When Should You Not Surf?

People are addicted to many things in life. Some addictions destroy the user’s existence, while others have the power to transform the soul. Surfers are addicted to the soul-transforming world that lies between the sand and the horizon. Telling a surfer not to surf is like telling a Rastafarian not to smoke.

When Should You Not Surf?

  1. After Heavy Rain
  2. Under The Influence
  3. If You Can’t Swim
  4. If You Are Sick
  5. If You Have An Open Wound
  6. When The Conditions Are Dangerous
  7. If You Aren’t Fit
  8. If You Don’t Have A Surf Buddy With You
  9. When You Don’t Have The Right Surfing Gear
  10. And More…

Surfing is addictive, in a good way, but often results in the user wanting to spend every spare minute of their existence in the water. Like any addiction, there will be times when it’s better to skip a session. The problem is that surfers hardly ever know when not to go surf because the surf is always up. When should you not surf?

1. After Heavy Rain

Surfing while it’s raining is a cool experience. What’s not as cool is when you get sick for seemingly no reason when surfing directly after some heavy precipitation. There’s a reason for getting sick, as the urban surf spots get contaminated by residential runoff when it rains.

When it rains, it usually produces lots of surface water, and when coming from urban dwellings may include the following contaminants mixed with it, as the runoff makes it to rivers, creeks, streams, and lakes:

  • Untreated Trash
  • Human Waste
  • Animal Waste
  • Pesticides
  • Oils
  • Fertilizers
  • Paints
  • Pollutants
  • Oil
  • Leaking Sewage (Due to waterlogged sewage pipes)

Water always makes its way to the ocean, so when the polluted surface water makes it to the ocean, especially in areas that have a lot of humans living close to it, it results in the ocean becoming a home for the following diseases:

  • E. coli
  • Protozoa
  • Amoeba
  • Other Pathogens

Swallowing water where the fecal matter has managed to merge with the source can lead to the following potential unpleasant things to happen:

  • Gastroenteritis (Diarrhea)
  • Amoebic Dysentery
  • Hepatitis
  • Giardiasis
  • Pink Eye
  • Nausea
  • Pink Eye
  • Skin Rashes
  • Inflamed Stomach
  • Inflamed Intestines
  • Vomiting

It’s not unheard of for authorities to issue a no-go zone at popular surf spots after heavy rains. It’s best you wait at least 72 hours after heavy rains before hitting the waves. It’s your best chance of avoiding all the crap we inadvertently dump in the ocean.

2. Under The Influence

The best thing you can do when drunk or high is to stay out of the ocean. You need all your wits to survive a session in the unpredictable and powerful water. There’s a reason we aren’t supposed to drive drunk and the same reason we aren’t supposed to surf under the influence – it’s super dangerous and potentially deadly.

Surfing requires good judgment (reacting to immediate environment), fast-reaction time, coordination, visual acuity, balance, and concentration. Alcohol removes all the requirements; worse yet, you can present a danger to other surfers sharing the water with you. Enjoy a beer at your local afterward.

3. If You Can’t Swim

If you can’t swim, you can’t surf. Period. Surfers are generally excellent swimmers, and even the pros struggle with conditions on any given day. Make it your priority to learn how to swim before dreaming of riding a barrel.

4. If You’re Sick

Not referring to a slight common cold. Rather if you have a fever accompanied by persistent coughs or migraines, it’s probably better that you stay at home. When you are sick and perform intense exercise (surfing is intense), you risk raising your internal temperature even higher, putting stress on your organs.

5. If You Have An Open Wound

Your chances of being killed by a shark are 1 in 3.7 million, and sharks can’t smell a drop of blood a gazillion miles away, but it’s better to be cautious when you have an open wound. Some sharks can smell one tiny drop of blood a quarter of a mile away.

It doesn’t mean that picking up on a blood scent will instantly cause them to look for the owner of the drop. It also doesn’t mean it won’t. If you have recently acquired some new ink, staying out of the water is also recommended. Firstly, a tattoo is an open wound; secondly, you don’t want to spoil your new body art.

6. When The Conditions Are Dangerous

Surfing is all about “facing your fears, living your dreams” it doesn’t suggest that you take unnecessary risks that can end up injuring or killing you. Studying the surfing conditions before committing to a session would be best, as having an idea of what to expect can save you time and money.

Your current skill level will determine what dangerous conditions look like, and you need to be brutally honest about this, as the ego has killed many a person. Typically, you will have to assess the following:

  • Wind: No wind is perfect, while a light offshore wind and breeze are welcome. When the wind comes at you over 10+ knots, it may be best not to enter the water if you’re not used to surfboards blowing up in the air. Paddling becomes more difficult when the wind is stronger due to wind waves.
  • Currents: Rip currents form in the wave zone and are strong localized currents that flow from the beach to the open sea. Many experienced surfers use this type of current to their advantage, but it can be extremely dangerous and terrifying for a newbie surfer or weak swimmer.
  • Lightning: Any chance of lightning should end any chance of a surf session.
  • Wave Size: If you’re a beginner, surfing 1-to-3-foot waves should be your focus. Intermediate surfers with strong board skills typically find 2 to 4-foot waves the right ones to hone their skills. Advanced surfers tackle 4-to-8-foot waves, and highly experienced surfers tackle ones bigger than 8 feet. A beginner going out to surf 10-foot waves can be considered to be putting themselves in a dangerous environment.
  • Low Tide: Should be avoided by beginners, as the waves break with more force, faster, and typically you will be exposed to surface rocks not visible when the tide is higher.

