The Science of Surf Remedies: Stingrays

Veteran lifeguard Teag Turner on the ocean’s land mines

Urobatis halleri, as depicted in the upcoming scientific journal The Mysteries of the Blue or Sometimes Green Sea. Illustration by Todd Prodanovich

For our April issue, themed “The Science of Surf,” we tackled complex topics such as technique, genealogy, bathymetry, wave pools, hydrodynamics, and stoke. As a supplement to the issue, we have consulted experts in the field on how to handle some of surfing's unpleasant side effects in our Science of Surf Remedies. For more on the science of surf, check out our April issue, available on newsstands now.

Chapter I — Stingrays

The stingray (Urobatis halleri): a pancake-sized fish capable of striking fear deep into the bravest of hearts. A slippery misstep while walking out into the lineup has humbled the best of us, whether from a barb in the foot or a shameful audible reaction.

Teag Turner, Lifeguard I at Huntington State Beach, calls stingrays "ocean land mines," and chalks most stings up to bad luck. Turner said that on a day with large crowds and a dropping tide, the lifeguards at HB often deal with more than a hundred stings in a single day, and see well over 1,000 stings during a summer season.

"Stingrays don't occupy all beaches equally," said Turner. "They're primarily found in sandy beach breaks with level bottoms. The most common times for stings is when the tide is dropping, because people can walk out and stand where it was much deeper only a short time ago, where stingrays bury themselves during the higher tide. The simplest and most effective way for surfers to not get stung is to do the stingray shuffle, where you drag and shuffle your feet. It causes the sand to kick up, scaring the stingrays away before you're able to step on them."

The usual incident entails the sharp sting of Urobatis halleri, followed by a throbbing ache as the toxins from the barb spread through the victim's bloodstream, usually rising from the foot and traveling up the leg. The official plan of action for a sting is to soak the injured area, usually the foot, in as hot of water as the victim can stand for 30 to 45 minutes. "The sooner you begin soaking the foot the less time the toxins have to circulate through your blood stream. The hot water helps to breakdown the toxins and alleviate the pain."

In a sense, stingrays are cruel little reminders that surfers are born of the land, yet another point for the ocean in keeping us humble. Though there's little one can do to avoid Urobatis halleri, take solace in that if you do get stung, survival is only a hot tub of water away.

Up next: Post-rain surfing with WiLDCOAST's Paloma Aguirre.