As the winter months quickly approach, it’s crucial surfers keep their health in mind before paddling out into the lineup. Staph infection, ear infection, and an upset stomach are just some of the many marvelous conditions a surfer can earn for paddling out after a healthy rainstorm.
The rain greatly affects the quality of the ocean and if your local break is near an estuary, creek, river mouth, harbor, or any type of urban runoff, you might want to check with your country’s local health department before you sneak a session in.
Rivera State Beach frequently experiences urban run-off. Photo: Surf Channel /Alfaro
The fortunate thing for surfers on the West Coast is the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) is expecting a dry winter mostly due to a predicted El Niño that never showed up, although Hawaii and Florida are expected to be cooler than usual.
However, that doesn’t mean there won’t be the occasional rain storm, and we can expect storm drains and coastal estuaries, also known as “polio-ponds,” to be filled up with trash and the most debilitating of bacterias when the rains come.
If you decide to paddle out at a spot like Dohney State Beach in Dana Point California, one of the best ways to prevent an infection is taking a shower immediately after surfing, making sure the ears are thoroughly washed. An even more effective tactic for preventing infection is using those dorky silicon or plastic ear plugs.
If ear plugs appear to be too kooky, another effective tactic to keep ear infections down can be done by rinsing and drying the ear canals with an equal mixture of isopropyl alcohol and 2% acetic acid or household white vinegar. This solution can be kept in a small spray bottle and applied in the ears after leaving the ocean. If pain ever develops, seek medical attention.
The poor water quality at a beach like Dohney is mostly attributed to three things:
1. The first problem being a harbor is directly next to the beach causing oil, gasoline and general filth to accumulate in the sand where it is trapped between the jetties and rocks.
2. The second issue is the respectably sized creek where organic nutrients and urban runoff will eventually reach the ocean when the sand berm breaks during high rains.
3. The last issue, and possibly the most disgusting at Doheny, are the birds.
The beach is dubbed a protected bird sanctuary, but the high amount of birds are a major factor for the poor water quality. Just about every kind of ocean bird in Southern California can be found at Doheney, but 90% of the time you will see seagulls sitting in the water where they defecate, all day, and everyday… The accumulation of fecal matter floating in the fresh water is loaded with bacteria.
Many beaches will post warning placards if there are risks of bacterial infection. Photo: Surf Channel / Alfaro
Seal Beach is an example where raw-sewage can sometimes seep into the San Gabriel River resulting in a gross bacteria mess, but as long as surfers avoid the high risk surf spots when warnings are posted and when heavy rains drench the coastline, there is no need to be too concerned for your health when surfing.
To stay up-to-date with water quality in Southern California, agencies like the Orange County Beachinfo offer consistent tweeting of the latest beach conditions. Surfrider Foundation is another great resource for your local beach quality reports.