In a perfect world, a city’s storm drains shuttle rainwater from the concrete metropolis, one such as Los Angeles, and out to the ocean, the purpose of said drains being to keep the all of the city’s inhabitants safe from flooding that inevitably occurs when measurable amounts of rain fall on overdeveloped land. Rain is easily absorbed by the Earth when it isn’t covered in asphalt and buildings. But once society essentially conquers land in the name of progress, as comedian Steve Harvey might say, things don’t go good.
I live, as most know, in California. In fact, I live and surf in the largest city in California. This city’s storm drains, while working wonders at preventing floods, are truly the bane of my surfing existence during the winter months. For reasons that are unclear to so many of us, all kinds of trash and pollutants end up in those drains. This is why our local government dictates that surfers stay out of the ocean for 72 hours after a decent rainstorm; it takes at least that long for the ocean to recover from being bombarded with the nastiness that ends up in the storm drains (motor oil, furniture, dead animals and, often, sewage) once rain envelops our city.
Of course, a great many surfers ignore the admonition about waiting three days. Too many of them find convenient, if unbelievable, justifications for paddling out.
It’s the only day I have to surf since I’ve been working so much.
I never get sick. (That one seems to be uttered by friends who always surf after a rain and who are perpetually under the weather.)
The waves just looked too good.
This beach is clean—it’s just the beach down there that gets dirty.
Case in point: a few days ago, a friend surfed at Malibu after a rainstorm. His initial Facebook post was celebratory as he jokingly reported surfing “in 0′ of radioactive death murk at 1st Malipu (sic)”. Within 24 hours, his jovial tone was gone: “staph from the Bu? shit ! treatment options ? Acupuncture ? Antibiotic ? Salt Water Baths ?” Malibu is a particularly perfect wave with a particularly severe water quality problem, especially after it rains. Those of us who surf in Los Angeles know this. And yet, many fail to heed the warnings about the elevated levels of bacteria that the rains bring. Knock, knock. Who’s there? Cleopatra. Cleopatra who? Cleopatra, queen of denial! How many times does a surfer or 12 have to get sick before we all stop denying that there’s a problem?
Now, look, I’m well aware that discussions about polluted beaches do little or nothing to feed one’s surf stoke. In some ways, polluted water is the elephant in the room. We all know—or at least should know by now—that our oceans are in peril. Consequently, we surfers face increasing risks to our own health as the health of our oceans decline.
My goal, at this point in my surfing life, is to remind surfers that we need to be more vocal, more proactive, less self-absorbed about, as well as completely attentive to, the pollution that affects the oceans. We cannot continue to make this a once-in-a-blue-moon topic of conversation, one that revolves around our needs or our stoke. Throwing money at the problem is not enough. We can (and should!) give to Surfrider Foundation until we’re all blue in the face, but doing so without regularly lending our voices to the cause shows that we have yet to take this subject seriously.
If I was an ocean, I’d have to break up with us surfers, citing “irreconcilable differences” as the reason for my need to give my love to another (even if that reasoning won’t work as grounds for divorce in the UK). I ask you this: what is your relationship to the ocean and how would you feel if it responded in kind?Ocean pollution, Surfrider Foundation