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They will always go back in the water

October 14, 1999

Ellen McCarty

About 100 local surfers banded together Sunday to protest ocean pollution

but, in the same stroke, said that no matter how polluted their aquatic

playground becomes, nothing will keep them on dry land for long. Not even

the threat of disease.

"We're not going to stay out of the water. If the waves are good, we'll

surf," said Keith Ashbury, a local surfer and editor of Five Star Surf, a

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publication that organized Sunday's Broken Pipe Masters surf contest in

Huntington Beach. The contest's title referred to the potential for

broken sewage pipes as well as the Pipeline, a favorite surf spot in

Hawaii.

During Labor Day weekend, when beaches reopened, Five Star Surf hired an

independent lab to test bacteria levels in Huntington Beach.

"We've been surfing in polluted water for years, and the issue keeps

getting swept under the rug," said Ashbury, who is also organizing a

letter-writing campaign.

Despite the unpredictable levels of bacteria, surfers are rarely scared

off by Hepatitis A, respiratory infections and diarrhea -- diseases

caused by high concentrations of bacteria -- especially when facing

6-foot barrels akin to the waves curling to shore on Sunday, Ashbury

said.

The contest was held near the jetties at the Santa Ana River, a prime

source of urban runoff that travels, untreated, from inland storm drains

to the river and eventually the ocean. This summer's beach closures were

most likely caused by bacteria in urban runoff, said Larry Honeybourne,

who oversees water quality for the Orange County Health Care Agency.

"There's a bathtub effect in the Santa Ana River," said Jason Mitchell,

22, a surfer and member of the Surfrider Foundation. "The bacteria sits

in stagnant water and builds up until a storm comes and it overflows into

the ocean."

Not to say Sunday's water wasn't clean -- the surf was tested just before

the contest and proved to be up to standard. But just because it looks

clean doesn't mean it is, said Monica Mazur, an environmental health

specialist for the Orange County Health Care Agency.

"Water that looks dirty because it's filled with trash could actually be

clean bacteria-wise," she said. "Water that looks pristine could be

teeming with bacteria. Visual impressions mean nothing. You can't see

bacteria."

Although concerned about treating the ocean's bacteria, many young

surfers at Sunday's event ironically said they don't treat the bacteria

in their own bodies.

"Every time I surf, I get sick," said Nate Vandergast, 20. "Sometimes I

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