July 23, 2024
surfing after it rains in san diego

Surfing After it Rains in San Diego: Safe or Not?

As surfers, we are always looking for uncrowded lineups. At times, we are willing to do anything to surf an empty lineup, even surf after it rains. Oftentimes, there are fewer surfers in the water following a rain event. So, is it safe to go surfing in San Diego after it rains?

It is generally accepted to not be safe to surf after it rains in San Diego. In fact, surf organizations like Surfrider and most Southern California counties advise against surfing for 72 hours after it rains.

In this post; we’ll aim to understand why it’s not safe to go surfing after it rains in San Diego, the chances of getting sick, and how to avoid getting sick from surfing after it rains.

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Why is it not Safe to go Surfing After it Rains in San Diego?

In this section, I’ll help you understand the risks associated with surfing after it rains. For anyone who lives in San Diego or Southern California, we know how infrequently it rains. After some research, I found that San Diego receives about 12 inches of rain per year on average. That equals borderline arid climate. Why is amount of rainfall important?

The amount of rainfall is important because it has a direct correlation to the amount of pollutants found in runoff. The less it rains; this allows for more trash, sewage, and pollution to gather up. As a result, surfing after a first rain or surfing after a heavy rain can be most hazardous. At this time, the most contaminants are susceptible to drain into the ocean.

These contaminants are known as runoff, or stormwater. Ok, so what kind of pollutants are draining into the ocean in this rainfall runoff? Runoff picks up fertilizer, oil, pesticides, dirt, dog poop, bacteria and basically any other type of pollutant that hasn’t been cleaned up. This runoff makes its way through storm drains until it eventually empties out into our oceans and beaches. In summary, that’s some nasty stuff.

surfing after it rains in san diego
Street runoff following a rain in San Diego – hope this isn’t going in our ocean 🙁

The LA Times estimated that an average one-inch rainfall creates about 10 billion gallons of runoff into county storm drains. It’s anyone’s guess as to how much of that actually ends up in the ocean. For this reason, health officials recommend waiting 72 hours after a rain event before surfing or swimming.

Obviously, the ocean water is going to be dirtiest immediately following a heavy rain. That first 24-hour window is probably the most hazardous. After that, the ocean begins to slowly clean itself up.

From what I have learned, surfing after rain in San Diego is not safe. I will be one less person in your lineup. If you do choose to go surfing after it rains, do so at your own risk. Otherwise, I suggest looking for uncrowded surf spots in San Diego to avoid the crowds when it is actually dry.

Will I get sick from surfing after it rains?

Ok, so we have covered that it generally is not safe to go surfing after it rains. In this next section, we’ll learn a bit more about the chances of getting sick from surfing after it rains. Also, we’ll explore how sick you can get.

Our friends over at Surfrider conducted a three-year study on the chances of getting sick after it rains. In this study, they examined 654 surfers in San Diego over 10,000 sessions.

What they found, was surfers have a higher chance of getting a Gastrointestinal Illness (GI) when surfing after it rains compared to surfing during dry weather. The study wrote:

“When surfers enter the water during or in the 72 hours following storm events, an average of 30 per 1,000 will contract GI illness, compared to 18 per 1,000 surfers who will contract GI illness without entering the water, and 25 per 1,000 who will contract GI illness when entering the water during dry weather.”

Ok, let me boil that down. In conclusion, you have a 3% chance of contracting some kind of illness if you go surfing within 72 hours following rainfall. In comparison, you have a 2.5% chance of getting sick during normal, dry weather. That .5% may not seem like a big deal, but do you really want to increase your chances to catch a GI?

A GI, also known as a Gastrointestinal Illness, is a bacterium that can cause nasty cramps, nausea, vomiting and diarrhea. In summary, not a lot of fun. Outside of GI infections, surfing in contaminated water also exposes you to rashes and higher probability of infecting any cuts. If you do have open cuts or wounds, you should definitely not go surfing after it rains.

will i get sick from surfing after it rains
Going surfing after it rains with an open wound is one of the worst things you can do

Long story short, you can get sick from surfing after it rains in San Diego. Again, choose to surf at your own risk.

How can I Avoid Getting Sick from Surfing after it Rains?

Now, we know that surfing after it rains in San Diego isn’t safe and you can get sick. In this section, we’ll explore some precautions you can take to lessen your chances of getting sick from surfing after it rains.

First of all, try to avoid swallowing water during your session. Whether it has rained or not, this should go without saying. Next, I would suggest buying a set of earplugs to help keep water out of your ears.

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03/11/2024 07:24 pm GMT

Finally, here’s a few precautions that may help once you get out of the water.

  1. Take a freshwater shower as soon as you can. Don’t sit around salty and dirty all day!
  2. Drain any mucus from your mouth and nose – snot rocket time!
  3. Drink a lot of fresh water.
  4. Maintain a healthy, balanced diet including fruits and vegetables. Save your Cali burrito for another day!
  5. Take a Vitamin C supplement.

Other events to be cautious when surfing in San Diego include surfing during a red tide.

What about Surfing When it Rains in San Diego?

Alright, those of you that are still reading are the hardcore surfers. I know you want to find a way to surf, rain or not. It may not be safe to go surfing after it rains in San Diego. However, you may have a safer window to go surfing when it is actually raining in San Diego, as opposed to after it rains.

When it has only started raining, the rainfall is light. Normally, it takes a few hours before runoff starts spilling into the ocean. This may be your lucky window before the water is dirty. Furthermore, other surfers will likely be heading to the shore at this point.

The exception to this rule is two-fold. One, a heavy rain will get runoff in the water almost immediately. Secondly, make sure this is the first rain event. Don’t think you are safe if it only started raining after it also rained yesterday.

In conclusion, it’s always best to wait 72 hours before surfing after it rains in San Diego. As a general rule of thumb – If it’s brown, turn around!


  • Gavin Bechtold

    Gavin has been living and surfing in San Diego for over a decade. He loves the ocean and is lucky to call San Diego home. Frustrated with mainstream reviews, he set out to create the best source of surf reviews for San Diego beaches. Check the About page for more info!

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