E Coli Surf Story


They say it’s bad to surf after a rain. I disagree. I have empirical evidence that shows they are wrong. I don’t get sick. Never have. And I used to live in Venice Beach. They never reported the water quality at my local break better than a D+. I saw it as a challenge. It was just one more thing to brag to my buddies about. And besides, they don’t know what it feels like when the crowds thin out and you’re actually able to get on the set of the day rather than fight for scraps. They don’t know about fighting for scraps.

So what was I to do when a solid northwest swell happened to perfectly coincide with the first big rainstorm of the year? Surf of course. And they certainly were not going to stop me.

They tried.

They put out their warnings describing dangerous bacteria levels. They raised their colored flags indicating less-than-ideal water quality. They even closed their beaches.  Yet, despite their best efforts, I paddled right on through. Besides, I’m sure … no I’m positive that they are just a bunch of bureaucratic hotshots sitting around in Sacramento working out ways to mitigate their legal responsibilities . They certainly aren’t surfers, so who are they to tell me what to do.


Susan, however, is in a position to tell me what to do. She is the emergency room’s senior resident nurse assigned to keep me alive exactly five days after my decision to ignore them. She tells me I made a visceral decision. I manage to hear her say that somewhere in between the morphine and the anti-nausea injections. She tells me it was an irresponsible decision. I can’t help but immediately disagree with her. My decision was purely pragmatic, and while in hindsight I can see why she might call it myopic, at the time, while I was bobbing like a buoy at six feet with ten-second intervals, it was clearly the correct choice.

Susan tends to a few other patients before she takes her second shot at drawing my blood. Her first attempt ended poorly for both her ego and my left metacarpal vein. Apparently, my inability to drink liquid for the prior 32 hours mixed with the five consecutive days of non-stop diarrhea and bihourly-vomiting episodes  have left me severely dehydrated.

They make me pee in a jar. Then, they make me defecate in an equally undersized receptacle. They take my blood pressure and check my vitals. They administer their cocktail of Tylenol, Imodium, intravenous dextrose saline and antibiotics. They tell me it will help with the rest of my symptoms, the 104-degree fever, the severe chest pain, the never-ending numbness in my legs and my pounding headaches.


1 They are probably somewhere on the back nine with the Governator right now
2 These are as consistent as Seinfeld reruns on TBS. You can set your watch to them


Susan makes small talk while pumping two fresh liters of fluid into my body. She sends off samples of my urine, blood and stool for a rush diagnosis at the lab. She seems to think that I picked up some sort of bacteria while surfing, but I assure her this is impossible and that I have a perfect immune system that is simply impenetrable by ocean microbes.

While we wait, Susan tells me that she has worked as a nurse for thirty years and that she has practiced medicine all over the world. She even throws in a little politics when I ask her about the differences between her hometown of London’s socialized health care versus her current employers privatized system. She tells me she would like to see a blend of the two systems. I immediately think of the bill I will receive in two weeks and can’t help but disagree with her.

When the result of my stool sample comes back I finally get to meet the doctor on call. The diagnosis… E. Coli. Susan shoots me a maternal told-you-so look. E. Coli? That can’t be correct . This is certainly not form the water. Is it?

Susan assures me that I must have swallowed either human or animal feces while surfing. The bacteria took hold in my intestine and slowly began spreading into my blood stream where I developed septicemia. She tells me that if I hadn’t sought out medical attention I could have had permanent kidney damage or even died.

Why didn’t they say that was a possibility?


Four days later and ninety-five percent healthier, my mid-morning jaunt to work is the definition of why people pack up and leave LA for the more sparsely inhabited counties of the north. The hammering rain has ceased for a brief moment allowing for blue skies and the opportunity to steal a glance at the freshly snow-capped mountains, somewhat of a rare occurrence lately. As to not break from my normal morning routine, I decide to take a quick detour and check what the waves look like at Rivermouth.

Ostensibly, the surf is perfect. It’s 5 feet with only a handful of people out. The wind is blowing offshore creating some hollow barreling sections that look easily makeable from the parking lot . However, a quick look up the beach and you can see a torrent of dark brown, almost blackish soup pouring down the Santa Clara river and out into the open ocean. 

I take my time and mind-surf a few unridden sets before I decide to get back in my car and head up the coast to work. There will be no surfing for me today. After all, I think they put out some warnings about bacteria levels. They probably even closed the beaches.


 3 To my best knowledge E. Coli is only obtained in three very specific ways, and only in these ways. 1) Drinking apple Odwalla. 2) Eating prepackaged spinach. 3) Consuming late-night Jack in the Box in 1993.
 4 I would most likely not make these sections

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