“Beach Lessons”

Cannon Beach, Oregon, 1950

Our several days at Wells Beach, Maine, reminded me of how much I know about the beach, the tides, the undertow, the textures of sand and the sensation of the elements on my feet. From 1949 until we left Oregon in 2001, I was at the Oregon Coast countless times. Once I was 10, I was frequently on the beach either alone or with friends and siblings. In order to be safe, I had had to learn a great deal about the ocean, much of which came back in Maine.

The first and prime lesson was “never turn your back on the ocean.” “Sneaker waves,” unusually far reaching ones, could occur at any time. We were constantly reminded of the time our friend’s mom had noticed the ocean unusually far out. She grabbed her kids and ran up to the edge of the sand. A huge wave would have swamped them if she hadn’t been paying attention.

The second, equally important lesson, was to never climb on logs which were in the water. Each year an unsuspecting visitor was caught by a wave tossed log rolling over him. There were no logs at Wells, but I remembered the warning as if there were!

Thirdly I learned to tell if the tide was incoming or outgoing, not just by consulting a tide table. We observed the sand and the motion of the waves. When I was a kid we could only wade or swim on an incoming tide since the undertow of the outgoing was so treacherous. This came back to me as we walked at Wells on an outgoing tide. I asked a native about the undertow. She said it was very strong. Later we saw a sign warning of the same danger.

I grew up without helpfully stationed lifeguards. We were responsible for keeping ourselves safe. We learned our lessons by heart.

25 thoughts on ““Beach Lessons”

  1. I spent weekend many days and summer holidays at a beach with my parents. Unlike yours, they taught me nothing about the sea or the waves. I must have survived by luck! 🙂
    Best wishes, Pete.


  2. I love the picture of you at Cannon Beach. Such good memories and important learning too. How did Maine’s coast compare to Oregon’s? I’ve not been to Maine yet but hope to get there someday. My goal is all 50 states and I’m still short of 13!


  3. We live near the ocean, and regardless of how many times we’ve heard the “beware of sneaker waves” advice, people failing to adhere to this advice drown every year. A couple of years ago, a horrible tale involved a girl who drowned while staying with her friend on a sleepover. The amount of guilt someone must feel who has been in charge of a drowning child must be off the charts.


  4. here there are a lot of rips and holes – and there are life savers at the popular beaches – with signs that clearly say “swim between the flags” – lots of think that’s for sissies!
    or the rogue waves – that befell plenty of fisherman who think that the best fishing spot is off the rocks – many have lost their lives on said rocks


  5. We look at the tides each day too Elizabeth. So we know where to walk.
    At the moment we have what is known as King Tides which happen at this time of the year.
    They are super high & super low tides.
    All tied to the phases of the Moon & it’s orbit.


    1. I suppose I remember King Tides too though I never knew their name. Once a year we were able to walk behind a large rock at a very low tide. My best friend and I got up very early one summer to do just that.


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