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Toxic Soup

John Dutton
Winter 2006

As a kid I surfed almost every day – rain or shine, surf or no surf. I progressed from mat surfing (there were no boogie boards back then) to body surfing and ultimately board surfing. Just being in the ocean was a joy: I mat surfed beachbreaks on summer south swells, tucked into Black’s barrels with only fins and a wetsuit, and surfed Pleasure Point at speeds that made the surfboard’s fin hum.

Forty years later I surf much less, but not because I’m more discriminating or jaded. No, it’s a matter of knowing too much in an increasingly polluted world. Where I used to surf 12 months a year, rain or shine, today I make the most of the fall days with glassy head-high surf. When the rains come in January, my surfing stops until the rains stop. We’ve all seen the water-quality reports and the off-the-charts fecal coliform counts and known friends who got a stomach or sinus bug when they surfed too soon after a storm.

But if you think it’s bad in the lineup for you, consider the animals. You might suffer a sore throat and a stuffed-up nose or a case of the runs after surfing your home break, but it’s far worse for the organisms that live there 24/7.

About the Author
John Dutton works as an editor for Patagonia and lives in Santa Barbara with his wife and daughter. He spends as much time on the water – surfing, paddling, sailing and fishing – as possible.