SEASIDE - Even from a cornfield in Illinois, someone can pan across the waves washing up at the Cove in Seaside.
From an Internet cafe in Africa, a computer user will have a front row seat while Fourth of July fireworks light up the ocean.
And, deep in the heart of Texas, a curious onlooker will be able to cheer on the runners in the Hood-to-Coast Relay as they sprint down the Promenade to the finish-line on the beach.
Watching the waves is already possible with a webcam perched on a balcony at the Lanai at the Cove, a vacation condominium complex on the south side of town. Set up by the Seaside Chamber of Commerce on the chamber's Web site a month ago, the webcam enables viewers to see almost three miles away to the Turnaround.
In another two weeks, the chamber will install a second webcam at the Seaside Aquarium, which will offer a view that will reach to the mouth of the Necanicum on the north and Tillamook Head on the south.
"It's a great view of the beach from there, it's a great view of the Turnaround and of Tillamook Head," said Keith Chandler, director of the Seaside Aquarium.
"The chamber wanted a place they could tune in on Hood-to-Coast, on volleyball, on fireworks," Chandler added. "It's a great vantage point for all three of their events."
While most webcams on the coast just have a fixed view of the ocean, Seaside's webcam allows the viewer to control the camera, said Al Smiles, chamber director. Viewers can pan from the Lanai to the ocean waves, over to the grave of the "unknown sailor" and on up to the Turnaround.
"And on a sunny day, if you look out on a sunny, clear day, it looks absolutely phenomenal," Smiles said. "As much as I go down to the Cove and spend time - I go down there every week - but when I look at that webcam, it looks just absolutely phenomenal when there are very few clouds or even when there are some clouds on a sunny day. It just looks very dramatic."
But the panning and zooming go just so far, Smiles said. The camera's administrator can set the parameters to maintain privacy. As a result, surfers who use the Cove don't have to worry about being spied on.
"We've been very careful about what you can see and what you can't see. ... We're very considerate, let's just say," Smiles said.
Those who want to test the webcam may have to queue up and wait until others are finished roaming. Each viewer has two minutes on the webcam, and five can wait at a time. A timer on the site tells how many seconds remain until the next person's turn.
Although Smiles didn't know how many visitors have been to the site in the past month, the webcam proved popular during a trial period before being installed permanently. At that time, the webcam had 8,000 hits in 48 hours, Smiles said.
The feedback has been great, he added.
"We've had people calling us. They've just said 'Thank you for putting the webcam up. It's a great view, it's a phenomenal view, and I'm always going on there.' So maybe we're contributing to people drifting off from work. But if it brings people to Seaside, then it's going to be good."
The first week the webcam was up on the chamber's Web site, it was named among EarthCam's top 10 sites for February. The EarthCam network displays Web sites from around the world, from scenic views of Hawaii to a backyard squirrel feeder in Minnesota.
"Catch a view of the surf, the turf and all the beachgoers that visit," suggested EarthCam, which noted that the Seaside webcam updates every second.
Portland news channels are expressing interest in the webcam for their weather segments. Fox12 News may include it on the weather updates within the next two weeks, and KGW will have a link on its Web site, Smiles said.
"That, ultimately, has been one of our great aims, to get it on the weather forecasts," he added. "For us, it's an opportunity to market Seaside. Once the initial expenditure has been made, it's an opportunity to market Seaside over and over again without any extra cost."
The chamber paid $2,500 for the equipment and Internet access. The money came from the chamber's business memberships and events. Astoria resident Dan Sealy helped to install it.
Eventually, the Seaside Visitors Bureau Web site will have a link to the webcam, and the Seaside airport may have one, too. Smiles hopes the link will spread to lots of Web sites "not only in Seaside but in other places."
But the webcams may have more serious uses, too. Although they won't display a surfer in trouble because they aren't aimed in the direction where surfers ride the waves, Police Chief Bob Gross said the webcams nevertheless had potential to help law enforcement. Smiles has told Gross that he will teach the chief how to override the controls in case the police need to search the beach.
"I don't see that we would ever use the camera unless we had a situation where we saw a benefit to going online and using it to verify information or get a better idea of what our officers are going into," Gross said. "I don't see us using it on a daily basis, just to scan."
But, Gross added if a child is lost and the police officers have a description, they could pan the beach.
"I could see an application there that could be beneficial in finding a lost child quicker. Normally we have to send bodies down there and start walking the beach and walking the Prom and see if we can find the child based on the description," Gross said.
Although Smiles hasn't yet heard that the webcam has been responsible for improving local business, he said time will tell if it will make a difference.
"But I have no doubt there will be, or are, people in Portland or Seattle looking at this and going, 'Oh man, Seaside. I haven't been there for two years or five years. I need to get back there.' I have no doubt that that will happen."