Any surfer must be able to read a surf report.

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7. If You Aren’t Fit

Being physically fit before you take up surfing is a bonus, as surfing is a great way of exercising and will test your body to the limit as it’s a highly strenuous sport. The ocean takes no prisoners and will test you.

If you pretend that getting up from the couch to get a beer from the fridge is physical exercise, and you have to rest before making it to the kitchen, you shouldn’t go surf. Surfing requires explosive energy when paddling onto a wave, jumping into a standing position, before navigating the wave with leg power.

Maneuvering around to find the best spot, and getting past the break, will have you powerless in no time. Being energy depleted when a set of waves come in or when you are at the back can be a risky position to put yourself in. The best advice is to achieve some fitness level before hopping onto the board; you will need it.

8. If You Don’t Have A Surf Buddy With You

Many people go surfing alone. However, when you are new to the game, having a surf buddy in time of need can be crucial, especially when you find yourself in a dangerous situation (loss of energy, rip current, or an injury occurs).

Sharing the surfing experience is also a fun way to bond with a fellow human being, and if your buddy is more experienced, you get to learn some tricks of the trade for free. Surfing in a secluded or new spot should be done with a buddy. Remember the movie 127 Hours? Don’t be that guy.

9. When You Don’t Have The Right Surfing Gear

If your surfboard doesn’t have a workable leash, you shouldn’t go surf. A board without a leash is dangerous, as an uncontrolled board can injure you and many others when left to the mercy of the waves.

When the local surf spot is renowned for its cold temperatures, and you don’t own a thick wetsuit, you shouldn’t go surf. Hypothermia is when your body temperature alarmingly dips below 95° F, and yes, it can affect the surfer out braving the cold with his board shorts.

Using a longboard in surf meant for a short, responsive board is also a no-go. Not only will you not be able to duck 8-to-10-foot hollow waves with a longboard, but you will also experience the crushing power of the front of the wave.

10. Directly After You’ve Chowed Some Food

The myth that most mothers ingrained in their children’s heads, that “it’s dangerous to swim directly after eating,” has been thoroughly debunked over the years. What is true about eating before you swim is that it can lead to a bit of cramping.

Getting stomach cramps in a swimming pool while clutching a pool noodle is a lot different than getting stomach cramps while waves are pounding you to smithereens, currents are pulling you this way and that, and winds are trying to blow you to another continent.

Eating a big meal before you head out to the beach will keep your mum happy, and you won’t feel sluggish in the water.

11. When You Are Carrying An Injury

If you are struggling with an existing injury that can, in any way, be intensified, or made worse via the act of surfing, then you should avoid surfing until the injury has healed. Surfing exerts a lot of strain on the body (when done right) and can further damage injured muscles, ligaments, and tendons.

A common surfer injury is called surfer’s elbow, which affects wrist and elbow joints, caused by repetitive surfing movements. The best thing to do when struggling with a niggle is to rest. Missing a few surf sessions is way better than causing further injury in the water that could lead to you missing out on surfing for months.

12. If A Shark Was Spotted In The Surf

Every surfer should have a healthy fear of sharks, as these creatures can do massive damage to skin and bones. If there has been a reported sighting of a shark in the water close to your local surf spot, it doesn’t make sense to go out and surf.

Waves come and go, as do sharks, and by delaying your surf session, you give the shark a chance to move on to a different hunting ground. Remember, there’s always a 1 in 3.7 million chance that that spotted shark has your number.

13. When You Don’t Have Information On A New Spot

Discovering a new potential surf spot is exciting as it can lead to awesome experiences. When no other surfers crowd the spot, the appeal rises, as you might have discovered surfing paradise. But what if there’s a very valid reason why no one surfs there?

It may be a shark hotspot known for its abundance of blue bottles or stingrays. Strong currents may render the spot too dangerous to surf, or the surf is primarily dumping or surging waves. If there’s no surf report available on the “new” spot, or no locals to talk to, then you should be cautious.

Experienced surfers will make a point of it to research weather patterns, surface features, and topography of the shores they visit. Some will be able to tell you about the bathymetry (the depth of the water.) Knowledge of the conditions and area is a crucial element of surfing.

Observing the waves for a day or two, watching how the ocean responds to different tides, and keeping a watchful eye on how strong the currents are; should give you an idea of what you are up against when unsure of the safety of a new spot.

14. When There’s A Smack Of Jellyfish In The Water

Jellyfish stings are not pleasant. Pain, numbness, tingling skin, and red marks are what you can expect when a jellyfish’s long tentacle injects venom into your skin by way of thousands of microscopic barbed stingers.

Entomologist Justin O. Schmidt invented the Schmidt Sting Pain Index to rate the pain level of different insect stings. The highest level is 4+, produced by a bullet ant. Renowned “Aqua man” Steven Munatones believes that jellyfish stings should have their own scale as they’re as painful or more painful than the worst insect bite. Australia’s box jellyfish has a sting rated 4+ (awaiting academic confirmation).

If there’s a smack of jellyfish in the surf, then rather watch a movie. It’s not worth the pain.


It’s often said, “that the best surfer out there is the one having fun.” Ensure you know when to have some fun in the water and when to not go surf. Surfing is addictive, so make decisions with your brain instead of your heart.