By now, everyone has heard of the devastating 8.9 earthquake and 23 foot tsunami that hit Japan on Friday. I woke up at 6 AM preparing to go surfing just like any other day. Got an email from a friend in Morro Bay asking me if I was going to evacuate. Turned the news on and was shocked with what had happened in Japan and surprised that we were under a tsunami warning here on the California Central coast.
The tsunami “event” produced a 6.3 foot surge at about 9:21 a.m. and another 6.6 foot surge at about 11:25 a.m. local time at Port San Luis. This is the largest seismic sea wave event ever recorded at the Port. Below is a time lapse video of the surge.
We escaped any damage. However, Santa Cruz harbor had significant damage with the sinking of approximately 20 boats and harbor infrastructure damage.
Surfersvillage Global Surf News asked the question “Is it possible to surf a tsunami?” Their answer is, not really. For one thing, a tsunami does not curl. For another, it tends to be moving too fast – more than 100 mph – as opposed to the typical surfing wave speed of 35 mph. Still, Hawaii officials say a tsunami warning years ago drew more than 400 surfers off Oahu’s North Shore.
A tsunami is not a single wave, but a series of waves that can travel across the ocean at speeds of more than 500 miles an hour. In the deep ocean, hundreds of miles can separate wave crests; many people have lost their lives during tsunamis after returning home thinking the waves had stopped.
As the tsunami enters the shallows of coastlines in its path, its velocity slows but its height increases. A tsunami that is just a few centimeters or meters high from trough to crest can rear up to heights of 30 to 50 meters as it hits the shore, striking with devastating force. For those on shore there is little warning of a tsunami’s approach. The first indication is often a sharp swell, not unlike an ordinary storm swell.
In January 2005, I traveled to Indonesia and Sri Lanka with the President of Gifts In Kind International (which I had been active with for over fifteen years) to help coordinate relief efforts after that terrible tsunami. What I saw will stay with me forever (like the image below).