tripod and sprinted away from the sea. The wave came crashing down and then fizzled out several feet behind me. If I hadn't moved so quickly, my equipment would have been soaked with sandy saltwater for sure. Most likely, I would have lost my camera and tripod. Worse yet, I could easily have been swept out to sea.
The lifeguard then told everyone that it wasn't safe to walk in areas where the sand is smooth. He said to stay in areas with a lot of footprints. He also told me that if I get swept out to sea that I shouldn't fight the wave...just go with it and it would be possible to return to the shore later. Given the power of the waves and the cold temperature of the water, this advice wan't overly comforting. It only reinforced why I should stay well away from the water!
Then, the lifeguard announced that he was leaving for the night. The sun had set and his shift was over. He said that if anyone got pulled into the sea by a wave, someone on the beach should call 911.
I don't think my photograph of the big waves of Waimiea Beach do the waves justice, but here's one that I captured some time before the big one made me sprint away from the scene: