Thur 11.15 – Reports, WATER QUALITY TESTING NEEDED | Maverick’s Status

More oil washed into Ocean Beach last night.  That was not good news.  As of this morning, early reports noted that the oil amounts weren’t massive.    However, another surf company owner doing a catalog photo shoot this morning told us: “Ocean Beach today is disgusting.  Stinson Beach isn’t any better.” 

FYI, the officials at last night’s training mentioned that while the cleanup is focusing on what’s being washed up (down to the waterline), the rocks in many places — not just along Ocean Beach — have not had much attention, if at all.

We also understand that some official agencies have been asking surfers about their opinion on the effects of impending swells, their directions and the changing tides.  The oil is getting more suspended or pushed down…much of it is now not on the water’s surface…

According to Pacifica reports this morning from Pedro Point Surf Club’s Greg Cochran, Pacifica “seems oil free,” but Pacifica beaches remain closed. He and others have been doing regular walks with Fish & Game officials.  See the Maverick’s report below.


We’ ve raised water testing questions to many different groups over the last few days. 

Is it being tested?  How often and when? 

How will the public know the status & progress, especially those of us who are surfers, swimmers, kiteboarders and other ocean-lovers who regularly immerse ourselves in the water for long periods of time? 

Last night (Wed 11.14), we asked the EPA and other officials running the volunteer training those very same questions.  The answer? We don’t know.”   

That’s not what we wanted to hear.  For many of us surfers and ocean aficionados,

1.  We are aware that testing for oil may be challenging, given all the other toxic chemicals that are in our local waters.  One of the officials leading volunteer training, Harry Allen of the EPA, mentioned last night that oil spills and other toxic spills of all sizes happen daily in our waters, up and down the coast.  Although many of us know our waters aren’t clean, it’s still alarming to hear that directly.  [By the way, kudos to the EPA, SF Emergency Response, and the Parks Service for all their efforts in putting on the training to get so many of us citizens certified.]

2.  We also worry about those who’ve already breathed in the fumes or were unknowingly in direct contact with the toxic waters  and sand–  surfing, swimming, walking their dogs, or helping with clean-up from Thursday-Monday,  before beaches were shut down.  Some still have headaches, red rashes and more.  [see our area on Health Risks & Tips]. 

3.  We also know that reactions vary, depending upon type of exposure –e.g. fumes vs. direct contact, amount of exposure, and how sensitive someone might be.  Some folks are simply just ultra-sensitive, or have compromised immune systems.

chewie2.jpgTo enjoy our beaches in the future, will we have to develop Hazmat wetsuits — “Chewbacca-style,” made with hair-mat technology? 

We jest for a second, but the matter at hand is serious.  We contacted the SFPUC yesterday, who does regular water testing of area beaches and puts out reports through  The answer we got?  Here’s an excerpt of the staff biologist’s email response: 

“…Our reporting is based upon bacteria levels only.  The oil spill is not our jurisdiction and we do not monitor for oil on the beaches.  The U.S. Coast Guard is coordinating response efforts….” 

Although the SFPUC coordinates the the Dept of Public Health and has updated their reports to reflect that there is an oilspill, we haven’t seen any public report on the actual water quality and any indications when it’s safe to get back in. 

Currently, Kill the Spill doing some work on the testing situation. In the meantime, we urge you to contact your local representatives and demand answers. We’ll post a draft letter you can use shortly, plus email addresses where to send. 

Also rally with your local surf groups AND non-profits focused on water quality, to come up with solutions.  We know some are already working on the issue.  Perhaps we need independent testing, along with official testing.



We don’t have an official report on Maverick’s water quality, but as many know, there is a tight community of Bay Area residents and others who regularly surf the spot in the winter season, outside of contest day, which happens any time during December -April.  Many regulars do not even compete in the namesake contest.

Here’s an email this morning to major surf publications from Grant Washburn, an Ocean Beach resident and well-respected figure in the Maverick’s surf community:

“Maverick’s is now contaminated. A bunker fuel slick and dead birds have been washing up. I’m going down later today to check it out [from the ground in Half Moon Bay]. The main thing surfers should know is that this is not your granny’s motor oil. This is toxic waste. Bunker fuel is nothing like the little tar balls surfers have been frolicking in for decades. This stuff is the nastiest of the nasty, and several. Doctors have told me they believe the substances being sown into our shore are responsible for things like Parkinsons and other nerve disorders – even in trace amounts. It is sucked up by human tissue, travelling right through cell walls.My front line experience has me shocked. I could not believe how bad the goo really is. The vapors are eye-watering and the ocean is covered in an ultra-fine film. This is no small deal. It will definitely put the Maverick’s event and the surfers at risk.” – Grant

We’ll hear from Grant later with a better update.  We are also waiting to hear from Maverick’s contest organizers, whom we are meeting with later today, for an official outlook.  We suspect it will be a “wait & see” situation.

In the short term, it looks like there’s no surfing to be had in the next few days from Marin to San Francisco to the Pacifica/HMB area.  Ouch.  Given the large WNW & SW swells coming in today and throughout the weekend,  the oil is going to be broken up even further.  The oil might just continue washing back up on our shores —  anytime, anywhere. 

For now, keep our officials on their toes and keep cleaning.  But don’t forget to head south for some water fun, at some point.

– Zuna Surf


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