I can report on a bit of a catastrophe I witnessed, and just barely avoided myself.
The Wedge, in Newport Beach California, can receive some ridiculously large surf - not only does this draw in the brave souls who ride the waves, but also hoards of observers, most of which have photographic equipment of some variety.
It was one of those days with large waves. About 100 yards north of where most of the surfers catch the waves is a spot that photographers with longer lenses congregate - it's a great vantage, as you can see into the tube of the breaking waves due to the angle of view. So, you have a crowd of photog's with lots of expensive equipment standing at the waters edge...and huge waves coming in.
A sand berm had formed, most waves didn't come over it, and those that did were enough to wash your ankles and shins with cool ocean water - no threat to those standing (as most of us were). This, however, became the device which brought about the disaster heading toward us.
There stood a half dozen people with equipment of value that could easily be traded for new cars, and in some cases, small houses. I'll admit, I was vaguely embarrassed to be shooting with a T1i and a Canon 75-300 (5.6) lens...an older, entry level DSLR at best. A few of these guys make some or most of their living selling surf photos to the magazines. Serious, serious equipment. Almost none of it protected against the incursion of salt water. Some of it in open cases and duffel bags.
Oh, the horror.
A particularly large set had come in, and the waves were phenomenal - everyone was focusing their shots down the beach toward the surfers, and almost no one was looking at the ocean right next to us. That's when it struck.
A wave hit the berm with such velocity that it was launched well over 10 feet into the air, creating a suspended lake of evil salt-infused water above the heads of all those at the waters edge. I saw it happen out of the corner of my eye, and somehow had the presence of mind to turn, curl my body over my camera and lens, tuck my elbows in and pray that it would be enough to protect my poor little camera. It was. Just a hint of dampness on the furthest end of the barrel, and nothing near any joints or on the body.
Not so for many others. The carnage was nauseating.
An open Pelican case was floating in a newly formed inland lake, with water sloshing about in the recesses, some edges of lenses visible above the water. Duffel bags were adrift in that new lake, one of which was being pulled aloft, endless amounts of salt water pouring from one end, as a woman was reaching in and pulling out a camera body - I didn't get to identify the brand of the victim. A large number of photographers were rapidly attempting to dry off and rescue their cameras they were holding at the time - long lenses, large bodies, attached to tripods and monopods, all in a complete panic.
For some, this put an end to their day - I overheard a number of people commenting on contacting their insurance companies, and many others had moved far back from the water, up the beach, laying out their equipment on towels, shirts, whatever was dry.
Ironically, my meek little rig turned out to be the right item to survive that catastrophe.
So the lesson to be learned is...
Eh, I didn't learn one. I'll go back and do the same, stupid thing with my new body and lens, and just hope I survive the next attack.