Playing Footsie with the Devil

Spent the afternoon as usual: peering out the window to check on conditions down out the coast. Since I had missed the fantastic sunset on Friday, I was especially antsy to get some shooting in, so when I saw some clouds building on the horizon, I hopped in the car and zoomed away down to the beach!

After some close calls at Four Mile and Laguna Creek where I almost stopped to shoot, I ended up at my old standby: Panther / Hole in the Wall Beach

Down at the shore I was immediately impressed by the massive waves, which were bigger than I’d ever seen them at this beach. (And if that doesn’t foreshadow the events to come this evening, I don’t know what would.)

For those who’ve never been there, to get to Hole in the Wall Beach, you have to go through a huge rock arch, which you can see here. All the storms here recently have eroded a ton of sand out of the floor of the arch, so the water comes up a lot higher than it did a few months ago. Just getting through the arch to Hole in the Wall was a little ridiculous. I had to wait for a wave to roll back into the ocean, then sprint through the arch and climb up some rocks before the next big wave came crashing and splashing through the opening. Then when that one would roll back, I jumped down from my perch and sprinted along the cliff edge up to dry sand. Easy peasy. Barely got my feet wet.

Kept on cruising down to the south end of the beach, past Jim P’s pet rocks, and up onto the sweet-as shelves at the end of the beach.

Now, did I mention that the waves were huge? I originally intended to shoot a neat little pool I’ve dubbed The Devil’s Bathtub, but hell man, the waves were creaming that thing into oblivion, and more water was shooting out of a nearby blowhole like a cannon. So I was like, eff that! and skittered away to figure out something else to shoot.

But since this big old cleft was right there too and also pointed in the same direction as the Bathtub, it was an easy second choice. But frick. I have never seen water come up so high in this thing. It was fully exploding out of the cleft at times. But the light was golden, so I shielded my camera from the worst blasts and kept on snapping the shutter.

Now right around this time it started raining a little bit and the wind picked up. Oh, sweet. Humongous waves aren’t enough, it’s gotta start raining and blowing wind too? Then the rain came down harder and by golly, it even started to hail. That’s right: Hail. At a beach in California.

Eff this ess! I shouted and ran around the corner to hide behind some cliffs. Shot some quick video and after a few minutes the rain slacked off, so I zipped back out the cleft where the passing thunderstorms were turning whole rainbows’ worth of color.

I stood there thinking, “oh my, what a wonderful moment to take a photo,” so I grabbed this shot, and about 50 more just like it.

Then it started to rain again. Well poop. My cleaning cloth was soaking wet, so I packed all my gear up and walked about 50 feet back towards the car. Then it stopped raining, the clouds opened up a little bit, and these killer waves came pounding in over Jim’s pet rocks. The documentarian inside of me beat up the “let’s go home” wimpy nerd inside of me, so I unpacked all my gear and snagged a shot of the mountainous waves. See that photo down below.

But then the light was going, going, gone, and I decided to do the same, so I hustled back up the beach to the arch. But wait a minute, what the eff? These waves are even huger than before! And they’re going right through the arch! How the crap am I supposed to get through there???

I figured that with careful timing and careful scrambling it should be doable. So I got on some rocks and watched the first wave roll through. As it receded I ran to the next set of rocks. Ok, so far so good. After the next wave I ran to the next set of rocks and was just climbing up them when Boom. The end. Do not pass go. Do not collect $200.

A rogue wave mashed into me and lifted me off the rocks like I was a rag doll. Then I was down in the water, 100% percent submerged, getting bashed into rocks as the wave pushed me up the beach and slammed me against the cliff. Ouch. Some people might find this a little strange, but my first thought while I was floundering around in the whirling ocean was not “Oh holy hell I am screwed,” but rather, “Oh holy hell, my camera gear is screwed.” I’m sure you photographers out there understand fully. 🙂

But a wave can only go so high, thank goodness, so eventually I emerged at the top of the beach, soaked and sputtering. But hell, I still had to get through the arch! Luckily my second attempt was much more fortuitous, though I still had a number of close calls where I was clinging onto the rocks with all my might so as not to get swept off. At one point I was standing on some rocks four feet above the floor of the arch, and a wave came swirling up around my knees. That meant the water was a good 5 and a half feet above the floor of the arch. And I had to go through that!

“F#ck you, ocean!” I think were my exact words at this point. I waited a few more minutes and luckily a smaller cycle of waves came through and I was able to leap down and sprint through the arch without getting mauled by another tiger of a wave.

Phew! Then I just squished back to my jeep to assess the damage.

Final score: Ocean – 1. ipod – 0. Phone – 0. Me – bloody knees, but at least a few keeper shots. Not sure who won that round . . . camera survived intact though, so I’m thinking I win by TKO?

~Josh

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  1. […] I must be a glutton for punishment for tonight I shot at Hole in the Wall Beach at high tide. The last time I did that, I had a serious accident. So how the heck did I find myself there again under similar conditions? Well . . […]

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