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What Not to Do on Oregon Coast: Small Beaches During Big Tides, Video

Published 2/15/24 at 7:55 p.m.
y Oregon Coast Beach Connection staff

What Not to Do on Oregon Coast: Small Beaches During Big Tides, Video

(Oregon Coast) – Just about every year it happens somewhere along Oregon's coast: someone ignores the warnings or advisories and gets hurt. Sometimes they're even swept away and never found. (Above: this beach near Newport is a no-go in these conditions, though normally accessible. Photo Oregon Coast Beach Connection)

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One of the largest issues is heading to a smaller beach during big tides, which can become problematic even without warnings from the National Weather Service (NWS). Usually it occurs in winter, of course, but higher tides can spell trouble on those beaches where there's a cliff instead of a foredune area, and there's little room for you to run from an incoming sneaker wave.

You are at the mercy of whatever the ocean has thrown at you, and you can't get away.

Everyone touts the idea of “not turning your back on the ocean.” That is simply not enough at times, especially during higher tidal events on those small beaches with cliffs. It also does not take one of those mammoth wave events where combined seas are at 20 feet or higher. All you need are only higher-than-normal tides when it comes to those little strands. Small beaches pose dangers in a wider range of circumstances.

The video above demonstrates this in all its madness: people venturing out onto one of those cliff-lined beaches when the tides are a bit too high for them to be there. Here, you see Oceanside during a somewhat stormy winter event. This is not even necessarily high tide of the day, nor wave height much over 10 feet.

"Conditions like these will get you killed," said Oregon Coast Beach Connection editor Andre' Hagestedt. "Some will joke about this is the gene pool thinning out, but it's quite serious. This is dumb stuff to do."

It's beaches like this that pose those kinds of dangers: where you find cliffs instead of dunes that give you a quick access to the town itself. Other areas to look out for are Nye Beach in Newport, parts of Lincoln City, Gleneden Beach, and a myriad of beaches just south of Cannon Beach like Arcadia, Hug Point and Arch Cape. Many along the south Oregon coast are like this as well, such as the accesses next to Humbug Point, parts of Bandon, Rocky Point and Otter Point near Gold Beach, or even Port Orfords Head.

Horsfall Beach near Coos Bay (courtesy Oregon's Adventure Coast)

Broad beaches like Cannon Beach, Seaside, Agate Beach in Newport, just north of Coos Bay, Waldport, Nesika near Gold Beach, Manzanita, Pacific City and others give you room to run. Not all the time, however, but that's a separate article.

At Oceanside, normally the tide is a good 100 to 300 feet away from the cliff line. That's about the right safety zone, even if conditions are a little crazy. In the video, however, the general tideline lingers around less than 70 feet away, and you see larger waves shrink that distance to 50 feet or less between the tideline and the cliff.

You can tell the cliffs are right where the vegetation begins, and there is a line of large cobblestones just beneath which pose their own dangers should you be forced to run.

In the video you see a trio of unwise visitors venture out into this thin stretch, with raging waves tumbling less than 60 feet away, and all manner of sneaker waves waiting to come charging in. You see the group get chased up the small beach by one large wave and forced onto that cobblestone stretch. It's easy to slip on these and thus fall right into the ocean, not to mention break something.

These folks got lucky. Don't rely on luck.

Moolack Beach: the same beach as at top now in its normal state

In short, hitting any beaches during those famed Oregon coast storms is a bad idea. But small beaches with a cliff behind them is a really dumb idea. If you see a small space like this and a tideline this tumultuous, don't walk onto these kinds of strands. If you're seeing less than 150 feet between the tide and a cliff line, that beach is trouble.

Rule of thumb: simply stay off beaches this small with cliffs in unruly tide events. If you're tempted for some goofy reason, then take a few minutes to watch the breakers and see how many times they scoot up the beach and get closer to the cliffs. If it happens at all – don't go. Even in slightly turbulent conditions you should not venture here.

Sadly, however, even this isn't always enough. Oregon Coast Beach Connection was filming at Newport's Moolack Beach several years ago when we encountered this scene in the video below. There was generally plenty of room on the beach, with the tideline raging about two hundred feet away. One or more sneaker waves came pile-driving in through that wide, normally-safe distance.

Luckily, the videographer was standing at the pathway entrance to the beach and could make a good run for it. If they hadn't been, it could've been a different story.

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Andre' GW Hagestedt is editor, owner and primary photographer / videographer of Oregon Coast Beach Connection, an online publication that sees over 1 million pageviews per month. He is also author of several books about the coast.

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