How to Deal With 6 of Surfing’s Nastiest Sea Creatures

Forget for a moment all the hype around wave pools these days. When it comes to surfing in the Seven Seas, it’s not all clean barrels and sunsets. Hardly.

The ocean is a ruthless beauty that doesn’t discriminate, and within her lurk some truly nasty critters. From stingrays to sharks, jellyfish to sea urchins, sometimes paddling out for a session means taking a treacherous walk on the wild side.

A Portuguese Man o’ War at Palm Beach, Florida. These are some of the nastiest little critters you can come across. Photo: Wikimedia Commons

These creatures are all capable of leveling a distressing amount of discomfort and pain. So, what to do when you actually encounter one of them? Glad you asked …


Don’t forget to shuffle your feet. Photo: Jakob Owens/Unsplash

“This hurts more than child birth,” we once witnessed a female stingray victim scream. Stingray’s are majestic, beautiful creatures … until you step on one. The first rule of dealing with a stingray wound is to avoid getting a stingray wound. The simple and most efficient strategy is the “stingray shuffle.” There’s nothing a stingray hates more than when a clumsy human steps on them. So, instead of clomping and stomping through the water, shuffle your feet along the bottom. If a stingray is present it will pick up on your vibe and likely just swim away.

Stepping down on top of a stingray is a surefire way to get stung. The spine in their tails is coated with a neurotoxin, which is injected into your blood stream and causes the extreme burning sensation.

Thankfully, combating the toxin is actually quite simple. Hot water breaks down the toxin in your bloodstream – The hotter the better. Soak your foot or the affected area in the hottest water that you can stand. When the water starts to cool replenish it and keep the heat turned up. It may take an hour or two (or more) for the pain to become manageable outside of the hot water. And make sure to clean the wound properly to avoid infection.


There are so many types of jellyfish, but the general rule is grab the vinegar. Photo: Tim Mossholder/Unsplash

Jellyfish stings come in all shades of agony. Some are just annoying, some can kill you. For most jellyfish stings, however, the remedy is relatively simple. Flush the affected area with vinegar for at least 30 seconds. If there are bits of tentacles left on you, you’re going to want get them off right away. Then flush the wound with hot water for a full 20 minutes. Use mild hydrocortisone cream or an oral antihistamine to relieve itching and swelling. Ice packs and general pain meds will help provide relief, as well.

Sea Urchins

These are real pain in the … foot. Photo: Jorge Rosal/Unsplash

This is the moment you’ve all been waiting for: Should your buddy suffer at the spines of a sea urchin, it is 100-percent OK to pee on them. While it’s always best to try and remove them, urchin spikes have microscopic barbs that protrude in the opposite direction and if you get a deep one embedded in your foot they’re really hard to get out – Sometimes digging around in your foot with a needle or scalpel can cause more harm than good.

Miraculously, the acid in urine provides relief almost instantaneously. Vinegar works too, but not as well … and you won’t have nearly as fun a story to tell afterwards.

Reef Rash

Live coral is beautiful, but it sure can hurt when you connect with it during a wipeout. Photo: Wikimedia Commons

Cuts heal and chicks dig scars, right? The problem with wounds sustained from a forceful impact with a reef is that the reef is (hopefully) a living organism with bacteria and toxins in abundance. If left untended, reef cuts can quickly become infected and blossom into a Staph infection (Which is precisely what you don’t want).

The tried-and-true method for killing lurking bacteria is to “scrub it, kook.” The classic lime treatment has long been a popular remedy. Basically, cut a lime in half and rub it really hard into your wounds. It’s best to have a friend do it, and couple shots of tequila will help, too. But no matter how you do it, it’s going to burn like crazy (But, that just means it’s working).

However, citric acid can actually be too strong and may damage the skin. It’s best to try and remove all dead skin around the wound area and clean it thoroughly with acetic acid (vinegar) or isopropyl alcohol. These are nasty wounds, so when you think you’ve cleaned it, clean it again. You’ll also have to continue to care for the wound with antibiotic ointment three to four times daily until the fire subsides. Depending on the wound and your reaction, antibiotics may also be required.

Sea Lice

Nasty little suckers. Photo: Wikimedia Commons

Spoiler alert: Sea lice aren’t actually lice. Sea lice are actually jellyfish larvae that can pack the same punch as their full-grown counterparts. You may feel the sting while in the water, and sometimes the itchy, stinging rash can appear a day or so later. Fever, chills, headaches and nausea may also be part of the package.

Flush affected areas with fresh water and wash with soap. Antihistamines and hydrocortisone creams are the most common treatment, but a corticosteroid cream may also be required in severe cases. In general, sea lice are the least offensive of the critters on this list, but still shouldn’t be taken lightly.

Shark Attack

Be aware. Photo: Mali Maeder/Pexels

This may sound a bit absurd, but a little body language and a few swift blows to the gills could save your life. Sharks are opportunistic predators; They’re just looking for a quick, cheap meal. There are numerous examples – Mick Fanning battling off a great white at the J-Bay Pro in South Africa in 2015 is perhaps the most widely known – of people fending off sharks mid attack.

Of course, there’s no telling what kind of fight-or-flight instinct is going to kick in when the moment arises, but by going on immediate offense and fighting for your life you may be able to freak the shark out enough to buy you some time to get away. This means punching at its eyes, nose and gills. Much easier said than done, we know, but it just might make the difference between life and death.

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