“Breakers on Rocks”

Breakers on Rocks, near Port Orford, Oregon Coast (c) Mike Utley

W17(S)–Breakers on Rocks, near Port Orford, Oregon Coast
I spent the morning photographing breakers crashing like cannon-shots onto huge boulders just off the coast south of Port Orford in southern Oregon. These booms were incredibly loud. During a lull in the action as I was examining tiny fossilized shells in a nearby boulder, I glanced back at the ocean and saw the water rising rapidly. The Oregon Coast is notorious for its sneaker waves, which are like mini-tsunamis. I had climbed down a ten-foot dirt embankment to get to the vantage point for this image, and suddenly I realized I had to scramble back up immediately. Luckily, I was able to find some rocks to climb up and made my way to safety. When I looked again at the water, it had completely overwhelmed the spot I’d been standing on seconds earlier. I learned a valuable lesson that day: never turn your back on the ocean at any time, for any reason. (Canon gear, Fuji Velvia ISO 50)

30 thoughts on ““Breakers on Rocks”

  1. Whoa, what a pinning encounter, felt on edge reading till the relief of your escape came, hah. Oh you’re right to say, never turn your back to the ocean. Such a gorgeous picture, and a riveting story behind the pic. Amazing! 🌼🌼😊

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    1. Thanks, Lamittan. It was indeed a bit of a sticky wicket I’d found myself in at that moment. Another lesson learned: never jump down a ledge you can’t climb back up! 😀 It was a good day, however, as I spent all that entire day along the southern Oregon Coast and came back with some nice images. 🙂

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    1. Thanks, Xenia. It was worth it, I suppose. The most surprising thing to me (aside from how quickly the water rose) was the sheer volume of the sound of the waves crashing against the rocks. Even with my hearing loss, it was incredibly loud. Also, the large hillside I had to scamper down to reach the beach was filled with sticker bushes and dead teasel husks. I’d never seen teasels before and had no idea what they were until I checked my wild flower guide book later. Fascinating stuff. 🙂

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  2. Your words sent shivers down my spine. Imagine, how close you were to danger. I can hear those loud booms as the waves crash. I’m actually scared of water and don’t even know how to swim. But the beauty of the image can’t be denied appreciation. It’s so lovely and the foamy water actually looks like snow. Great capture, Mike. 🙂

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    1. Thanks, Terveen. Honestly, I have a fear of water as well–I never learned to swim, either. I was there for quite awhile trying to get as many images as possible because of the unpredictability of the breakers and the timing needed to capture them at the right moment. Standing there on the beach rocks, I could feel the vibrations of those waves crashing against the boulders. It’s an intimidating sensation to see that much water all in one place when you don’t know how to swim, as I’m sure you can imagine. So when the water started rushing up the bank, it was a little bit of a panicky feeling, for sure. I’d never even seen the ocean until I was 31 years old, so I didn’t have any experience with things like tides and sneaker waves (and sea gulls who swoop down and steal your food). I absolutely love the ocean, but I also have a healthy respect for it. And yep, the foam does resemble snow. In other shots, the foam was really frothy, like the head on a glass of root beer, but this image had the best results. Thanks again for your kind words. 🙂

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    1. Thanks, Kirsten. Yep, this one has cool hues and it makes it quite a departure from my red rock desert images. The day this was made was actually quite warm. It was Thanksgiving of ’95 and I had taken a little road trip to the southern coast (I was living in Salem at the time) to see what I could find. The sunrise was very misty but it burned off as soon as the sun came up, leaving clear blue skies. And speaking of dangers, I once was stupid enough to photograph a nighttime electrical storm at Devil’s Tower in Wyoming. I had a blast but was so lucky I hadn’t gotten struck. It was the most intense lightning storm I’d ever seen. Fun times! 😀

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    1. Thanks, Mark. Yep, live and learn, eh? The ocean is the essence of beauty and power, and I was still learning about it when I made this image, having grown up in a land-locked region and having had no experience with the sea up to that point). I was lucky, and managed to make some good images and memories. 🙂

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    1. What a perfect interpretation of this image. These large boulders (and their much more imposing brethren, the sea stacks) stand steadfast against wind and sea without quavering or surrendering, and in the process, the storms sculpt them into beautiful shapes. Rugged and tenacious describe the Pacific Northwest coast, which is why it’s my favorite spot on the planet. (Check out Heceta Head Lighthouse sometime for my own personal heaven.) 🙂

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    1. Thanks, Jeff, and I’m glad to hear your own experience with sneaker waves had a happy ending. I saw several people get knocked over by a sneaker wave at Seaside, OR near the Lewis & Clark statue. It was frightening. All made it safely up to the street level but many were completely soaked by the icy late-March (’95) Pacific water. My mom and one of my nephews were hit by a sneaker wave at Whaleshead Beach, OR, but fortunately it was a mild wave that only resulted in my nephew being drenched. There’s so much beauty and so much danger along the Oregon Coast. 🙂

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  3. Love your photography, Mike! Oregon is one of my favorite places to camp, btw.

    For some reason your posts disappeared from my RSS reader, I’ll add ’em again and see if it stick this time around.

    Ahem, just noticed I missed a couple comments from you on my own blog. Sorry about that — will chime in shortly. ; )

    Thanks and apologies,
    Ray

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    1. Hey, Ray! Thanks for the nice comment, and no worries at all about the RSS feed mix-up. Glad you were able to fix it. You’ve got some incredible nature photography on your site. I’ve been over there several times and am impressed by your photo and writing talents. I’d love to return to Oregon sometime. I miss the ocean. Maybe someday I can make it back. Anyway, thanks again for the kind words and talk to you later. 🙂

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    1. Thanks, Diana. Hair-raising, indeed! Sometimes I think the only way I ever learn anything is by doing something stupid over and over until it finally sinks in. This was one time it didn’t take several warnings for me to figure out how to respect the ocean. Also, to be honest, part of the fascination of this little mini-adventure was the hillside covered in dead teasel husks. Like I mentioned in a comment to Xenia above, I’d never seen teasels before and had no idea what I was looking at until I checked my wild flower guidebook later. So, I was enlightened by the ocean and by the teasels! 😀 Man, I miss the Oregon Coast… 🙂

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    1. Thanks so much, Jaya. I really enjoy sharing a bit of background on each of these images. The memories of making my photos are seared into my mind in such a clear and concise manner. When I look at this image, I can still smell the ocean and feel the rough texture of the fossil-laden boulder and hear the magnificently thunderous crashing of the waves on the rocks, even though this image was made in 1995. It’s amazing how vivid memories can be when we associate them with a physical reminder of the event. 🙂

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