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Tragedy at coast highlights the importance of being watchful and safe during outdoor activities

LON AUSTIN/CENTRAL OREGONIAN - A big wave crashes over the cliffs at Cape Kiwanda. The portion of the cliff that this wave came over is more than 70 feet high, clearly showing just how big some of Saturday's waves really were. A combination of high winds and king tides led to larger than normal surf and spectacular storm watching all along the Oregon coast. This weekend was a major event for winter storm watchers.

Not only did we have king tides on Friday and Saturday, there were high winds and, consequently, big waves and exceptionally high surf.

King tides are the highest tides of the year. Coupled with high surf and high winds, the event made ideal opportunities for watching gigantic waves.

However, with storm watching also comes inherent dangers.

Those dangers were put on clear display this weekend when three members of a family were swept out to sea by an especially large wave.

The young daughter did not survive, while the son is missing and presumed drowned. The father survived, but at last report was still hospitalized.

The tragedy should serve as a warning to others who take nature for granted.

In point of fact, Oregon was lucky that there weren't more fatalities over the weekend.

This weekend's high tides and waves were nothing to be trifled with.

Water came onto the streets in several Oregon towns and 30-foot waves or higher were not uncommon.

Yet, in spite of the seemingly obvious danger, many of the people who flocked to the coast seemed totally oblivious.

Although I did not see anyone injured or swept out to sea on Saturday, I saw plenty of close calls.

All were avoidable if people used just a small modicum of common sense.

The story begins with how I ended up on the coast in the first place.

My wife's aunt got married on Saturday in Pacific City.

My wife, Karlene, had had the event on the calendar for quite some time.

I was going to miss the wedding because Crook County was wrestling Roseburg on Saturday night.

Anyway, Friday morning Karlene texted several of her relatives to say that due to winter storm warnings for the Cascade Mountains, she would not be able to attend.

A cousin offered to come over the pass, pick her up and then bring her back following the wedding.

Other proposals of how she could get there without having to drive were discussed on the phone.

Finally, I offered to drive her to Pacific City Friday, come back to Prineville on Saturday for the wrestling meet and meet her in Sandy on Sunday for the return drive home.

Shortly after arriving in Pacific City on Friday, the wrestling meet was postponed to February, allowing me to attend the wedding.

Saturday morning a few of us killed some time visiting prior to the wedding, then Karlene and I went down to Cape Kiwanda to watch the waves.

We parked in the highest part of the parking lot in case a big wave came into the lot, then I set off with my camera to see if I could get any good photos of waves coming over the cape.

As I approached the large dune in front of the beach, I observed a line of surf watchers standing against the very edge of the dune.

That didn't seem particularly smart to me, as there was about a 7-foot dropoff on the surf side and waves were coming up near the dune.

By high tide, waves were coming over the top of the dune, with parts of the dune occasionally sloughing off into the surf.

Amazingly, there were people still standing on the edge.

I watched as waves drenched people standing on the road access to the beach.

Luckily, none of them fell into the surf, as there were lots of large logs rolling around near the bank.

Realizing they had nearly had a serious problem, those people left, but more people took their place.

LON AUSTIN/CENTRAL OREGONIAN - People along the beach at Pacific City get wet when a large wave comes over the top of the dunes. Luckily no one fell into the surf and no one was swept out to sea, something that did happen Saturday on the northern Oregon coast.By the time it was high tide there were people standing near the edge of the dune who would turn their back to the surf when a big wave came so that they would only get their backs wet. That's exactly what you aren't supposed to do. You should never turn your back to the surf, even on calm days.

What I found to be especially shocking was people who let their kids run right up to the edge of the dune even after watching part of it fall into the sea.

In Pacific City people got lucky. No one was injured and no one drowned, although there were several close calls.

Still, the tragedy on the northern coast highlights just how dangerous the surf can be.

Life has inherent risks, but please exercise caution when engaging in activities that are potentially dangerous.

Now back to the real reason we went to the coast.

Friday night I got to break my heart-healthy diet as they served pizza at the rehearsal dinner. It was the first time I've had more than a slice of pizza in three years. Man, do I miss pizza.

It turns out that it really is a small world out there.

My wife's aunt was marrying a Mobley.

That's right, the Mobley family with the popular Central Oregon band.

As a result, Countrified played for the reception, and several other people from Central Oregon were in attendance.

No, the Mobleys and I aren't really related, but I guess we are all family now. Just so long as nobody asks me to be part of the band, it's all good.

The trip home was uneventful, although it was snowing hard and visibility wasn't the best.

The good news is that we got some much-needed snow on the mountains while I got some cool photos of big waves and something to write about.

Lon Austin is the sports editor for the Central Oregonian. He can be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

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