At first light on Sunday October 9th, 2016 an enormous cliff collapse occurred along the steep section of precipice just south of the Ho Chi Minh trail; the overhang infamously known as El Capitan.
That morning, as I completed the last stretch of my pre-surf routine, I detected a very loud familiar rumble and crack sound seemingly directly over my left shoulder. Without thought, I immediately went into survival mode, quickly running towards the water and to the right. At about 50 yards I peeked an initial glance over my right shoulder and saw a 300 foot tall dust cloud bearing down on me. Uninterrupted, I continued my panicked sprint for another 100 yards before taking a second glance over my right shoulder, at which point, the way too thick to see through dust cloud had halted about 40 yards behind me.
After about a minute, the dust cloud slowly dissipated as it concluded its floating eerie ghost-like dance over North Peak. Being out of harm’s way I slowly returned to my abandoned surfboard, which was sitting about 40 yards away from the cliff near the mid high tide water’s edge. From a distance I could see that my board was heavily dusted with earth that a few moments earlier had been part of the unstable cliff. I was relieved to find no large pieces of rock in the vicinity of my board and super stoked, after close inspection, to find no dings nor dents on my cherished James Mangano shaped Biscuit Model.
After collecting, inspecting and dusting off my board I walked into the surf and paddled out to begin my surf session. Shortly after reaching the lineup I was approached by three surfers who had been walking up the beach near Middle Peak at the time of the collapse. They all swore that, from their vantage point, there was little or no hope of me not being either seriously injured or killed from the cliff’s collapse. They stated that my precarious situation resembled that which is depicted on the cliff collapse signs posted in the general area of the collapse.
Reflecting introspectively over the few days immediately following this experience, I came to appreciate that I did not have time to sense the enormity and awe warranted by this massive geologic event. Moreover, I realized that the momentary adrenaline filled seconds needed to be sincerely acknowledged with an immense amount of gratefulness for having survived the incident completely unharmed.
I’ve always been hypersensitive about the dangers of the unstable cliffs at Blacks, and have warned numerous people (campers, photographers, sun bathers, even an entire yoga class on one morning) that hanging out close to the base of the cliff is an imminent threat to life and limb. Hopefully this story can serve as a reminder to all of us who enjoy Blacks Beach that the beauty of the cliffs have a sleeping danger that can unexpectedly awake at any time.
By Michael Schoaff