The Day I Yelled ‘Help’ for the First Time In My Life
In the past year, I have experienced many challenges, losses, and financial hits, but none have been more devastating to me than the loss of my photographic equipment during a life-threatening situation on the Oregon Coast. Here’s the story:
On 1.26.2014 I yelled for help for the first time in my life.
My girlfriend and I headed to Cape Kiwanda because it was a beautiful day. It was more of an escape and day at the coast than it was a photographic outing. But yes.. I still took my gear with me.
We were walking around and with the tide fairly low.. went lower on the north side of the cape. The waves weren’t crashing where we were but the rocks were wet and some.. slippery with seaweed. We looked around for a little bit and then I turned back when I heard my girlfriend yell. I looked back to see her on her back sliding down a seaweed covered slope with a 10 ft. drop into the churning water at the end. She was just a couple of feet away and I instinctually stepped towards her and reached for her only to find myself sliding down that same slope. I knew I was going in.
I remember thinking as I was sliding that ‘maybe’ the water was shallow enough to stand in and that I’d land on my feet.. but knew that it wasn’t. I was watching it from above and was thinking about how deep it would be. It looked pretty deep.
I ended up going in feet first and underwater. Yup. It was deep. Luckily I’m a strong swimmer. I looked around and didn’t see my girlfriend. Still unsure if she had actually fallen in I looked around… wondering what the hell I was going to do. I was in a ‘chasm’ surrounded by walls and the water was drawing me out. It was either find a way out here or go out to the dangerous cliffs. You know.. the cliffs that everyone takes photos of. I swam to the nearest wall that looked like I could grab a hold of something. I was happy to find a short ledge underwater that I was able to get footing on. The wall was covered in mussels and barnacles and the areas I tried to grab onto broke off in my hands. I looked around and saw my girlfriend standing on the rocks above me. Somehow.. she had stopped sliding. Soon enough a huge sneaker wave came and washed over my head, hit the end of the chasm and then came back at me, knocking me off. Again I felt the waves pull me out.. that’s when I yelled for help at the top of my lungs. I was scared. I didn’t think I was going to be able to get out on my own.
Another surge came and pushed me back towards the wall. I was able to swim to it and grab on. This time I was in a different spot and I was able to stand on that same ledge but get a different handhold and foothold and lift myself up a couple of feet out of the water. The wall was still over my head and my girlfriend had made her way over to me but couldn’t reach me.. not to mention the rock above me was also covered in slippery seaweed. I took my bag off and threw it to her. Oh yeah.. did I mention that I had my bag on my back with all of my uninsured gear in it? Yeeeeeeah. I was then able to work my way out. A guy had come to help but there was little he could do. He tried to throw me a dog leash as I was climbing up but it was easier to do without it. Here is a photo of where I fell in. This was taken several years ago when the tide was a lot higher. The water was a lot farther from the top of the walls when I fell in than it was in this photo. We slipped on the rock that has white on it at the top of the frame. I climbed out on the wall at 11:00:
I’m a little banged up physically. A couple scrapes.. a torn fingernail… but mostly I have a headache from the adrenaline rush and I’m emotionally excited. I can’t get that vision of my girlfriend sliding helplessly on her back towards the water out of my head. And the look on her face during it. It makes me sick.
She’s not a great swimmer.. so I’m happy that she was able to arrest her slip more than anything. And I’m lucky that I didn’t take her in with me. We’re very grateful to walk away relatively unscathed. This was definitely the scariest moment in my life.
As for the gear.. my bag was on my back and I spent several minutes swimming in water with it. It was submerged. I dumped water out of my camera.
After a thorough inspection by Advanced Camera in Beaverton, Or my camera was deemed irreparable. My ‘good’ lens (Nikkor 16mm-35mm f/4) has damage in that the autofocus and image-stabilization motors are non-functioning. The quoted repair is $700. Also damaged were my 50mm f/1.8, 18-105mm, and my iPhone.
After many suggestions to do so I put up a fundraiser on gofundme.com to raise a goal of $2,695. That’s the amount I needed to replace the camera and repair my 16-35mm lens. I really didn’t expect to reach half that amount. But what happened is one of the most amazing displays of generosity that’s ever happened to me. Friends, family, and strangers rallied around me and I ended up beating my goal in less than 24 hours. By the end of day 2 I had raised $3,485.. enough to cover the camera, lens repair, overhead costs of the fundraiser, and even a little extra to put towards insurance on my equipment.
I am extremely grateful and blown away by the generosity of this. At times I don’t think I deserve it. Why me? I know a lot of people that don’t have a camera at the moment for one reason or another. So what makes me special and deserving? I don’t know. But kindness prevails. From people I am close with to people I have only talked with online.. to people I have never crossed paths with.. their giving nature sparks a warmth in my heart. People relinquished on their donation rewards so that I could have the extra cash.. and others gave away their prints to other donors who couldn’t swing the larger donation required to get a print.
I’m humbled to be in such company. I never knew how kind people could be.. and how many people have been touched by the images I create.
It’s certainly something I will never forget.