Surfing After It Rains In California – 72 Hr Rule

When is it okay to go surfing after a rain shower? Are you okay to grab your board and hit the surf straight away or do you need to wait?

And if it’s the latter, why? What effects does wet weather have on surfing in California?

How Long Should You Wait To Surf After It Rains?

The Department of Environmental Health suggests waiting at least 72 hours to surf in the ocean after it rains in California to protect your health and safety.

Many people don’t realize they have a higher risk of getting an infection in the water if they attempt to surf shortly after heavy rainfall.

The risk is highest the day after it rains and reduces with each passing day. This risk declines and returns to normal after about three days or 72 hours.

This is where the 72-hour rule comes into play.

Is It Safe To Surf After Rain?

No, health experts do not believe it is safe to surf immediately after it rains.

There are more bacteria in the water and this increases the risk of infection.

It’s safe to return to the water after 72 hours, at which point the risk of contracting illnesses and diseases has greatly reduced.

The Surfrider Foundation also advises surfers not to get in the water while it’s raining because of how polluted the coastal waters become.

Sewage pipes overflow and everything rushes into those coastal waters, creating a cesspool of urban runoff that produces more bacteria and intensifies the problem.

The reason this is more of an issue in Southern California is that it has more bacteria in the water than in other coastal regions in the U.S.

A screenshot from Surfline echoing The Health Board’s guidance for not surfing after a rain in San Diego.

Beaches that are in proximity to nearby rivers are also dangerous to surf in, which is why some scientists recommend waiting up to five days to get back in the water.

Many surfers who get into the water too soon can develop gastrointestinal illnesses, which include vomiting, cramps, and diarrhea. Norovirus has been discovered in 97 percent of beaches in cities like San Diego and can lead to severe illness. Additional illnesses include MRSA, staph, sinus infections, the flu, hepatitis, and the flu.

There’s an average of a three percent risk of contracting an illness within the first 72 after it rains. This risk drops to 2.5 percent in dry weather.

Surf locations in Southern California with a lot of runoff are also more dangerous to surf in because they contain more fecal indicator bacteria.

Why Are Beaches Closed After It Rains?

Most of the time, when a beach closes after it rains it’s the result of pollution from storm drains. The pollution often includes pet waste, motor oil, trash, pesticides, and a host of dangerous pathogens.

Locations like Rehoboth Beach in Delaware have five pipelines that drain into the ocean right off the beach. Some of the runoff at other beaches like Imperial Beach in San Diego comes from Mexico, which is why cities close down their beaches for several days.

It’s important to avoid entering the water, especially if it looks brown. Be sure to read signs that are posted at the beach, especially at lifeguard towers, as these will give you an indication of how safe the water is.

The signs are not there because the local authorities are overly cautious. This is not a “nanny state” issue where health and safety protocols are pushed to the extreme and beyond. The warnings are there to protect public health and if they tell you to avoid the surf, then you should stay away!

Where To Surf After It Rains In San Diego?

Fortunately, San Diego is known to have some of the cleanest beaches and ocean water in Southern California.

It’s one of the best places to surf on the west coast, and that’s true for both dry and wet weather. However, you still need to practice caution following rain showers.

Some beaches in San Diego clean out quickly after it rains, whereas others take long until it’s safe to return. Some of the best beaches to surf to where the water is cleaner include La Jolla Shores, Solana Beach, and Cardiff.

Where To Surf After It Rains In LA

If you want to surf after it rains in Los Angeles, some of the best beaches include Manhattan Beach, Venice Beach, and Santa Monica Beach.

These are some of the cleanest spots out of the 500 beaches present in the city.

Unfortunately, Los Angeles has dirtier ocean water than other parts of the country because of the millions of people present in the area.

There’s a lot of pollution, a lot of bacteria, and a high risk of experiencing issues ranging from amoebic dysentery to pink eye and skin rashes.

Los Angeles only gets a few days of rainfall each year, which causes more pollution to be present in the ocean.

Additional beaches that rank higher for having clean water in the city include Zuma, Malibu, and Royal Palms State Beach, San Pedro.

Both of these beaches are considered to be hidden gems that are less populated and even have tide pools where a lot of marine life is present.

What Are the Illness Rates for Surfing in the Rain?

The Surfrider Foundation conducted an extensive study that looked at the risks associated with surfing during or after rain.

The study looked at over 10,000 surf sessions from 654 surfers in San Diego, covering the winter seasons from 2013 to 2015.

As expected, the study found that the illness rates were much higher and that these likely resulted from low water quality.

The study noted that surfers who catch waves within 72 hours of a rain storm are at risk of contracting GI illnesses. 30 per 1,000 surfers are expected to have these issues when surfing in a storm, compared to just 18 surfers per 1,000 who surf in dry weather.

That may not sound like much of a difference, but GI issues weren’t the only problems recorded.

The rates of eye and ear infections were also higher.

The water quality seemingly returned to baseline levels after 72 hours, though. Once this timeframe passed, there was no longer a worrying increase in diseases and illnesses.

The Surfrider Foundation also discovered that areas with heavy runoff were more likely to cause problems, which is to be expected.

Is It Really a Big Issue?

Although the above stats might not sound too alarming, it’s all about playing the numbers game.

As a surfer, you’re already exposing yourself to bacteria-ridden water and to an array of potential issues. If you surf several times a week, those seemingly infinitesimal risks become quite substantial and the probability of contracting some illness over the course of a year is high.

You must reduce these risks as much as you can, and that’s why it’s important to wait for 72 hours to pass and paddle in clean waters where possible.

Surfing In The Rain

Can you surf in the rain? Yes.

Should you surf in the rain? Probably not.

It’s not just the post-storm period that you need to worry about, as you’ll face many of the same issues while it’s raining.

When it rains, you’re dealing with all the runoff of human sewage and animal waste. The ocean is already polluted and rain storms increase the concentration of those pollutants.

There’s also a potential storm risk. What happens when the waves get too big, the surf gets a little out of control, and you’re forced to deal with limited visibility?

It can be fun, and so surfing in the rain is very tempting. But you need to be experienced and skilled to make it work, otherwise, you could be putting yourself in unnecessary danger.

Of course, not all rain is equal. You’re unlikely to have any visibility or surf issues with minor rain showers, but these will still decrease water quality and increase the risk of infections.

Protecting Yourself While Surfing in the Rain

Let’s assume that you ignore all of the warnings outlined above and you surf while it is raining or mere hours after the rain has stopped.

Maybe you didn’t know it was a problem and have just returned home to learn the news.

Now what?

Unfortunately, the damage may already have been done. But there are a few things that you can do to reduce the risk of further problems.

First, take a long shower and make sure you’re thoroughly cleaned. The sooner you do this after your session, the better. You may have a lot of bacteria clinging to your skin and hair, so you must remove this as soon as possible.

Secondly, if you have a Neti Pot, now’s a good time to use it. It will drain the mucus from your nose and throat, so if there is any bacteria lingering in there, it’ll be drawn out.

Finally, drink a lot of water, stay hydrated, and eat a big meal rich in vitamins and minerals.

These things might not do anything. In fact, if the bacteria is already in your body, they probably won’t. But they could provide some additional protection and in rare cases, they could be the thing that stops you from getting sick.

After surfing in the rain, be on the lookout for any signs of bacterial infection, including pain, pus, rashes, and swelling. Contact a healthcare provider if you experience any of these symptoms.