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Santa Cruz Stormwatch: Recording Our Natural History in Photos

Bay Photo was founded in Santa Cruz, CA in 1976, and after several moves through the company's expansion, we are now nestled in the coastal redwoods next-door in Scotts Valley. We are grateful to be headquartered in such a gorgeous region of California, and an internationally renowned destination spot. Through the recent storms that have heavily impacted California, we've been witnessing not only the power of Mother Nature, but the power of photography as a means of recording the evolution and resilience of historical landmarks.

You may have seen that we love to include local landscape imagery around Santa Cruz county as a part of our brand story. These photos capture the iconic scenes of the Walton Lighthouse in the Santa Cruz Harbor, the Capitola Venetians, the SS Palo Alto Cement Ship, Steamer Lane on West Cliff Drive, and more. Let's take a photojournalistic account of a few of these sights through the effects of the early January atmospheric river.


The Walton Lighthouse

At The Santa Cruz Harbor

Photo by Matt Hofman

Although it doesn't date back quite as far as the Santa Cruz Surfing Museum (Mark Abbott Memorial Lighthouse, est. 1967) at Steamer Lane, The Walton Lighthouse was constructed in 2001 and is hands down one of the most popular subjects to photograph in Santa Cruz. Usually there is a stillness about the lighthouse pictured on the jetty, but the recent crashing waves of the storm have added a dramatic effect.

Photo by Patrick Jagger

"Walton in disguise… This morning’s high tide and huge swell caused so much damage along the coast. Here large waves engulfed the Walton lighthouse and continued across the road into Schwan Lake." - Patrick Jagger

Photo by Brook Todd

"I have always had a love for Santa Cruz, I grew up not far from the area I call home now - Aptos, CA. The Santa Cruz coastline is constantly changing. Last week, the ocean again showed it can be a metaphor for the stewards that live here, displaying power, along with beauty and strength. Santa Cruz and the central coast are resilient, just like the people that choose to call her home." - Brook Todd

Photo by Matt Hofman

SS Palo Alto Cement Ship

At Seacliff Beach

Photo by Matt Hofman
The SS Palo Alto in 1945, courtesy of Smith Collection / Gado / Getty Images

The Cement Ship has a long history, originally constructed for use as an oil tanker in World War 1, but finally reaching completion after the war in 1919. It was sold to Seacliff State Beach in 1929, where it became a lively amusement attraction complete with dance floor, cafe and swimming pool. During the Great Depression, the ship was sold for $1.00 to the state, and all amenities were removed, leaving it a fishing pier and artificial reef. Over the years, the cement ship has been weathered and worn, and foot traffic access was finally closed off in 2016 when it split at the hull and partially submerged.

Photo by Alison Gamel

In the recent storm on January 4-5, 2023, a portion of the pier was destroyed, completely separating the cement ship from the shore.

Photo by Matt Hofman

"Post storm damage from Seacliff State Park. The cement ship has taken a lot of beatings the last few years but seemed to withstand the brunt of this storm pretty well. The pier on the other hand, which used to go all the way out to the boat, looks to be a total loss." - Matt Hofman

Photo by Alison Gamel

Capitola Village

The Venetians, The Village and The Wharf

Photo by Matt Hofman

Capitola is a small seaside town just east of Santa Cruz, known for its quaint village and scenic wharf. The village and beaches buzz year-round with tourism, but the devastating aftermath of the storms paints quite a contrasting picture.

Photo of Capitola pre-storm by Matt Hofman
Photos of The Venetians post-storm by Patrick Jagger

Alison Gamel recounts her experience photographing Capitola after the first wave of storms:

Photo by Alison Gamel

"Floods are the second-most widespread natural disaster on Earth, after wildfires. When a river overflows its banks or the sea moves inland, many structures are unable to withstand the force of the water.

I was aware of the huge storm coming, but I had no idea the magnitude of destruction I was going to witness. The first place I went to shoot was Capitola Village. I knew by the size of the crowds gathered up on the hill watching the ocean, what I was about to see was not good.

Waves reached 35 feet and tore apart our favorite landmarks, restaurants, businesses, and homes. While I couldn’t help but to be in awe of just how powerful Mother Nature can be, I felt a huge sense of loss. I thought to myself, 'this could rearrange the whole coastline.' And it quite literally has." - Alison Gamel

Photo by Alison Gamel
Photo by Patrick Jagger

Beauty From Chaos

The Healing Effects of Artistic Photography

Photo by Terry Way
Photo by Terry Way

"I sent my drone up during a break in the rain to have a pelican’s perspective of Capitola as the late afternoon sun cast its glow. The muddy ocean gave the entire scene a sepia toned wash." - Terry Way

Photo by Matt Hofman

"Attempting to make art during this crazy storm cycle. Frothy foam from high winds and large surf makes for great abstract possibilities. So much detail in there if you zoom in close." - Matt Hofman


Want to Help?

Acknowledging such events through photography can bring awareness to the areas, communities, businesses and people who need the most help in rebuilding through the aftermath. Here are a couple great organizations to donate to if you feel inclined to help fund storm relief across Santa Cruz County:


Special Thanks

To a few of our local photographers who have helped document this historical event:

Matt Hofman | Patrick Jagger | Alison Gamel | Brook Todd | Terry Way

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