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The Ocean Isn’t Safe During The Storm. For Those About To (Not) Surf, We Salute You

A surfer is airborne above a long cresting wave with land in sight at the far left.
A surfer at a 2005 surfing championship. Note: this is not what it looks like out there this weekend.
(Donald Miralle
Getty Images)
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As this winter storm hits its peak, advisories have been issued warning people to stay away from the beaches and oceans in Southern California.

Los Angeles County officials alerted residents to “bacteria, chemicals, debris, trash, and other public health hazards” that are likely to drain into the ocean. The National Weather Service advised Angelenos to stay out of the water due to “gusty winds, large steep seas, and high surf.”

More than a hobby

For a subset of wave-riding locals, though, the warnings may be a tough pill to swallow. Surfers who commit to going out weekly or even daily often liken the experience to a spiritual practice, or even an addiction.

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“In the religious symbolism, water is one of the great images of life and energy,” the late Father Christian Mondor, known as “The Surfing Priest,” told LAist in 2012. “It’s a symbol of God’s presence.”

The lesson isn’t limited to Catholicism. In an excerpt of Steven Kotler’s award-winning book West of Jesus published by The Inertia, Kotler writes:

…the Surfing Rabbi doesn’t proselytize in the water, doesn’t deliver sermons. He doesn’t worry too much about surfers. He says that if you want to know God, learn to surf. He says that if you want to know God, come to Malibu.

A brief surfing history

Surfing is believed to have originated in the Polynesian Islands at least a thousand years ago, taking hold strongly in Hawai’i. The practice’s deep roots in spirituality and communion with the rhythms of nature began at that time; here’s a detailed (and fun to watch!) history:

Like so much U.S. history, the backstory of surfing arriving here is tragic, full of colonization, demonization of the original practitioners, and violence. But the sport did eventually make it here, and local surfers quickly realized that it was a practice for the body, mind and spirit.

Even Timothy Leary, known for seeking higher psychological plains through the use of LSD, reportedly told Surfer Magazine in 1978 that “it's no accident that many, perhaps most, surfers have become almost mystics.”

So, if you’re out there clutching your board like a mother holding a baby, looking forlornly into the not-to-be-breached ocean (seriously, please don’t go in), we see you. You’ll be back in the water soon. As Keanu says:

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Current L.A. County beach conditions

There's an advisory on ocean water quality in effect for all Los Angeles County beaches (see all those white pins below.)

L.A. County public health officials say that advisory will be in effect at least until 10:30 a.m., Sunday, Feb. 26. The rule is 72 hours after significant rainfall, so that's likely to push deeper into next week, when even more rain is forecast.

What exactly are you being advised to do? Beachgoers should avoid water contact for at least 72 hours after significant rainfall.

What questions do you have about the weather we're experiencing?
A massive winter storm is hitting Southern California. We're here to answer your questions.

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