Article

The Science of Surf Remedies: Stingrays

Veteran lifeguard Teag Turner on the ocean’s land mines

| posted on March 01, 2012

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.

  • Honey Badger

    These little f***ers hurt like a some beetch…..

  • http://www.uvitasurfcamp.com Tito

    I ts a nice article. We run a surf school in South Costa Rica and one of the most important things while you learn surfing or even if you are in the ocean is to prevent and be safe. This another nice article about sting Rays.

    Pura Vida!

    http://www.uvitasurfcamp.com/2011/07/31/surfing-in-costa-rica-the-truth-about-stingrays-jellyfish/

  • RIck

    Any good beach shoes, like those weird sneakers with the toes, that would prevent stings?

  • !!!

    Lol, the last one that got me made me scream like a 12 year old girl when I stepped on it, and it tagged my foot real good.

  • chris

    State Lifeguard here. Personally, I’ve been spared the pain of a stingray encounter. However, a lady who got hit by one told me it was worse than childbirth!

  • http://www.coastaldesignsolutions.com Geoff Glenn

    I don’t think beach shoes would do much besides kick up more sand, the barb would most likely just get stuck and then you would have the stingray lodged on your foot!

    The poison is actually a neurotoxin which can cause your leg to burn like fire halfway up your thigh, shuffle those feet!

  • pablo mayorga

    By far the most pain I’ve ever felt in my life!!!! I still have the barb from the little sum o beech… it went right up in the center of my foot. I was lucky to have some good friends take me back to the house and put my foot in hot water. I never want to feel that pain again.
    Good article for everyone to read. O and the waves where going off when it happened….

  • Ralph Wyatt

    My first encounter with a sting ray was back in the early ’70s while surfing Baja 400 miles south of the border. My friend was hit hard by the barb and it went all the way throughthe side of his foot. Blood was squirting out 6 inches every time his heart beat. We knew nothing about sting rays so we wrapped his foot with a towel and had him elevate his foot on the dashboard while we drove 3 hours to the nearest town. We gave him a bottle of Tequila to drink to ease the awful pain. We did everything wrong. Elevating his foot caused the toxins to go deeper and faster into his bloodstream. Also, the Tequila thinned his blood so he lost more blood than he had to. In town, the doctor stitched his foot and I had to go to the Farmacia to get penicillin so the doctor could give him a shot. He had the shoot himself up every day for 2 weeks. Undaunted, we continued our surf trip down Baja and scored killer waves all the way down and ended up surfing 10′ swells outside of Cabo. Buena Suerte

  • RayG

    It isn’t only flat sandy bottoms, either. My wife was jabbed in her Achilles tendon while walking through a coral rocky area at Honeymoon Island near Tampa, FL. No way to do the sting-ray shuffle there. you would have shredded you feet doing it there. Pretty severe- but it was almost 3 hours of hot water treatments and 6 months of anti-biotics before it cleared up and felt almost normal.

  • James Paul

    Huntington, TRYING TO ACT CASUAL ON CROWDED DAY WALKING TO GUARD STATION. GUARD BROKE A BAG OF HEAT PAIN WENT AWAY INSTANTLY TAKE OFF BAG SPOT BURNS UP, BACK ON PAIN DISAPPEARS THAT QUICK. PEE WOULD HELP WHILE PEEING BUT WHEN DONE PEEING BURNS. PEE DOES NOT NEUTRALIZE. NOT THAT I DID THAT, ONLY HEARD OF IT. ALSO NOT THE WORSE PAIN IF YOU;VE BEEN STUNG BY MAN O WAR. STINGRAY HOLDING MATCH TO YOUR SKIN, MAN O HOLDING A BLOW TORCH, THAT IS IF YOU DIDN’T KNOW WHAT IT WAS AND LEFT THE CLEAR THREAD WITH BLUE DOTS ON THINKING THAT IT WAS THE MARK IT LEFT, THEN TRYING TO DO A BOND AND SUCK THE VENOM OUT ONLY TO GET IT ALL OVER YOUR MOUTH, THEN TRYING MUD, THEN SCRAMBLING INTO THE OLD RESTAURANT AT CANNONS TO GRAB LIMES WHERE THEY ALL YELL AT YOU TO GET OUT UNTIL YOU PASS OUT IN YOUR HOTEL AFTER THE MAID WASHES IT OFF WITH RUBBING ALCOHOL, HAY DIOS MIO !

  • http://Surfer Gary

    Not so easy as soaking in a hot tub. If you have significant delay before treating with hot water, the toxin can cause tissue necrosis and infection. There’s also a chance that part of the barb and overlying “integument” gets left behind in the wound, further increasing the chance of infection.
    Soak it in hot water for 60-90 minutes and get to a physician. The wound should be cleaned thoroughly and explored under local anesthesia (without epinephrine) to ensure no pieces of barb are left behind. The wound should be packed “open” with gauze and I prefer to treat with a short course (5 days) of antibiotics to prevent infection, my favorite is “levofloxacin.”
    Doc G

  • Jordan

    Just got stung a couple days ago in San Salvador .

    It is the most intense pain I’ve ever felt.

    The hot water was the only thing that stopped the pain.

  • Da Dr.

    It’s actually not hard to avoid “Urobatis halleri” because that species of stingray only lives on the west coast of North and Central America. There are actually about 200 species of rays, and yet this article seems to focus on Urobatis halleri as if it’s the only stingray ever.

    Being an Ichthyologist I try hard to not get hung up when people make mistakes about fish, but you guys really blew it with this article.

  • Surfer girl7161

    I was at the beach today and felt two of them, I stepped on one fin and one tail but I didn’t get stung by either of them and I feel very lucky!

  • teamdojoe

    I need to know, are there any sort of boots out there for surfers that can protect us from these stings?? Like a lightweight mesh sort of chain-mail bootie??