It sure is cold, Natasha,” my younger sister, Karissa, whimpered. “I hope we don’t catch a cold.”
“I know,” I said, wrapping my coat around myself more tightly. “It’s too bad. I was really looking forward to swimming.”
It was a beautiful Oregon day. The sky glinted with bright sunshine, and a few wispy clouds floated through the sky. But a chilly Alaskan breeze flowed through the air.
My family had come to the coast for a brief day of vacationing. Karissa and I were hyper and ready to tackle the waves.
Running toward the water, I stuck my toe into its blue sparkles. “Ahh! This water is soooo cold that I don’t think I’d want to go swimming even if it was 85 degrees outside!” I giggled and quickly pulled my foot away. (On the Pacific coast the water is usually very cold, except in the late fall or early spring.)
Soon my parents decided to take a walk down the beach. Karissa and I followed, stopping here and there to toss sand around with our toes.
“Look!” Karissa shouted happily. “There’s a huge log up ahead!” She pointed toward a gigantic piece of driftwood weighed down on the sand. It was at least 15 feet long and four feet high. Excited at the prospect of play equipment, we soon were jumping and climbing about on the log.
Mom didn’t want to leave us alone on a beach full of strangers, so she sat on one end of the log and watched the waves roll up and stop about 35 feet away from her. My dad kept on walking, saying he’d return in a little while.
“I still want to go swimming,” I said, looking longingly at the water. “Or at least go and climb that tall cliff!”
This stretch of shore, Agate Beach, has a cliff about 25 feet high right where the sand ends. During high tides there may be only about 15 feet between the water and the cliff, or sometimes no space at all. So you have to make sure that you walk this beach during low tide, or else you could be trapped between the cliff and the water.
The cliff looked interesting, especially because I liked climbing, but one look from my mother told me that was not an option. Pretty soon Karissa and I got tired, so we just sat on the log and watched the water come in and go out.
All of a sudden, instead of coming in and receding, one wave we were watching kept on coming! It still hadn’t stopped when it was just 10 feet away from the log.
“Karissa, Natasha, stand up!” my mom called.
We stood up on the log. Swoosh! The wave hit the end of the log. Foam bubbled up on top of it, and with the current pushing it, the gigantic piece of driftwood started rolling from side to side. My sister and I tried to stay balanced and not fall off, but pretty soon my sister’s legs gave way, and she plunged into the icy sea.
“Karissa!” my mom screamed, and jumped in after her. I didn’t want to be left on the log all by myself, so I followed them in.
I gasped, fighting for air as the frigid water hit me, making my lungs tighten. I started swimming as hard as I could for land. The current swirled around me and tried to bring me under, but I fought and kicked against it.
Suddenly I realized the full horror of our situation. When a wave comes in and goes out, the outward pull is very strong. It can pull you out to sea, where you could drown or be seriously hurt.
God, I quickly and silently prayed, I don’t know what’s going to happen, but please let the wave drop us off at the shore and not pull us into the ocean. Please!
Just then the wave pulled me under, and for a few seconds I was fully submerged. I fought for breath and finally popped back up again. The wave was still rushing inland, and I gasped as I realized that we were almost to the cliff.
Oh, no! We could be dashed on the sharp rocks even if we do get out of this big watery mess! Help us, God!
Suddenly the wave stopped and began to recede, but now we were being dragged out, and there was nothing to grab onto or any foothold we could find. “Help!” I screamed at the top of my lungs.
Slam! My feet struck rock on the bottom. I stood up, and the water flowed past me. My mother and sister were just a few feet away. They also had found the rock and were safe.
As soon as we caught our breath, we looked around. We were standing on a rock about seven feet square and six feet high.
“That,” my mother said with anxiety in her voice, “was a sneaker wave. It catches everyone by surprise. We’re lucky we weren’t sucked out into the ocean. Thank the Lord!”
It was a miracle, I still think, for the rock we were standing on was the only one around for about a half mile. How thankful we were to be right by that rock when we needed land the most!
“I’m cold,” Karissa said, shivering, and with that we all noticed our sopping-wet clothes and the frigid breeze.
On the tromp back to our car, our sneakers gushed and squeaked water. All the passersby looked at us like we had lots of problems. But we were convinced that God had saved us from the great Pacific Ocean, so we didn’t care how awful we looked.
Later at the Newport Lighthouse Info Center we saw brochures warning: “Never climb or play on pieces of driftwood.”
The brochures explained that when a wave hits a piece of driftwood, it often rolls on top of people and can sometimes kill or seriously hurt them. A little girl had been crushed by a rolling log only a few months earlier.
“I’m sure glad the angels were with you today,” said my dad after hearing our story.
“Me too,” we all agreed.
The next day’s newscast said to expect sneaker waves off the Oregon coast because tremors from an earthquake in Alaska were creating larger waves. Sadly, the same day Natasha and her family had their trouble, a little boy was killed about 50 miles north of them as a result of a log rolling on him. They prayed for the boy’s family and thanked God again for their safety.
Illustrated by Marcus Mashburn