For the past few days, Lowers and Salt Creek have been firing, so to speak. A large Southern Hemisphere swell combining with a pulse from the west has rendered the two breaks, and many more like them up and down the California coast, nearly perfect. But, sitting in the lineup at Lefts off the Point yesterday afternoon under the brown veil of heavy smoke carried west by Santa Ana winds, the crowds were smaller than I anticipated. It could be, I thought to myself, that three days of great swell had satiated many of Southern California’s otherwise aggressive surfers, or it could be that health concerns prevented the less hardy from indulging themselves in the ruler edge perfection of a goofyfoot’s dream. But as I sat smugly in the lineup, and looked eastward over the Ritz, it occurred to me that maybe I was the one missing the point-inhaling, as I almost certainly was, hundreds of carcinogens with each foolish breath.
Unless you live under a rock, or if you’ve just returned from some remote atoll, you’ve doubtlessly been inundated with news of Southern California’s raging firestorm. We will spare you this information here. What you may not have considered is just how much this firestorm is affecting you coastally. As smoke and ash rains daily on the ocean and its watery coastal cities, it is certainly appropriate to think of just how much those elements are currently affecting you, and will continue to do so in the coming months.
According to the Surfrider Foundation’s Chad Nelson, the primary concern for the time being is the quality of air. The air is visibly filthy, and any strenuous activity (such as jockeying around a packed house at Lowers) is not recommended activity. While that may seem like common sense, I enjoyed a certain irony in watching one surfer change into his wetsuit with a dust mask on, only to rip it off and run down the hill, into the surf.
The less obvious consequences of the fire have to do with the ash and debris pouring down on the ocean. The massive amounts of ash that fall into the water everyday contain nutrients that could contribute to algal blooms and red tides, says Nelson. The word is eutrophication, a biological event usually confined to a lake where an abundant accumulation of nutrients contributes to the growth of algae or other organisms. So, it is possible that after a long summer of red tides for California surfers, more could be in store.
And what about rain runoff later this winter? Luckily most of the fires are fairly far inland, but there is a good chance that runoff could contain above-average amounts of sediment, which could, in turn, contribute to more bacterial growth.
The Surfrider Foundation is monitoring the situation, and will be updating surfermag.com on any new developments. But for right now, this much is certain: surfing (or being outside, for that matter) is a dangerous activity right now, and it remains uncertain if it will be in the future. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to go catch a wave.