Skip to main content

Surf Their Waves—Even When They Tell You Not To

William Kaner  /  February 13, 2008  /  4 Min Read  /  Surfing

100_2018_2They say it’s bad to surf after a rain. I disagree. I have empirical evidence that shows they are wrong. I don’t get sick. Never have. And I used to live in Venice Beach. They never reported the water quality at my local break better than a D+. I saw it as a challenge. It was just one more thing to brag to my buddies about. And besides, they don’t know what it feels like when the crowds thin out and you’re actually able to get on the set of the day rather than fight for scraps. They don’t know about fighting for scraps.

So what was I to do when a solid northwest swell happened to perfectly coincide with the first big rainstorm of the year? Surf of course. And they certainly were not going to stop me.

They tried.

They put out their warnings describing dangerous bacteria levels. They raised their colored flags indicating less-than-ideal water quality. They even closed their beaches. Yet, despite their best efforts, I paddled right on through. Besides, I’m sure … no I’m positive that they are just a bunch of bureaucratic hotshots sitting around in Sacramento working out ways to mitigate their legal responsibilities(1). They certainly aren’t surfers, so who are they to tell me what to do?

[Post-storm surf somewhere off the coast of Ventura County. Photo: William Kaner]

Susan, however, is in a position to tell me what to do. She is theemergency room’s senior resident nurse assigned to keep me aliveexactly five days after my decision to ignore them. She tells me I madea visceral decision. I manage to hear her say that, somewhere in betweenthe morphine and the anti-nausea injections. She tells me it was anirresponsible decision. I can’t help but immediately disagree with her.My decision was purely pragmatic, and while in hindsight I can see whyshe might call it myopic, at the time, while I was bobbing like a buoyat six feet with ten-second intervals, it was clearly the correctchoice.

Susan tends to a few other patients before she takes her second shot atdrawing my blood. Her first attempt ended poorly for both her ego andmy left metacarpal vein. Apparently, my inability to drink liquid forthe prior 32 hours mixed with the five consecutive days of non-stopdiarrhea and bi-hourly vomiting episodes(2) have left me severelydehydrated.

They make me pee in a jar. Then, they make me defecate in an equallyundersized receptacle. They take my blood pressure and check my vitals.They administer their cocktail of Tylenol, Imodium, intravenousdextrose saline and antibiotics. They tell me it will help with therest of my symptoms, the 104-degree fever, the severe chest pain, thenever-ending numbness in my legs and my pounding headaches.

Susan makes small talk while pumping two fresh liters of fluid into mybody. She sends off samples of my urine, blood and stool for a rushdiagnosis at the lab. She seems to think that I picked up some sort ofbacteria while surfing, but I assure her this is impossible and that Ihave a perfect immune system that is simply impenetrable by oceanmicrobes.

While we wait, Susan tells me that she has worked as a nurse for thirtyyears and that she has practiced medicine all over the world. She eventhrows in a little politics when I ask her about the differencesbetween her hometown of London’s socialized health care versus hercurrent employers’ privatized system. She tells me she would like tosee a blend of the two systems. I immediately think of the bill I willreceive in two weeks and can’t help but disagree with her.

When the result of my stool sample comes back I finally get to meet thedoctor on call. The diagnosis… E. Coli. Susan shoots me a maternaltold-you-so look. E. Coli? That can’t be correct(3). This is certainlynot from the water. Is it?

Susan assures me that I must have swallowed either human or animalfeces while surfing. The bacteria took hold in my intestine and slowlybegan spreading into my blood stream where I developed septicemia. Shetells me that if I hadn’t sought out medical attention I could have hadpermanent kidney damage or even died.

Why didn’t they say that was a possibility?

Four days later and ninety-five percent healthier, my mid-morning jauntto work is the definition of why people pack up and leave LA for themore sparsely inhabited counties of the north. The hammering rain hasceased for a brief moment allowing for blue skies and the opportunityto steal a glance at the freshly snow-capped mountains, somewhat of arare occurrence lately. As to not break from my normal morning routine,I decide to take a quick detour and check what the waves look like atRivermouth.

Ostensibly, the surf is perfect. It’s 5 feet with only a handful ofpeople out. The wind is blowing offshore creating some hollow barrelingsections that look easily makeable from the parking lot(4). However, aquick look up the beach and you can see a torrent of dark brown, almostblackish soup pouring down the Santa Clara river and out into the openocean. 

I take my time and mind-surf a few unridden sets before I decide to getback in my car and head up the coast to work. There will be no surfingfor me today. After all, I think they put out some warnings aboutbacteria levels. They probably even closed the beaches.


(1) They are probably somewhere on the back nine with the Governator right now.
(2) These are as consistent as Seinfeld reruns on TBS. You can set your watch to them.
(3) To my best knowledge E. Coli is only obtained in three very specific ways, and only in these ways. 1) Drinking a certain type of apple juice. 2) Eating prepackaged spinach. 3) Consuming late-night fast food in 1993.
(4) I would most likely not make these sections.

We guarantee everything we make.

View Ironclad Guarantee

We take responsibility for our impact.

Explore Our Footprint

We support grassroots activism.

Visit Patagonia Action Works

We keep your gear going.

Visit Worn Wear

We give our profits to the planet.

Read Our Commitment
Popular searches