The man, identified as Andrew Machi, was fishing when he was swept off the rocks by the wave.
According to a GoFundMe page set up by the family members, Machi's wife made an attempt to rescue him from the waters.
"Brandie jumped in and tried to save him but he was about 15 feet out and the water was throwing her back into the rocks," Brandie Machi's sister, Jamie Tracey, wrote. "She ran for help but he died."
Tracey said that a coroner believes Machi hit his head on the rocks and was "knocked out."
Cmdr. Brendan Hilleary, response chief at Coast Guard Sector Humboldt Bay, told the North Coast Journal that officials immediately launched a MH-65 Dolphin helicopter and 47-foot Motor Lifeboat after they were notified of the incident.
"The helicopter arrived at the incident within six minutes of takeoff, located the missing man in the water, hoisted and flew him directly to emergency medical care at Mad River hospital," Hilleary said.
The incident in California came a day before a similar event about 400 miles up the coast in Oregon, when a woman was seriously injured after the large log she was sitting on was also struck by a devastating "sneaker wave."
"NEVER turn your back on the ocean!" the rescue agency said.
Sneaker waves -- large waves that strike without warning -- sometimes claim lives of the unwary along the coast of the Pacific Northwest due to their unpredictability.
"For much of the West Coast, sneaker waves kill more people than all other weather hazards combined," according to the National Weather Service. "Sneaker waves are deadly, larger-than-average swells that can suddenly and without warning surge dozens of feet higher up the beach than expected, overtaking the unwary."
The agency says they are called "sneaker waves" because they often appear with no warning after long periods of quiet surf and much smaller waves that can last for up to 20 minutes.
"Based on what they see, they get too close to the water and stop paying attention," the NWS says. "It is this calm that lulls people into a sense of security. Survivors all say the same thing: They thought they were far enough from the surf to be safe. They never saw the wave coming."