Photo by Keith MayIt used to be that rain clouds meant promise—the promise of a quick cool-down at the height of a muggy afternoon. If it stormed hard enough to scare the droves of tourists off the beach and into their cars, clogging Atlantic Avenue for miles, we'd even rejoice, skipping home to call Domino's for an easy free pizza. (Not even the most resourceful delivery boy could crack Virginia Beach's summer gridlock in 30 minutes or less.)
But something happened upon moving to Southern California. The rain turned on me. No longer was it a glorious natural phenomenon where watery pebbles danced gleefully across the ocean's surface, massaging out the tiniest lumps. It became a gruesome ogre that beat the shit out of the land—literally—and rushed it toward the water like a feces FedEx. And instead of happily clearing to blue skies and rainbows, the fallout loomed in the lineup for days, usually just long enough for another storm to come along and renew the process. So no matter how many swells pumped through, they were never forceful enough to evict the offensive brown tint.
Surprisingly, it seems I'm the only one who's noticed. Many SoCal surfers don't just ignore this filthy phenomenon; they embrace it. "Yeah!" these stormtroopers shout with enthusiasm—or perhaps to overpower another nasty ear infection. "The crowds will clear out." It's like they're suiting up to meet an old friend: "Is that you?! The linguine from Wednesday night? Wow, I hardly recognized you!"
At least back East, if you see a turd in the water, chances are it belongs to an acquaintance. And even then you'd never cozy up to the toxic avenger. But the predominant tone out here seems to be that if you're concerned about water quality, you're a wuss. Sure, we all send our $25 to Surfrider to keep our consciences green, but actually boycotting the lineup is considered overreacting.
"It's not going to hurt you," one of my more patronizing colleagues likes to say. "I grew up in Ventura; I'm immune."
A tolerance for shit. That's a new one.
We send Peace Corps volunteers halfway around the world to trumpet the dangers of bacteria, but we can't teach Pasteur's 100-year-old lessons in our own back yard. These same people watch Jackass and retch at a single Port-a-Potty belly flop, and then play a diluted version of the home game for an entire winter.
And it's not just the surfers; it's institutional. There's actually a certain level of sewage that's considered acceptable by California's coastal cities. They call it the fecal count, like there's some logical, scientific percentage of poo that's perfectly harmless. Why don't officials put an even happier face on things? Turn the Fecal Count into a smiling muppet and post him on beach signs to welcome visitors: "Greetings! The number for the day is: 10."
And the word for the day is: "corn salsa."
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Did I miss something? Did the mudshark suddenly become a protected species? I can handle just about all the other East-to-West acclimations. Waves in summer? I can take it. Houses without yards I can deal with—kind of. But walking past beach-closure signs to surf is pure blasphemy. It's like crossing Mother Nature's picket line. And it demands a certain level of outrage. I'm talking '60s protest demonstration-style outrage.
I say we get a thousand surfers to walk out to the end of Huntington Beach Pier, drop trou, and do a mass evacuation directly into the water. That's right, folks, I'm talking about a good, old-fashioned shit-in. What's the city going to do? Arrest us? Hell, we're saving them the effort of extracting the goop from our toilets and spilling it themselves. They should be paying us!
But that'll never happen. I probably couldn't find 999 other surfers to join the cause. After all, some of those guys' best sessions come with the rains. Plenty of surf. No crowds. Heck, they don't even need to leave the water for a slice of pizza. Chances are there's one floating next to them.
Matt Walker is the community editor for Swell.com, which is where this article first appeared.