Five Weird Ways To Go

It's not all sharks and headfirst trips to the bottom that should worry you while surfing

| posted on August 02, 2013

If a wipeout doesn't get ya, here are five other things to be afraid of in the water. (Travis Watanabe survived) Photo: Noyle

While surfing is not particularly dangerous, spending lots of time in an unpredictable ocean, with Lord knows what swimming below and around you, and reefs, rocks, sandbars, and sharp, pointy surfboards all in play, the possibility of an unpleasant death always lurks. Here are five weird ways that your next session could be your last.

Jellyfish Sting
The box jellyfish, with sub species all over the tropical and sub-tropical oceans, belong to the unfortunate list of the most deadly animals on earth. Dozens of people are killed every year by these gelatinous beasties, which, unique among jellyfish species, actually swim rather than merely drift. Also called “sea wasps,” box jellies can sprout as many as 15 tentacles from their bell-shaped body, each of which can be 10 feet long, and each fitted with thousands of stinging nematocysts that deliver some of the most toxic venom known to science. One ounce can kill 60 people. Death comes by way of cardiac arrest, which can occur in as little as two minutes. Survive the stings? You’ve got tentacle-shaped scarring for life.

Bacterial and Viral Infections
Hepatitis A. Staph infections. Flesh-eating bacteria. Leptospirosis. Encephalitis. Vibrio Vulnificus. Depending on where in the world you’re surfing, paddling out after a rainstorm or a sewage spill (often, sadly, the same thing in populated areas) exposes you to a host of nasty infections. Most of the time, you’re just in for an uncomfortable and intimate experience with a toilet. But in extreme cases, your life can be on the line. Staph and Strep infections among surfers have resulted in amputations, even in Southern California. British rowing champion Andy Holmes died in 2010 after contracting Leptospirosis. A Honolulu man died of Vibrio Vulnificus after falling into the Ala Wai harbor after a sewage spill. So, maybe it’s best avoid the surf for three days after a rain spell after all.

Lightning Strike
“When thunder roars, go indoors!” charmingly warns the lightning safety section of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration website. But lightning is no joke. More than 100 people are killed in the U.S. each year by lightning, more than half of whom are involved in outdoors recreation. Not surprisingly, warm, moist climates with lots of humidity are prone to lightning storms. Unfortunately, they’re also where you want to surf. People walking on the beach and boating are killed by lightning somewhat often; surfers specifically are killed at a less frequent clip, but it does occur. Twelve surfers at Tokyo’s Shonan Beach were simultaneously hit by a bolt of lightning in the 1980s, killing half of them instantly. An 18-year-old surfer was struck dead by lightning in North Carolina in 2008. Saltwater and humans both conduct electricity, and while surfing, you’re generally the tallest object around. Not good.

Seal Attack
Depending on where you surf, seals can be: non-existent; small and cute; or huge and terrifying bags of muscle, whiskers, and teeth. Representing the latter group are the menacing leopard seal, native to Antarctica, but often spotted in Australia, New Zealand, and South America; and the elephant seal, both northern and southern varieties. Unafraid? In 2003, a leopard seal dragged a researcher underwater to her death in Antarctica. In 2007, a particularly surly elephant seal nicknamed “Nibbles” bit a surfer in California’s Sonoma County during a rampage that also saw Nibbles attack harbor seals and the occasional beach dog.

Don’t think this one’s weird? While a huge set looming outside with you sitting feebly in the impact zone may induce panic, deaths from drowning while surfing are exceedingly rare. Statistics are difficult to come by, but it’s safe to say that less than 100 surfers worldwide drown each year. This out of a world surfing population that is estimated at around 23 million. That’s millions and millions of sessions each year, resulting in only a few dozen drownings. The vast majority of ocean-related drownings occur among people who are inexperienced beach swimmers, whether on a surfboard or not. This doesn’t mean that you should paddle merrily into a situation that’s beyond your ability. But maybe keep it in mind next time you’re losing your shit when an eight foot mushburger cleans up your local beachbreak.

