Sand and waves: take care of your health

Sadly, many of the world's beaches and oceans aren't the cleanest places on earth. Surfers spend a lot of time in these environments and are often exposed to viruses, bacteria, and parasites, which can each cause a variety of diseases.

Surfers are affected by skin, eye, ear, foot and respiratory problems while enjoying riding waves. These can also be caused by pollution and water contamination.

There are nine main illnesses than may affect surfers and other recreational water users. Although you should not be alarmed by the list or the infections, it is important to carefully select the places where you surf. The sand and the water, for example, must be subject to regular analysis by the sanitary authorities in that particular region.

The nine diseases that can be contracted on the beach and in the ocean are:

Hepatitis: A problem for surfers due to the improper disposal of red waste, a hazardous waste (such as syringes)Enteric Bacteria: Transported by storm water and sewage run-off, the beaches become contaminated with fecal pollution, known as enterococci. The bacteria contaminate the intestinal tracts of humans and other animals.

Legionnaire's disease: A respiratory illness that lurks in warm waters; it's a form of pneumonia and is contracted when one inhales mist or vapor that has been contaminated with a particular bacteria. It causes high fever, muscle aches and coughing.

Oil Spill-Related Illnesses: Dermatitis and other skin infections can be contracted following dermal contact with oil or dispersants.

Surfers Ear (Otitis Externa): An infection of the external auditory canal that is often contracted during the summer in humid environments. It disturbs the skin's ability to serve as a barrier.

Gastroenteritis: Causes diarrhea, which can be contracted from cryptosporidium, giardia, shigella, e.coli and norovirus.

Swimmer's Itch (Schistosome cercarial dermatitis): An itchy rash that is caused by parasites; trematode parasites move from host to host.

Pink Eye (Conjunctivitis): One of the most common eye infections contracted in water; irritates the eyes causing people to touch the affected area, spreading the infection. Beach-goers often wear contacts when visiting the beach, instead of risking losing expensive prescription glasses. Unfortunately, these can harbor the bacteria responsible for pink eye, and can spread it while swimming.

MRSA: Present in sub-tropical waters; spreads from one body to another through water and is washed into the ocean where the bacteria can infect populations of beach-goers.

Anka Point, Morocco: Tom will be missed here | Photo: Adventure Keys

Tom Padden, the 2007 Welsh Junior Surfing champion, has lost his life in a tragic car crash, where only his baby child and grandmother survived. Logan Padden, just six months old, was pulled from the back seat of the wrecked car. Louise, 23, and grandfather Steve, 54, also passed away in the accident.

The family was returning from a trip to Morocco, when the accident occurred on the M4, in South Wales. The Padden's were only 20 miles from their homes in Porthcawl.

"The whole family had been in Morocco enjoying the surf and the sunshine. Tom was a very fearless and intrepid surfer. Word had already spread that he had ridden the biggest wave on the coast known as Anka Point", says Tom Anderson, chairman of the Welsh Coast Surf Club.

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Quiksilver In Memory of Eddie Aikau: highway ahead

Thursday looks good for another big wave action event, this time in the Quiksilver In Memory of Eddie Aikau. Weather forecasts are still not transparent, in terms of wave height, but there's a good chance getting "Eddie" bombs on January 20.

The extra large swell that is building for the Oahu's North Shore must meet the required 20-foot waves, in order to kick off the competition. Last year's In Memory of Eddie Aikau got underway on on December 8, 2009. Greg Long took the first place of the podium.

"The system generating the surf is definitely gigantic and certainly as strong as predicted, covering roughly 18,000 square miles of the north Pacific," explains George Downing, Contest Director of The Quiksilver In Memory of Eddie Aikau. "But up to now, the strongest winds generating the open ocean swells have not been aimed at Hawaii. This can change as the system passes the dateline, so we will have to be patient."

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