Storms create walls in the sand

Alaskan storms are coming southward, eroding Newport's Balboa Peninsula coastline.

November 30, 2010|By Tom Ragan,
  • Massive erosion allows a metal detector enthusiast to get closer to possible lost treasures along giant sand berm wall south of Balboa Pier.
Massive erosion allows a metal detector enthusiast to… (DON LEACH, Daily…)

NEWPORT BEACH — Strong winds and rainstorms have caused beach erosion along some stretches of the Balboa Peninsula, creating steep walls of sand as high as 6 feet — a reminder that winter is on its way.

Like the snow in the Midwest or the heavy rains of the Pacific Northwest, the erosion is an annual phenomenon that occurs in varying degrees in Southern California, depending on the size of the storm and surf.

It can all be traced to as far north as Alaska's Aleutian Islands, where storms start, then move south, bringing strong winds and equally strong surf with them, Newport Beach lifeguards say.

Ultimately, the storms create waves that hit beaches at an angle in what is known as a longshore current, or drift.

Egged on often by a strong east-west currents that's produced by a southerly wind, the waves begin to chew away at many of the south-facing beaches, as is the case with the Balboa Peninsula.


The end result is that tons of sand is picked up and redeposited on the beach — or pulled out to sea.

While the edges of the sand walls may seem inviting, they can be dangerous.

That was the case a few weeks ago when a 9-year-old boy who'd been playing with his friend in the sand at 54th Street in West Newport Beach. The pair managed to burrow a 10-foot-long hole that was nearly three feet around.

"What some people don't understand is that when you add water to the sand, it can get wet and heavy, and then it's hard to get off of you if you get stuck," said Newport Beach Fire Division Chief Paul Matheis.

Newport Beach lifeguard Capt. Josh van Egmond just happened to be patrolling by the area at sunset. He spotted the two boys out on the sand with nobody around. He quickly called for backup, but ultimately pulled the boy out of the tunnel just as it was collapsing.

"We dodged a bullet with that one," said van Egmond, 46, who had just received sand entrapment training the day before the Nov. 11 incident. "I managed to grab a hold of his foot and yank him out."

"You can never be too careful. Years ago, back in the '80s, there were a couple of kids who died doing the same thing — at 54th Street," van Egmond added.

And that's just in West Newport Beach, where the sand walls, also known as berms, aren't nearly as high as they are on the Balboa Peninsula, particularly between the Balboa Pier and the Wedge, lifeguards say.

Daily Pilot Articles Daily Pilot Articles