The Cambrian

Camp Keep science students were last week’s sea dunkees

Children who got a dangerous ocean dunking on Jan. 26 were participating in a marine-studies program at Camp KEEP in Cambria.

Apparently, nobody was injured, according to Tom Anspach, director of the KEEP Program. “The parents and principals are all aware of what happened” and “we’re dealing with the situation so we continue to have the good record we have” for safety.

“It was a sleeper wave,” Anspach said. “Mother Nature got a little bit feisty that day.”

Camp KEEP’s outdoor-science school operates out of Camp Yeager, a Park Hill site owned by the Coalinga-Huron Recreation & Parks District.

Anspach confirmed Monday, Feb. 6, that the children had been under the direction of one of their naturalists that morning, but he declined to identify that person or confirm a name given to him. He said he also couldn’t release any information about the children.

The morning’s 4.8-foot high tide was due at 11:35 a.m; however, photographer Kitty Greene said there were large sets of waves, and that she’d yelled at the group to “get off the rocks!”

Ansbach said this was the first time in the camp’s 40-year history that there’s been a situation like that one. “It called our attention to look at our walks, what we do, how we read the tides.”

Under such conditions, he said, “they never should have been in that area for that walk.”

Anspach said they’re reviewing their protocols and safety requirements. “Our first concern is for the safety of the children.”

State Parks rangers weren’t notified of the incident, according to Nick Franco, superintendent of the San Luis Obispo Coast District.

“Camp KEEP is usually quite responsible and good with the programs and leading the kids and I’m not aware of any similar incidents or safety problems” in the past, Franco said.

How to be sea safer

The photos by Greene of Cambria offered a vivid reminder that ocean waves are unpredictable and dangerous, even for experienced scientists, beachcombers or tide-poolers.

Large waves and sets of waves can surprise even the most aware beach-goers, Franco said.

“I’d remind people that the ocean is an amazingly powerful force and it’s important to not become complacent and to always give it the respect it deserves,” he advised. “Never turn your back on the ocean and always remember that it’s not just the tide, but the size and frequency of the waves as well as the wind that can create dangerous situations very quickly.

“Not every wave is the same: there are those rogue waves that sweep up and surprise you by being much larger than the average wave you see,” Franco explained. “I think all of us who grew up near the ocean have experienced being caught by a large wave that we didn’t expect and that should always be a lesson to keep your eye on the ocean at all times.” For a quick ocean-recreation checklist:

  • Before you go to the shore, tell someone where you’re going and when you’ll return.
  • Know when high and low tides are expected, and predicted swell heights.
  • If waves are breaking over rocks, don’t go there.
  • If you feel unsure, don’t go into or near the water.
  • Don’t ever turn your back on the ocean.
  • Central Coast waters are cold, and the temperature of a sudden wave can stun you.
  • Standing at the edge of bluffs — popular with visitors — is unsafe because bluffs can be steep and crumbly.
  • Small, sandy beach cove areas can be covered very quickly by waves.


According to the Camp KEEP Website,, the 13-acre campus features 14 rustic cabins, each of which sleep from eight to 12, plus a multi-purpose Learning Center, open play area with recreational equipment, a “drum circle” area, open stage and campfire area.

Among hikes, tours and studies offered are in the forest, at the beach, tidepools, elephant-seal colony and Morro Bay Estuary and mudflats.