PAT NEAL: A new adventure sport

There is a new outdoor adventure sport making waves all across this green emerald recreational paradise we call the Olympic Peninsula.

While this new sport was pretty harmless last weekend, the potential for pain is always there. This recreational activity has the potential to combine the risk of Russian Roulette with the drama of a demolition derby.

No, I’m not talking about driving to Seattle. That’s crazy. This new pastime is even crazier. We call it tsunami watching.

To participate in this new adventure sport, all you need to do is keep tuned to your news or weather outlet. When they tell you to stay off the beach and head for high ground because a tsunami may hit, load up the family, pets and a picnic, and head for the beach to watch the tsunami come in.

I know what you’re thinking and you are right.

Tsunami watching is crazy, but if the crowds of people at the beach ignoring the tsunami warning last Saturday is any indication, this new sport of tsunami watching is taking the country by storm.

Throughout history and around the world, people have told stories of floods. Here on the Olympic Peninsula, every Native American tribe has a shared tradition of devastating floods that have been confirmed by geologic and archaeologic research.

One evening, the Quileute noticed a wave that stretched across the horizon coming toward shore.

The Quileute gathered their possessions in canoes and tied the canoes together. Some of the canoes broke loose when the wave hit. They floated east to the other side of the Olympics, where they became the now-extinct Chimacum tribe.

They spoke the same language as the Quileute, giving credence to this tribal legend as historical fact.

The Makah said the water rose until Cape Flattery became an island. Then receded, leaving whales stranded on dry land. The water rose again. The Makah got in their canoes and floated away. Many drifted north to Vancouver Island. As the water receded, canoe-loads of people crashed into tree tops. Many lives were lost.

Along the Strait of Juan de Fuca, the S’Klallam were warned a flood was coming.

A man told them to build some strong canoes that would handle a storm. People said they would just walk up into the mountains if the flood came.

It began to rain. The rivers turned to salt water as the sea level rose. Flooding creeks and rivers kept people from walking to higher ground.

Some got away in their canoes with a supply of food and water. Only those who were able to tie themselves to the tops of the highest mountains were saved.

In fact, archaeologists determined that the Klallam village of Tse-whit-zen in Port Angeles was hit by up to five tsunamis in its 2,700-year history.

Those tsunamis were most likely caused by the Cascadia Subduction event, where the Juan de Fuca plate slips underneath the North American continent every 500 years or so, causing earthquakes and their associated tsunamis — the last of which occurred on Jan. 26, 1700.

There was no tsunami warning siren, Coast Guard air lifts or National Guard at the time. We can only speculate at the massive loss of life that must have occurred.

These days, we live in an age of information when we’d just as soon ignore the information.

We are not about to let some foreign global tidal wave ruin a three-day weekend.

So, when the nanny state tells us to stay off the beach because of the tsunami, we head for the beach to watch it.

It’s the newest adventure sport.


Pat Neal is a Hoh River fishing and rafting guide and “wilderness gossip columnist” whose column appears here every Wednesday.

He can be reached at 360-683-9867 or by email via

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