Surfing: don't paddle out after a heavy rainfall | Photo: Shutterstock

Is it safe to surf after it rains? How does surfing after a heavy rainfall affect your health? Make no mistake: the risk is much greater than the reward.

It's hard to be out of the water when the waves are picture-perfect, and the lineup is empty. But if rain has just fallen, you might just stay where you are.

It's a classic dilemma; one that has been rumored in the surfing community for a couple of decades. What are the risks of contracting diseases after it rains? Should you postpone a surf session just because it's raining?

Today, we know it's not a good idea, especially taking into consideration that many of the world's most popular surf spots are located in front of urban areas.

So, it's true - surfing after rainfall may seriously affect your health. The problem is well-known and has nothing to do directly with the water drops that fall from the sky.

Can you surf in the rain? Yes, you can, as long as you don't spot a storm on the horizon or high chances of lightning. Although acid rain is a reality, the primary complication comes from terra firma.

According to health specialists, surfers and beachgoers should never get in the ocean after it rains. But why is that?

Waves: urban run-off is responsible for the contamination of our surf spots after it rains | Photo: Shutterstock

When it rains, the urban runoff increases and sends untreated trash, human and animal waste, fertilizers, pesticides, plastics, oil, paint, and other pollutants into waterways such as rivers, streams, lakes, and creeks.

Eventually, they will reach the ocean and contaminate the urban surf breaks located on the nearby beaches and river mouths. Because rainfall events generate significant surface water, the water pollution levels increase dramatically in a short period of time.

Sewage that leaks from waterlogged sewer pipes will also contaminate the ocean, sooner or later, making it dangerous to enjoy what the sea has to offer.

The problem is more common and frequent in high-density residential areas located near the coastline. In some countries, the local authorities issue warnings and impose sanctions on those who violate the no-go restrictions.

Health experts believe people should avoid surfing or swimming in the sea for at least 72 hours following a rainfall because they will expose themselves to diseases and infections.

A few hours after a major precipitation event, the ocean water becomes a paradise for E. coli (Escherichia coli), amoeba, protozoa, and other pathogens.

The health problems associated with swallowing fecal-contaminated ocean water include gastroenteritis, hepatitis, giardiasis, skin rashes, amoebic dysentery, nose, ear and throat problems, pink eye, and other respiratory illnesses.

In other words, you may experience nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, cramps, inflamed stomach and intestines, and physical disorders related to the exposure to harmful bacteria.

Rainstorms: don't surf immediately after it rains | Photo: Shutterstock

In 2016, the Surfrider Foundation teamed up with the School of Public Health of University of California, and Southern California Coastal Water Research Project, to analyze whether there was a strong and clear correlation between rainfall events and health problems, or it was all an unproved empirical assumption.

The Surfer Health Study concluded that there is an increased rate of gastrointestinal illness from surfing and that rate increases following wet weather.

Researchers underlined that there's an extra risk of 12 surfers per 1,000 becoming ill when they enter the ocean in wet weather, compared to when they do not get in the ocean. In other words, there's a 5 percent chance of infection during wet weather and a 2.5 percent chance during the warm season.

The good news is that the illness rates were highest when surfing during rain and the first day after the rainfall. Then, illness rates declined each day following rain, decreasing to near baseline levels after 72 hours.

So, it might not be a good idea to ride waves when the rain is falling from the sky. Stay out of salted water for, at least, three days. It's a bit like surfer's ear - you think it won't happen to you, until it does.

If you're willing to sacrifice your health, and eventually your life, then make sure you do the following immediately after concluding your session:

1. Take a freshwater shower;
2. Drain the mucus and sinuses from your nose and throat;
3. Disinfect your nostrils with Neti Pot;
4. Unblock and clean your ears;
5. Drink a lot of water;
6. Eat a lot of vegetables, fruits, and foods high in vitamin C;

Protect your health. Don't go surfing after it rains. Check the quality of the water at your favorite surf breaks before making a decision.

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