Don’t surf 72 hours after it rains. Seems like a simple enough rule. It’s what most public health agencies around the country advise. But alas, we’re surfers and if the waves are good it’s going to take a hell storm to keep us out of the water.
Southern California just received its first significant dose of precipitation in almost a year, and in light of this storm a quick refresher course on the pitfalls of surfing near river mouths or storm drains seems imperative.
“We call the first legitimate storm of the season ‘the big flush’ because for places like Southern California, that don’t see a lot of rainfall, it’s the first time in a long while that these storm drains and river mouths are flushing out everything from oil to brake dust, chemicals, and pretty much everything else that’s been building up in these inland waterways,” says Rick Wilson, the senior staff scientist at the Surfrider Foundation.
Case in point, for the past couple of days beaches from Ventura to Newport to San Diego have been closed due to either sewage spills or contaminated water.
“People that are effected can experience anything from flu-like symptoms with fevers and aches and pains, to ear and nasal infections, to much worse, it’s very serious and there’s some nasty stuff in that water,” adds Wilson.
The old wive's tale is that surfers, because of their reckless lust for waves, eventually develop immunities to some of these fecal-friendly bacteria. Or some of us paddle out just hoping to dodge a bacterial bullet. But currently, the Surfers Health Study is underway which hopes to clarify exactly what happens when we go surfing in poopy waters. Part of the Southern California Coastal Water Research Project (SCCWRP), the goal is to determine specifically what the ramifications of surfing in polluted water are. Led by Ken Schiff, the study is focusing on San Diego’s Ocean Beach and Tourmaline as sample sites.
“Ocean Beach is a rivermouth, and Tourmaline is an outfall location,” explains Wilson. “Both struggle with their own unique pollution problems, but are typical of what you’d find throughout Southern California, which is why these two locations were decided upon.”
To date no official scientific study has been performed in regards to surfers’ health and water quality, and that’s just the kind of data this study hopes to capture.
“Most surfers know not to go in the ocean after it rains because of storm water pollution,” says Schiff, “but many surfers still do. We want to find out what happens when they do.”
Teaming up with the UC Berkeley School of Public Health and the Surfrider Foundation, SCCWRP is a survey-based study, which surfers can take either online or by downloading the free app from the study’s website. After a short background questionnaire, a weekly five-minute survey over the course of four weeks is all that’s required. The study was launched December 1 and will continue through March 31. For those surfers that frequent those breaks, there’s a $20 gift card from Swell.com in it for you if you take the time.
Hopefully we’ll have a lot more rain, and a lot more data come the end of this winter. And remember, unless it’s absolutely firing, you may want to pass on that storm session.