According to the National Weather Service, lightning causes around 20 deaths and hundreds of injuries each year in the United States. It goes without saying that not all of the victims are surfers or outdoorsy people, but some are. So, is it safe to surf in a thunder storm?
No, it’s not safe to surf in a thunder storm. Bolts of lightning are not to be taken lightly. Leaving the water as soon as a thunder storm forms might save your life. However unlikely it is to be struck by lightning, don’t push your luck. You are ill-advised to enjoy any kind of water recreation during a thunder storm.
Always monitor weather conditions and react to any threat quickly. Read our blog to find out what wind is best for surfing. If you decide to stay outdoors during a thunderstorm, you are putting yourself at risk of being struck by lightning. Stay indoors no matter how tempted you are to go surfing. If you are already in the water when a thunderstorm forms, get out of the water, get off the beach and seek shelter.
Table of Contents
What is lightning?
To understand the sheer power, as well as the great danger that lightning poses, let’s break it down a bit. Lightning is a natural electrical discharge that has a very short duration, but an immense voltage, from 10 to 100 million volts. An average lightning bolt carries about 30,000 amps.
To put it simply, a thunderstorm forms when the hot air and cold air meet. Lightning is the cause of thunder, as it moves at an astonishing speed and literally tears the air around it. It heats the air it passes through to jaw-dropping 50,000 degrees Fahrenheit, which is 5 times hotter than the surface of the sun.
There are many misconceptions about lightning and here we will differentiate the truth from the myth.
#1 Lightning occurs only when it’s raining
It is true that lightning frequently occurs when it’s raining. However, a lightning strike can happen as far as 10 miles away from rainfall. Rains or clouds overhead don’t necessarily have to be present for lightning to occur.
#2 Lightning doesn’t strike the same place twice
If you consider the fact that the Empire State Building gets hit by lightning almost 100 times a year, you get the gist of why it isn’t true that lightning never strikes the same place twice. Lightning typically targets the highest object, taking the easiest route from the sky to the ground.
#3 Rubber soles and rubber tires offer protection from a lightning strike
This is another common misconception. Rubber tires don’t offer protection, but your car might. You are more protected in a car than if you were outside. If your car is struck by lightning while you are inside, it can damage your car and you can get injured, but you are more likely to survive.
#4 You shouldn’t touch a person that was struck by lightning
This is completely false. A victim can’t carry an electric charge. You should call 911 and start CPR if the victim is not breathing. Remember that there is no danger to you if you help a person that has been struck by lightning.
#5 Water attracts lightning
That’s a no. Water doesn’t attract lightning more than land. Quite the opposite, lightning hits the ocean less often than it hits the land. However, the surfers are vulnerable and an easy target for lightning simply because they are at the highest point in the water.
When lightning strikes the surface of the water, it discharges its energy horizontally. Salt water conducts electricity extremely well, much better than fresh water. When lightning hits the ocean it can spread far, depending on its intensity, topography of the water, and the water temperature.
Precautions to take against the lightning strike
When a thunderstorm approaches you while you are surfing, the best thing that you can do is to leave the water as soon as possible. There is something called the 30/30 rule that can help you determine how close lightning is.
If the time between a bolt of lightning and thunder is less than 30 seconds, it’s high time you left the water. 30 seconds mean that the lightning is 10 kilometers away. If you do the math, that means that for every 3 seconds, lightning is 1 kilometer away. Another important thing to remember is that you need to wait for at least 30 minutes after the thunderstorm has passed to consider it safe to return to the water.
And now, some precautions you should take against the lightning strike:
- Get out of the water and away from the beach.
- When you are surfing and you can’t get to the shore, lower yourself by crouching down in the middle of the board. If you are 6’2, read our blog to find out what surfboard you should use.
- Whenever possible, try to get inside a home, or inside a car with the windows rolled up.
- Never shelter yourself under a tree. It’s the second leading cause of death from lightning strikes. The height of trees makes them an easy target.
- If your skin starts to tingle or your hair stands on end, a lightning strike may occur. Never lay flat on the ground. Squat low to the ground. Put your hands on your knees and your head between them. Make yourself as small as possible.
- Monitor local weather conditions regularly and alter your outdoor plans accordingly.
Is it safe to surf after rain?
No, it’s not safe, especially near urban areas. The ocean can get contaminated and polluted, which poses certain dangers to your health. It is recommended that you wait for at least 72 hours before you get in the water again to avoid infections and diseases such as:
- Nose, ear, and throat infections
- Skin rashes
- Pink eye
- Respiratory illnesses
- Amoebic dysentery
Don’t yield to the temptation to get in the water because the line-up is empty. The water pollution levels increase dramatically after rainfall. The urban runoff sends human and animal waste, untreated trash, oil, fertilizers, pesticides, and other dangerous chemicals into the rivers, lakes, and creeks. These waterways eventually reach the ocean and contaminate the urban surf breaks.
Is it safe to surf at night?
Surfing at night is definitely a thrilling experience and it does have its advantages, such as fewer people on the waves. Nevertheless, it has a wide array of potential dangers, too, such as:
- Low visibility – with your visibility reduced, you will have to rely on your instincts.
- Waves are more intimidating – or they seem like they are bigger and quicker than they really are.
- You can get hurt – when a wave hits, you are more likely to get disoriented.
- Sharks are more active at night – with fewer people in the water, sharks are more likely to focus on you only.
- No one around to help you – if you are swept away and there is no one to help you, you can get in trouble.
As a safety precaution, never surf alone at night and be well prepared. Night surfing can be both thrilling and calming. If you do decide to try it, take all the precautions to stay safe. Read our blog to find out how surfers don’t lose their boards.
What are the dangers of surfing?
No matter how fun and exciting surfing is, it also involves certain dangers and risks.
#1 Sharks and marine life
Surfers basically invade sharks’ natural territory every time they paddle out in the water. Even though humans are not sharks’ favorite meal, they can attack surfers and swimmers if they misinterpret them as their natural food. The danger that a shark poses is real. In addition to sharks, there are other sea creatures that you should look out for. Seals, sea snakes, urchins, and jellyfish can all potentially be life-threatening.
It goes without saying that every surfer needs to know how to swim. Being separated from your board, getting trapped on the reef, getting hit by a surfboard, and losing consciousness are all very real threats and possible causes of drowning. That is why you should never surf alone. Go surfing with a friend who can help you out in trouble.
Surfboards are an essential piece of surfing equipment. However, they can quickly transform into lethal weapons. Surfboards are pointed at one end and have sharp fins that can easily cut your skin and cause severe fractures. Make sure to always keep control of your board while surfing. Read our blog to find out why it is important to wax a surfboard and how to do it.
#4 Newbie surfers
Beginner surfers are rarely familiar with surfing etiquette and can get in the way of more experienced surfers. At the same time, more experienced surfers often know all the navigation rules, but simply choose not to follow them.
Keep in mind that you need to exercise utmost caution when there are a lot of people in the lineup. If you are a newbie surfer who wants to learn more about what is easier to learn, windsurfing or kite surfing, take a look at our blog. You can also learn more about skimboarding and find out how long skimboards last.
Ride the waves safely
Surfing is a truly breathtaking experience. Combined with the sun, salt, and sand, it is a style of life. However, don’t forget to stay safe and take all the precautions we’ve discussed in this article. In case of a thunderstorm, stand in awe of it from a safe distance. Get off of your board, head to the beach bar, and live to enjoy surfing for many years to come.