  • Nick

    Bitch dont kill my vibe

  • kcurse

    this article sounds like it’s trying to keep the newbies out of the water…

  • Max

    Stay out of the water. Surfing sucks. It’s dangerous and you will only loose your money in expensive surfboards! Stay out of the water.

    • Marcus

      you should have gone to school instead of surfed. its ‘lose’ your money brainiac

      • oobie goobie

        hang lose howly

        • jiblet65

          if you really are Hawaiian, you don’t even know your own language. it’s haole to you.

    • Ludinah

      Because when you started you were not a newbie maybe? I wish someone kicked you out of there at that time… Surfers are supposed to be relaxed, easy, cool and outgoing, please don’t come here to ruin that image, there are enough waves for everyone 🙂

  • Ryan

    One time a seal the size of a Prius popped up next to me and I lost my shit. Now I know it was for a good reason.

  • Sean

    Surfing sucks. Don’t try it.

    • Tyler Dirden

      Tee Hee…

  • Jason

    yes. do not surf or you will become a burnout bum that doesnt know the difference between ‘lose’ and ‘loose’ and thinks reverse psychology works in the case of surfing

  • Erol Gucci

    When I was surfing in Baler, Philippines there was a small shark in the line up. Maybe a foot and a half long.. maybe..

  • Keep surfing

    WTF?! haha this shit made me laugh, don’t give up newbies surfing, the best feeling ever, no one borns knowing. Cheers

    • southbayevents

      “no one borns knowing”. Speechless.

  • Gque

    Other beautifull ways to go are hypothermia, cramps, jump over the lip and down on your surfboard (maybe you wont die, but you can get quadriplegic and it will be difficult to swim), and the worst of all heated discussions with locals.

  • gamedemon24

    Thank God there’s no seals in Florida. I don’t think we have box jellys, but I’ve been stung before, and it was never anything beyond slightly irritating.

  • shacked

    Just about drown one session at Wilderness in Puerto Rico. Sneaker set caught about twenty of us, my leash broke and the swim in was okay until I got close to the shore (reef), the current kept dragging me out and would not let me in. I finally said fuck it and caught the next wave coming in and rode in up on the reef and got eat up with reef rash. Important lesson check you leash good before going out in 12 foot surf.

  • theancientriot

    What about angry locals. Thats got to be a weird, but plausible way to go?

  • tomco

    LoL…you all are bad to the ” Newbie ” lol…

  • Bubbles

    He forgot to put super stoned while surfing …that’s a good one…try it and you’ll see why not to do it again

  • Lock-N-Load

    This one time, when I was at surf camp, I was stung all over
    by box jellies. It was horrible and left me with some severe rash and open
    sores. Those then became major infected with flesh-eating bacteria. Man, open
    sores and bacteria raging through my body was not enough to keep me out of the
    water with pumping 2X overhead barrels. Well, I guess the oozing wounds
    attracted a couple of hungry leopard seals who were just ripping into me. I was
    doing my best to fight them off with some of my bros, right when a lightning strike
    hit about 10 feet from us. Both the seals were taken out and died right there, floating
    to the surface. We were all so frazzled by the near hit that we could not swim
    back to shore, and we all drowned. I’m writing this from beyond the grave. Now
    that’s some weird stuff.

    • Byron Williams II

      Crocked-N Loaded!

  • Niteowl

    Hey let’s get real… We were all newbies at one time or another. Fact. The ocean is a dangerous, but beautiful place. As far as the goon locals, well they are soo lost in themselves. Until they show me ownership papers, I’ll surf where I want, and they will suffer the consequences. Lets just all get along and enjoy the thrill of riding waves

  • stiffybooms

    nice post, keeping the landlord out of it but forgetting to mention the angry spouse

  • voxa

    surf is a reason to live this is a thing that every surfer know but if u check surf spirit it is just a part of life…