TO SURF OR NOT TO SURF

Rain. Unless it’s gooi’ing a wet blanket on your jol, dousing your braai or flooding your low lying posie, its probably one of our favourite weather events. This is especially true when it makes the wave extra glassy, similar to the dance floor of Raffles at 2 AM. However, with multiple banging breaks turning on just off the shores of densely populated concrete and asphalt-covered cities is there a health risk in surfing straight after a heavy rain?  

This is not an estranged concept to most of us, there has always been a debate amongst the health conscious and those who adopt a more blasé attitude toward such affairs. The question still remains should you postpone a surf session just because it’s raining, I mean you going to get wet anyway. If we take a look at the definition of ‘urban runoff’, remember that thing from Grade 8 geography class? Well it is defined as:

“Stormwater from city streets and adjacent domestic or commercial properties that carries pollutants of various kinds into the sewer systems and receiving waters.”

Photographer: Nick Wren

Logic would dictate that coastal waters would then become polluted with urban runoff and sewage from leaking water-logged sewer pipes. So, then the primary complication is attributed to terra firma, you know that hard stuff we step on all day every day unless we kicking it with our feet up or floating out in the lineup. Well according to various health specialists, we should think twice before heading off on a dawn patrol, but why?

Well when it rains, urban runoff increases and sends untreated trash, human and animal waste, fertilizers, pesticides, plastics, oils and other pollutants into waterways such as rivers and into stormwater systems. Therefore, it’s not brain surgery or even rocket science to come to the conclusion that surf breaks would become somewhat contaminated following a heavy rain.

Photographer: Ty Lahner

Sewage that leaks as a result of waterlogged sewer pipes will also contaminate the ocean, sooner or later, making it a health risk to an extent to go in and get wet. By entering the water after a heavy downpour you run the risk of exposing yourself to diseases and infections. Now it is obviously not guaranteed that you could contract some water born aliment but you are more at risk for sure. One of the nasties you would need to be wary of whilst freeing trapped water from your sinuses is E.coli (Escherichia coli). It’s true that E.coli live in all of us but exposure to a high amount will 100% not do you any solids, literally and figuratively speaking.

Long story short, you may experience nausea, vomiting, diarrhoea, cramps, inflamed stomach and intestines, and physical disorders related to the exposure to harmful bacteria. According to a study carried out in California researchers found that there’s an extra risk of 12 surfers per 1,000 feeling a little ‘blehh’ when they enter the ocean after a rain, compared to when they don’t take the plunge. In other words, there’s a 5 percent chance of infection during and directly after rain compared to a 2.5% on those cloud-free days. Well there you have it, you are at a higher risk, no doubt, whether you will get sick that remains to be seen, as the saying goes you got to risk it to get the biscuit. 

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