San José, Costa Rica, since 1956

For Beginner Surfers, It’s Safety First Before Entering the Water

Welcome to the second edition of the ChicaBrava Surf Column. In the next few columns, I am going to cover the very important issues of water safety and basic surfing etiquette.

Water safety includes avoiding natural hazards in the water, such as jellyfish, stingrays, rocks and rip currents. There are also manmade dangers out there on the waves, such as a runaway long board that has broken free from its owner and shoots through the water towards you like a torpedo.

But let’s start with Mother Nature. The ocean is teeming with wildlife; key among them are jellyfish and the dreaded stingray.

Jellyfish float near the surface, and there is no sure-fire way to avoid them. However, wearing a rash guard or wetsuit top and shorts during the times of year when they’re present helps as they cover the areas commonly affected.

It is important to know that if you are stung by the kind of jellyfish we have in Nicaragua, you shouldn’t touch the affected area after being stung, no matter how much it itches. If you can stick out the first five to seven minutes after the sting without touching it, the discomfort will surely go away.

But if you do scratch the affected area, it will get worse, sometimes leaving you with itchy bumpy skin long into the next day. So, rashguard, shorts and a “don’t touch” policy are all important to remember when it comes to the gelatinous menace.

Even more unpleasant are stingrays, which frequent the shallows close to shore, laying in wait along the bottom for the unsuspecting tourist foot. Most beginners also frequent the same shallow areas of surf, and so become easy targets. If you step on a stingray, it is likely to turn around and jab its serrated tail into the offender – your foot. While not fatal, being stung by a stingray results in severe pain and can ruin your trip.

To avoid this unfortunate occurrence, shuffle your feet while entering the water and while standing anywhere where your feet are touching the bottom. This announces your presence and lets the stingray know you’re coming so it can get away from you before feeling the need to protect itself by stinging you.

I’ve seen many beginners fall off their boards and into the shallows where they could be stung easily. To avoid this, hold onto your board and try to stay on top of it at all costs. It’s never a good idea to abandon your board, and this is just one of many reasons (others to be covered in next month’s edition).

Lastly, a run-in with a rock or riptide can also be hazardous to surfers, but is completely avoidable if you spend some time on the beach before entering the water to check out where the rocks and currents are. It’s also a good idea to ask some of the locals where to paddle in and out and which areas to avoid.

A full explanation of riptides and currents and how to avoid them will be covered in a future edition. For now just know that if you notice that you are being pulled out to sea by an unidentified source, don’t panic and try to paddle against it. This will only wear you out. Instead, let the current pull you out into deeper water where it loses strength. At this point, you can begin to paddle parallel to the beach for about 50 yards, which should place you out of the rip current zone and allow you paddle safely back to shore.

Signing off with this month’s surf report and deseándoles buenas olas!

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