Saturday, March 19, 2011


(Photos taken by Gino Campioni)

-Beware, Baffi! Beware!-

The tsunami in Japan and the tragic events that followed reminded me how scary the ocean can be. My mother would always warn us of this by saying, “Il Mare e traditore” (The ocean is a traitor). What she meant was quite clear to us. The ocean can appear calm one minute; then sweep you out to sea the next showing no mercy. Pretty scary stuff to us kids.

Kristian, my 13-year-old Grandson, asked me if a tsunami had ever hit Santa Cruz. I responded, “Not until now”.

“But Grandpa”, he said, “You write about one in your book.”

The event that Kristian was talking about occurred in the early 1950s. I don’t think it was labeled a tsunami, however, the storm and giant ocean waves did quite a bit of damage. At the time, my family and I were living on the Gulch Ranch, 3-miles north of Santa Cruz.

The following is an excerpt from my book, “La Nostra Costa” (pgs. 299-300) describing the event.

“. . . .circa 1950, a giant rainstorm hit the coast. The rain and wind came down upon us,buffering the walls and roof of our small fragile house. Rain hit the Coast Road in such volume that it quickly caused the drainage ditches to overflow. Water formed on the road, creating wild currents of water which flowed past our house and down into the Gulch. Amid the sounds of rain, wind and rush of flowing water, we could hear the ocean roaring in the not-too-faraway distance.

The whole scene reminded me of a film that Dante (Rodoni) would often show us at (his) ranch. (I think it was a Laurel and Hardy silent feature.) The old flick was a comedy, but rather scary because it depicted and old rickety house situated on a beach. A big storm hit and giant waves swept the house off its foundation and into the ocean. To ride out the storm, the fat man and the skinny guy sat on the roof of their house, as it bobbed about in the ocean. If the 1950 storm had continued, I imagined that we would have gotten into the same situation as those two guys. Thankfully, the rains would stop in time and we would be once again safe. However, in the background we could still hear the roar of the ocean loud and clear.

A few days later, I took a stroll down to the beach. The ground was still wet, but the sun was shining and things were getting back to normal. I walked to the top of the bluff overlooking the beach . . . . What greeted me was something unreal, something that you might now see in a special effects movie. It was as if I was looking at the creation of a whole new world. The surf had hit so hard that it had completely wiped out the sandy beach, exposing the bedrock beneath and had so much force that the tide was driven up into the gulch by about 300 feet (or more). The sides of the gulch were completely denuded of vegetation. It was as if giant bulldozers had carved out a new canyon, making it ready for development. The only difference was that the sides of this canyon were soaking wet and dripping with salt-laden kelp and seawater. As I stood looking agape at this amazing scene, Il Mare in the background kept roaring, its sound now reminiscent of rolling thunder, I could almost hear it saying to me: ‘See there, little boy. This is what I have done in the past and what I can still do in the future. Beware. Beware.’” *

* From the book, “La Nostra Costa” (Our Coast), published by Authorhouse (2006). Copyrighted (2006) by the author, Ivano Franco Comelli. All rights reserved.
"La Nostra Costa" is now available in ebook format:


IVANO said...

"Baffi" Campioni as many of you know, was the father of Gino Campioni, one of our "Blaggatori".
He worked many years on the ranches up the coast. He, his wife ADA, and Gino lived on Bay Street in Santa Cruz.

Dante (Rodoni) was the "Bosso" of the Rodoni Ranch located on the Coast Road just across from Dimeo Lane. He had a movie projecter and often would show home movies of the coast. Clips of these are now seen on Community TV (Davenport
Oral History Project.) At times he would also show us old silent westerns, commedies, etc.

Ironically, a few days ago a man was rescued off the coast of Japan. He was found floating on top of the roof of his house which was torn from its foundations by the Tsunami. Truth often imitates
fiction. ivn0

GINO said...

Ciao Ivano,

Thanks for posting that photo of my father. It brings back many pleasant memories
of fishing on the Santa Cruz Wharf.

The only error is that this photo was not taken circa 1960, as Baffi died in August, 1959.
More likely it was taken circa 1950.

Thanks for all you do, and as another good friend of mine often says, “And for all you’re
going to do.”

Saluti, Gino

Ivano Franco Comelli said...

The below Chapter Endnote appears on page 301 of 'La Nostra Costa':

"On October 27, 1950, the headline in the Santa Cruz Sentinel read "Heavy Ground Swells Damage Beach." The article stated that the municipal wharf in Santa Cruz had to be evacuated ("Waves Cause Crack") and it described damage done by the storm to the boardwalk, pleaure pier, and
bandstand. Winds were recorded at 52 miles per hor. A picture on the front page shows huge waves crashing over the boardwalk. Major
damage throughout the county was attributed to the storm."
This strorm described above probably was the storm that
I wrote about in the book. ivn0


Hey, Ivano. I remember one summer when Carrie Cariolla was knocked over by a wave at the Nudie Beach on the Coast.
Now that was a Tsunami!

Anonymous said...

Hay Polenta-Head, the only tsunami you ever saw was caused by all the hot air you blew out of your rear-end!


Comments by Pat Polentoni and Anonymous not-with-standing, I would like to commend you on your account of the 1950 Storm. I remember it quite well. Those waves were huge. I believe the wharf and the boardwalk were seriously damaged.
Ironically, I saw on CNN a week or so ago, that one of the comments made by a survivor of the Tsunami was " The Ocean Turned Against Us". Your mother's warning was right on the mark. ss