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Surfing After Storms: Avoid the Sickness

Feeling nauseous and feverish, Payton Goebel left her room and headed towards her psychology final. This was not exactly how she wanted to be feeling for her first finals week of her college career, but her love for surfing had brought her here.

“I knew I’d pushed my luck too far,” said Goebel, remembering her fall term finals week. “It was raining for a few days that week, and I surfed for at least four hours the day before my last final. I definitely woke up regretting it. I’ve been told that the water can make you sick after it rains, but I didn’t want to listen.”

Goebel is one of many who have found themselves hurting after a surf session in rainy waters. Matt Mindel, a member of the Point Loma Surf Team, knows more than most about avoiding the water when necessary.

“I grew up surfing,” says Mindel. “I learned the hard way how bad the runoff can affect you the next day. I’m always bummed when it rains because I’m itching to go out, but I know I don’t want to be in that water.”

Why do you have to avoid the ocean after it rains? Well, what many Southern Californians know after years of experience and learning about the urban stormwater coming from the city, is that the runoff from the streets dirty the waters and can make anyone sick if they’re in the infected water. SURFER’s feature piece in 2010 on the issue puts it quite clearly: “Allowing the untreated urban run-off into the ocean is like letting your neighbor hose down his driveway, wash the bathroom floor, spray out the bottom of his garbage pails and then dump the dirty water into your pool.” Not many people can be found that want to put themselves in that position, but Southern California surfers find themselves there anyway.

This issue of polluted runoff making its way into the coastal waters doesn’t just involve San Diego locals. In 2018, Imperial Beach filed a lawsuit against the federal government to force them into action on the Tijuana River sewage flow that is running into the California coast. So, more than just the urban runoff, there’s sewage that is continually flowing from Tijuana into the San Diego waters, adding to the dangers of surfing or swimming in the water after rain.

The sicknesses that occur can be gastrointestinal illness (GI), rashes, or ear infections. The chances of surfers catching illnesses from the polluted rain runoff are high, especially in San Diego, where runoff areas are everywhere. Goebel and Mindel aren’t the first or last surfers to get sick because of the infected water. As Fox 5 reported, there are storm runoff warnings, but it doesn’t really keep surfers away. The solution is hopefully coming in the form of depollution of runoff, but in the meantime, awareness and caution of the dirty water is the best way to avoid the sickness that it brings.


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Kate Cyr

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