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When I was a wee grommet, I never understood why we couldn’t go surfing after it rained. I thought to myself, “What are we afraid of? Getting wet?” In reality, going in the ocean shortly after precipitation in Southern California - as well as other highly-populated locations - could be life-threatening. If you’ve ever checked the surf report during a storm, you may have noticed the advisory at the bottom of the page, warning against going in the ocean within 72 hours after rainfall. Storms are often accompanied by great surf, but sadly, at many of our beaches, you can find the outlets for sewage drains, and river mouths. This deposits polluted, bacteria-infested runoff straight into the ocean, which clearly could make people very, very sick. However, this doesn’t stop everyone, including at times myself. Over the years, I’ve heard (and used) an extensive list of excuses as to why surfing after the rain would be totally fine. Sorry to rain on your parade, but the truth is, none of us are invincible, and the illnesses that can be contracted through dirty ocean water are no joke.
Some of the most common symptoms affecting those who have been in runoff-infested waters are practically identical to typical cases of food poisoning, which I will not be describing due to their yucky nature. These episodes generally only last a few days, but are horribly uncomfortable and temporarily debilitating. Fair enough if you’re willing to deal with an upset tummy for some epic waves, but there are more severe health problems that can be caused by post-rain surf session cooties. If you have any open cuts (even teeny-tiny ones) on your body, you are basically putting out a welcome mat for Staphylococcus bacteria, which cause potentially deadly infections that attack your entire body. Some surfers have required several surgeries to overcome staph infections, including amputation of infected limbs, and in a few very rare cases, surfers have died. If that’s not enough to frighten you, studies of runoff contaminated California ocean water have detected the presence of pathogens that cause Cholera, Salmonella, Hepatitis, and more.
Now that I’ve properly given you the heebie jeebies, I will admit that even after learning all of this, I still will foolishly enter the ocean only a day or two after a rainstorm, and as evident by the fact that I am sitting here typing this, I haven’t died yet. That being said, I am fully aware of the threats I am posing to my health, and while still dangerous, I attempt to follow a certain protocol in order to best avoid dire consequences. I would never surf after rain if I’d recently been sick, if I felt like I were getting sick, if I have any cuts or scrapes, or basically anything else that would compromise my immune system. I’ll pass if the water looks brown, and also don’t surf at beaches that are directly in front of river mouths or sewage drains, but obviously there is such a thing as ocean currents, so this can only eliminate so much danger. While it would be hypocritical for me to advise anyone against surfing after the rain, I do feel that it is important for everyone who chooses to do so to understand the risks they are taking. When water does fall from the sky this winter, no matter what you decide, remember to stay safe, and as far away as possible from the I-5.