Surfing After it Rains: A Doritos Bag Saga

Is it safe to surf after it rains?
"I can't. It just rained."

Go on a journey with me.  

You’re a Doritos bag, and you’re in the hands of a hungry high school kid in Yorba Linda, California.  He’s just cleaned out your last chip and now he’s licking the cheese dust from his fingers as he drives down Yorba Linda Boulevard.  He could just wait to throw you away, but he’s recently gotten his car detailed so, instead, he tosses you out the window.  You land in the gutter. This is where it ends for you.  


Or so you thought. 

Later that night, it starts to rain.  Everything street level, including you, is swept into the storm drain and deposited out into the Santa Ana River, which is flowing harder than it has in years.  Traveling west, you pass through Anaheim, Orange, Garden Grove, Huntington Beach. Along the way, you see all sorts of crap: golf courses, bowling alleys, rehab centers, DisneyLand, Angel Stadium of Anaheim, and…Huntington Beach.  

Ask Griffin Colapinto what he thinks about Huntington Beach.  Kanoa gave us his candid take on kids from San Clemente in season two episode (6) of Make or Break

“We hated those kids from San Clemente riding around in golf carts,” said Kanoa leading up to the MEO Pro Portugal.  Spoiler: Griff went on to win that contest.  

You, a Doritos bag, didn’t originate from San Clemente or a golf cart so that’s neither here nor there.  Your journey is on the Santa Ana River ripping west.  

By this point you’ve made friends with a dog poop bag, a syringe, and a dead rat. Together you’ve shared wonderful times as you went with the flow and hoped you were sailing to better days. 

Eventually, you make it to the river mouth where Newport and Huntington meet.  The sandbars are perfect and you’re quickly swept out into clean 3-4 foot waves.  Out there, you see a lone surfer scoring wave after empty wave.  It’s paradise. 

You, a Doritos bag, ask yourself one question: Why aren’t there more surfers out here? 

Every rain in California there are countless stories like this one.  Many far worse.  And each time, every surfer asks themselves the same question: How long should I wait to surf after it rains?

We all know the warning.  Wait 72 hours to surf after a rain.  Percentage wise, you go from 1.78% to 3% more likely that you will contract some bacterial infection.  Think new hit show The Last of Us, but getting barreled. 

Monster Surfer

But have statistics ever kept us from surfing good waves before?  Those stats don’t seem like enough to deter a tried and true surfer from nice waves. 

To find out more I polled ten surfers scattered throughout California. 

The results are as follows: 

  • 4 said to stop being a wuss and go surf. 
  • 4 said it depends on if it’s the first rain of the year. 
  • 2 said they wait 72 hours (and it sounded like they regretted it). 

There’s a catch, though.  All 10 of them said it depends on how good the waves are.  And that, if we are being honest, is the answer.  No amount of rain should deter you from getting good waves.  The stats don’t back up the dodge.  

This is what a study done by UC Berkeley had to say: 

“The study found that when surfers enter the water during or in the 72 hours following storm events, an average of 30 per 1,000 will contract GI illness, compared to 18 per 1,000 surfers who will contract GI illness without entering the water, and 25 per 1,000 who will contract GI illness when entering the water during dry weather. From a health risk perspective, that is an extra – or excess – risk of 12 surfers per 1,000 on average who will become ill when they enter the ocean in wet weather, compared to when they do not enter the ocean.”

You heard it hear last.  That’s a 12 surfer (with bad BMs) swing.  

There’s always risk.  As one of the polled surfers said, “Even if you wear ear plugs, water is still going to get in through your butt.”  Crass, maybe.  But true?  Yes.  A wetsuit might help a little, though.  

Back to the point.  Most of us laymen will never have a line-up to ourselves, so why should a little rain discourage us?  Most of us won’t ever make it on a boat trip to the Mentawais, either, which I hear is going for upwards of $7k.  Granted, those aren’t empty line-ups either for the most part, but that’s the closest feeling a lot of us will ever get to being alone in the ocean with good waves. 

I grew up near the river mouth that our Doritos bag (you) arrived at.  Plenty of ear infections and sore throats, but also some of the best waves after a good rain.  Putting it into perspective, the odds of getting hit by a bus in California are about 1 and 7,374.  

Is It Worth It?

Okay.  If you did the math, you realize you’re more likely to get sick surfing after it rains than getting hit by a bus.  That’s not the question though, is it?  The question is, really, what are you willing to sacrifice for good waves?  

Surfing a good wave is one of the most unique feelings in the world.  You’re, at once, powerless and powerful.  For a second, your mind stops and your whole focus is on just one thing.  The ocean.  That’s rare.  Rare is special.

I’m going to quote some of my favorite surfers now, because it might help in understanding why a little rain should never sway you from getting good waves. 

Kelly Slater: “There’s nothing like that feeling of dropping in on a wave and feeling the power of the ocean propel you forward. It’s like nothing else matters in the world except for that moment.”

Mick Fanning: “Surfing is like meditation in motion. When you’re out there riding waves, you’re completely present in the moment and all of your worries and distractions disappear.”

Stephanie Gilmore: “Surfing is like dancing with the ocean. Every wave is different and it’s up to you to find the rhythm and flow with it.”

John John Florence: “Surfing is a feeling of freedom and weightlessness. When you’re riding a wave, you feel like you’re flying and nothing else matters.”

Carissa Moore: “Surfing is like a playground for the soul. It’s a place where you can let go of everything else and just be in the moment, surrounded by the beauty and power of the ocean.”

I mean, come on.  Bottom line, we should always go surfing when the waves are good.  Even if it is after a rain.  

Think about it, you could be a Doritos bag on Yorba Linda Boulevard. 

Father, surfer, poet.


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