A giant wave crashes against Porthcawl Pier in South Wales during a winter storm, sending a statuesque torrent of water up into the air.
All images are copyrighted and used with permission of the photographers
Whoosh! As the massive wave unleashes its fury, the onlookers instinctively duck their heads, even those stood safely on the boardwalk. However, the pier takes the brunt of the wave’s force, and while it was erected well over a hundred years ago, it’s still standing strong.
Apart from providing ships with a place for docking, piers – particularly those designed for pleasure – are great places for taking a stroll. Rather confusingly, more solidly constructed breakwaters are also commonly referred to as piers, but unlike their raised and supported counterparts, breakwaters perform an important defensive function, protecting coastlines against the force of waves. Yet whether built of stone or propped up by pillars or piles, come rain, hail or snow, these structures stand their ground. We’ve found 15 photos of steadfast piers and breakwaters getting pummeled by the ocean but not succumbing to Nature’s might.
The majority of the structures shown here can be found in England and Wales, which is fitting, really. England’s first recorded pier, Ryde Pier on the Isle of Wight, was opened in 1814, and there’s a countrywide tradition stretching back to the 19th century of piers being built for pleasure, or else used for fishing or other work such as the loading and unloading of cargo.
Image: Mike Lastra
This incredible image shows a huge wave smashing head-on into a pier. The effect is stunning, yet the lone visitor seems unfazed, holding their ground despite the massive surge of water shooting up in front of them.
Whereas piers, properly speaking, have traditionally served a variety of purposes – be they leisure or commercial – breakwaters have a different but definitely no less important function. For one, they protect the coast from the weather, and from sediment washed along by the wind and the ocean’s drift. What’s more, by taking the first hit, breakwaters reduce the intensity of waves, thus protecting harbors and doing their bit to reduce coastal erosion.
This huge wave smashing into Roker Pier, in North East England, resembles some kind of ferocious beast that’s intent on swallowing the structure whole. There doesn’t seem to be much chance of that happening any time soon, though: the pier was built in 1846, and so has been standing for 166 years to date. It also looks sturdy enough to weather a few more storms to boot!
Image: David Pringle
This impressive breakwater and lighthouse is to be found in Tynemouth, North East England, where it protects the northern side of the mouth of the River Tyne. As we can see, it’s doing a fine job of resisting the bombardment it’s getting here.
Tynemouth Pier is about 3,000 feet (914 m) long with a wide walkway running along its apex. The stone structure took 40 years to build, but in 1898, just three years after its completion, the center section, which was originally curved, got destroyed in a huge storm. Rebuilding the breakwater so that it was straighter in design took another good few years, and it was eventually finished in 1909.
Despite what’s just been said, here we can see that a curved breakwater is not necessarily doomed to fail. The North Pier at Seaham, on the Durham coastline, about 20 miles (32 km) south of Tynemouth, seems to be withstanding the impact of this giant wave just fine. Could it be because it’s not as high as the structure at Tynemouth (which even had a rail track running along its lower level that trains and cranes used for loading ships) and so has been able to roll with the sea’s punches? Either way, this is a broad, sturdy structure evidently used to taking beatings from the raging sea.
In this next image we’re again in Seaham, whose pier you might recognize due to its small looking black and white striped lighthouse. Oh, and by the fact that it’s as wind- and wave-swept as can be! Yes, Seaham’s 1,383-foot long (421.5 m) North Pier is really being pounded by the waves whipped up by a storm in this shot – and it has been since 1905 when it was completed alongside the shorter 876-foot (267 m) South Pier. This is certainly a stunning picture; and indeed, so dramatic looking is the town and its coastal setting that it has been used as a location in two major movies: Alien 3 (1992) and the runaway hit Billy Elliott (2000).
Doesn’t the wave in this photograph look like an angry bear clawing at the elements? (Come on; squint a little, and use your imagination!) We simply love the combination of raging sea, waves engulfing the breakwater, and clouds contrasting with the silhouette of a charming Baltic Sea skyline in the background. Lovely!
This huge explosion of seawater almost looks as though it’s showing off – perhaps posing for the camera? Facing up to the tempestuous wrath of the North Sea, this is Seaham’s North Pier, again, with its recognizable black and white lighthouse. Notice how the surging water dwarfs the breakwater? One word: whoa!
Image: Tony Williams
Here’s another view of the Tynemouth Pier and lighthouse. The waves at Tynemouth can be quite menacing, as even writer Charles Dickens found out during a stroll on March 4, 1867. Dickens wrote:
“There was a high wind blowing, and a magnificent sea running. Large vessels were being towed in and out over the stormy bar with prodigious waves breaking on it; and, spanning the restless uproar of the waters, was a quiet rainbow of transcendent beauty. [T]he scene was quite wonderful. We were in the full enjoyment of it when a heavy sea caught us, knocked us over, and in a moment drenched us and filled even our pockets.”
Image: Stan Laundon
The waves in this next shot seem to be giving the New Pier (a.k.a Heugh Breakwater) in Hartlepool, North East England a darn good licking, and the power of the ocean is nicely juxtaposed with the industrial backdrop of nearby Teesside.
Still, while the waves rolling in with the storm certainly look fierce, in pre-industrial days, the poet Thomas Gray had a more pleasant experience of the water in Hartlepool – specifically its medicinal springs. Upon visiting in July 1765, Gray wrote to a friend: “I have been for two days to taste the water, and do assure you that nothing could be salter (sic) and bitterer and nastier and better for you… I am delighted with the place; there are the finest walks and rocks and caverns.” Maybe Dickens should have followed Gray’s lead!
This impressive head-on collision between wave and breakwater took place on a stormy day in Portreath, Cornwall, in South West England. Portreath means ‘sandy cove’ in what must surely be a reference to the village’s sandy beach, located west of the harbor, which attracts vacationers in the summer. The breakwater, by the way, was built as early as 1760, when it provided shelter for small boats so that copper ore could be loaded onto them ready to be shipped to Wales.
Here’s a different angle on the enormous wave hitting the long breakwater pier in Portreath that also shows the cliffs above and to its right. The harbor’s two oblong basins and the old stone pier itself are reminders of the trade that existed between Cornwall and Wales, which saw ships setting sail from Portreath for Swansea carrying copper ore and returning laden with coal.
Image: Tim Wood
Here’s yet another crashing wave that looks like some kind of giant beast – perhaps another bear with outstretched paws (see its muzzle at the top of the image?). If we are to see it as some kind of monstrous incarnation of nature, then the water is clearly trying to maul the breakwater and lighthouse in this shot. This dramatic location can be found in the popular holiday resort of Porthcawl in South Wales, about 25 miles (40 km) west of Cardiff. The tiny lighthouse (built in 1860) is still being used to help ships navigate, and the pier is a popular sea fishing spot.
Image: John Kirkwood
This is what it looks like when waves really pummel a breakwater: the structure is all but gone, swept under the waves, but the fence for keeping out the adventurous – or foolhardy – is still standing. In case the pier looks familiar – it’s Seaham’s again. We just can’t get enough of it!
Image: Steve Jones
‘Ocean’s wrath’ might be a fitting caption for our last image, another that shows an embattled Porthcawl Pier. The dozens of onlookers don’t seem to mind getting drenched, and we have to admit, it does look too good a spectacle to miss. All we’re wondering is: why not watch it from the safety of a café, with a nice warm cup of tea in your hand?
If the piers shown here could only talk! They’d certainly have some tales to tell – of waves, storms, and perhaps shipwrecks and other catastrophes. For now, though, we can but stand and stare in amazement – and maybe take a peak into our history books.