Surfing in Dirty Water: So Sick!
The last time I went in to the doctor for a regular checkup, he asked me the usual questions about my health and lifestyle. When he heard I was a surfer his facial expression became very serious.
“You surf here, in the Santa Monica Bay?”
I said I did and, a bit surprised by his reaction, I assured him that it was very normal and lots of people do it. He wasn’t listening because he was furiously scribbling on his clipboard, compiling a shopping list of additional shots and immunizations that I would need now that I had admitted my filthy habit: Tetanus, the Hepatitus Alphabet, etc.
I thought surely he was over-reacting but better safe than sorry. Surfing isn’t dirty, surfing is healthy! I feel great every day I can get in the water, and as long as I wear sunscreen, I’m good right?
Testing the Waters
Today I was down at Ocean Park in Santa Monica for a press conference to release NRDC’s Testing the Waters beach water quality report, and the numbers are not good. Coastal water quality is as bad as it has been since NRDC started doing this annual report 22 years ago, and not getting better, with two of the top three worst reports coming in 2011 and 2012.
What’s in the water?
The worst beaches in southern California are contaminated with human fecal bacteria. Gross. Two of the worst scores on this year’s report, Avalon Beach on Catalina Island and Surfrider Beach in Malibu, are two of the more popular beaches in California, with active beach cultures. Both of these beaches are on the list of worst offenders every year. The City of Malibu recently came to an agreement to improve stormwater management, which is great progress and should make a big difference for pollution at Surfrider caused by stormwater runoff. However, the water quality reports show that public health is still at risk and more needs to be done to address beachwater pollution, here and across the state. Beach cities’ economies rely on their beaches to draw tourists, so it is encouraging to see them making it a priority to keep the coastal waters clean and safe.
Most of the surfers I know take pride in facing their fears and “charging it” in hairy conditions even when there is a risk of physical injury. We hear “don’t go in the water 72 hours after rainfall” and we think “Pshaw, but it’s firing and I’m frothing! I’m strong, no little creepy crawlies gonna get me!” These remedies are anecdotally proven to protect you from dirty water: hydrogen peroxide in your ear, gargle with a little rubbing alcohol, cayenne-maple syrup master cleanse… But the water is getting dirtier, and home remedies never go far enough. Besides, they shouldn’t be the answer when there are solutions available to prevent water pollution in the first place. Last year a buddy of mine was hospitalized after surfing at a rivermouth with bacterial meningitis, the kind that gets into your spine. He is now fine, thank Neptune, but let’s clean up the water!