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Surfing in Costa Rica: The Truth About Stingrays and Jellyfish

August 6, 2011 2 comments
Cautious about stingrays

While incidents are rare, it’s best to be cautious about stingrays.

A common question among surfers new to the Pacific Coast of Costa Rica is whether there are any dangerous marine animals to be aware of.  In a word, yes.

The coast from Dominical down to Bahia Ballena is part of the eastern Pacific tropics, a lush region that is home to many exotic species of animal life, some of which can cause you pain if you’re not careful.  The two to be most wary of when surfing are stringrays and jellyfish.

Stingrays are found lying in the sand of costal waters.  If you step on one, it will whip around and sting you with its muscular tail, driving as many as 4 sharp, barbed stingers into your sorry self.

The resulting pain will intensify over 2 hours before beginning to subside.  You may also become nauseous and experience muscle cramping.  It is unlikely that the sting will kill you unless it strikes you directly in the heart or severs an artery.  The vast majority of stingray stings occur on the lower leg or foot.

Stingrays are not aggressive.  They will not seek you out to sting you.  But if you step on one it will act defensively and give you something to remember it by.

Stingray

The trick to avoiding stringrays while surfing is to let them find you.

The trick to avoiding stingrays is to let them find you before you find them.  You are advised to shuffle your feet in the sand as you wade out to surf.  The stingray will detect the agitation and take off.

At the Uvita Surf School in Playa Uvita there has not been a stingray incident in several years.  Nevertheless, Tito, the lead surf instructor, always advises his students to practice caution by using the foot shuffling method when heading out into the waves.

If stingray stings are rare, it is even less likely that you will encounter a jellyfish, but it is possible.  Jellyfish are a potential hazard on beaches throughout the world and jellyfish stings are the most common marine injury on the planet.

If you brush up against a jellyfish, you will be pierced with a cluster of needlelike filaments that discharges a nasty venom.  The stinging sensation will be immediate and the pain will increase over 10 minutes before leveling off.  You will experience a redness of the skin, itchiness and minor swelling.  You may become nauseous or experience muscle spasms.

You can lessen the trauma by treating the sting properly.  Don’t wash it in fresh water.  That will only stimulate the imbedded needles to secrete more venom.  Instead, apply vinegar to the wound.  Don’t brush at the wound.  Instead try to lift the needles away or shave them away with shaving cream and a razor.  Take an oral antihistamine like Benadryl to lessen your body’s allergic reaction to the venom.  The effects of the sting may last from a few hours to a few weeks depending on the toxicity of the venom.

The good news for Costa Rican surfers is that jellyfish tend to proliferate in areas of over-fishing and marine contamination, neither of which are a problem in the clean, fish-friendly waters of southwest Costa Rica.  Jellyfish sightings along the beaches of southwest Costa Rica are quite infrequent.

So the likelihood that you will be stung by a stingray or a jellyfish while surfing in Costa Rica is rare, but not unheard of, so it’s best to be prepared with proper knowledge of how to avoid them and what to do if a sting occurs.  ♦

Author and Client:  This post was written by Malcolm Logan for Uvita Surf School at Uvitasurfcamp.com

Image Credits:

Looking out while surfing, Ceiling; Stingray, Gary Rinaldi

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The Best Waves for Beginning Surfers to Learn On

March 23, 2011 1 comment
Beach Break

A spilling wave breaks for a longer period of time than a plunging wave.

When it comes to learning how to surf, some waves are better than others.  For the beginning surfer, spilling waves are the best.

A spilling wave occurs when a gradually sloping ocean floor causes the wave to become steeper and steeper until the crest spills down the face of the wave in a rush of foaming whitewater.  The wave continues in this manner until its energy is dissipated in a froth near the shore.

Spilling waves break for a longer time than other waves, providing ample energy at the start of the ride and a gentle decrease in power as the wave nears the shore.  For beginners who are just learning to stand and balance on the board this is ideal.

When a wave breaks over a sandy bottom, it’s called a beach break.  When a wave breaks over an obstruction, like a rocky bottom or a reef, it’s called a reef break.  Reef breaks produce plunging waves which, while they are highly favored by experienced surfers, are difficult for beginners.

Plunging waves rise quickly and become steeper, almost vertical at the crest, before plunging suddenly into the trough, creating a barrel or tube as they break along their line.  To catch a ride inside that tube is the ultimate surfing experience.

However, the suddenness and force of a reef break can be too much for a beginner.  What’s more, the rocky bottom can result in a painful battering if the wave crashes down full force on a fallen surfer.

Finding the right beach to learn on should be one of the chief concerns for aspiring surfers. Yet many surf schools make no mention of the importance of learning on the right waves, taking all levels of surfers to the same beach.

At the Uvita Surf School, in Bahia Uvita, Costa Rica, beginners are taught at Colonia Beach in Ballena National Marine Park. Colonia has a beach break and produces plenty of vigorous spilling waves to learn on. The gradually sloping sandy bottom at Colonia is most forgiving to surfers who fall in the course of their lessons, dramatically reducing the chance of cuts and abrasions, and Colonia is not frequented by experienced surfers, who prefer the plunging waves further up the coast at Dominical.

Waves are not all the same. Some are better than others. For beginners, a spilling wave that results from a beach break is the best kind of wave to learn on.  ♦

Author and Client:  This post was written by Malcolm Logan for Uvita Surf School at Uvitasurfcamp.com

The Nasty Truth about Bedbug Bites

November 19, 2010 Leave a comment
Clusters of bites

An allergic reaction to bedbugs

The other day I heard someone suggest that the recent outbreak of bedbugs on the East Coast was largely a myth.  Well, I have been bitten by bedbugs and I can tell you, it’s no myth.  Unfortunately, the idea of bedbugs seems old fashioned, even quaint, a remnant of the storybook past, like shoe buckles and silk bonnets, so the skepticism is understandable.  But if you have been bitten by bedbugs and suffered a severe allergic reaction, you will not care much about what the skeptics say; you will be frantically looking for any information you can find to provide insight and relief.

A  website that can help is Bedbugger.com.  It has loads of good of information about how to identify and get rid of bedbugs, but when it comes to dealing with the bites most of what you find there has to be gleaned from the discussion threads.   That’s too bad because  solid information can be communicated to those actually suffering from the bites, information that can clear up their confusion and ease their distress.

Symptoms of Bedbug Bites
Hypochondriacs take note: if you have been bitten by bedbugs and you have an allergic reaction, you will not mistake them for anything else.  I have been feasted on by mosquitoes and chiggers, stung by bees and chomped on by horseflies.  Nothing comes close to the madness inducing itching and swelling provoked by an allergic reaction to bedbug bites.  Here’s how it unfolds:

On the morning after you have been bitten you will notice a few red marks distributed here and there on your shoulders and arms.  They may not even itch at first.  But as the day wears on, you will begin to regard them as a mild irritant.  You’ll find yourself itching absentmindedly at tiny red bumps that look like inflamed pimples.  That night, you may go back to bed in the rack of your ensuing torture, ignorant of the fact that you are the victim of a nest of parasites swarming just below you.

The next day you will begin to notice something amiss.  You will remark more red marks, perhaps stitched closely together, as if whatever was biting you was looking for the best place to root in.  You might suspect that these are fresh bites, but what you are most likely seeing are the previous night’s bites just now beginning to manifest themselves.

This may go on for up to nine days with new bites manifesting daily until you’re arms, shoulders, torso and neck are riddled with swollen red bumps that may briefly resemble mosquito bites but which soon resolve themselves into full fledged welts.  These welts will have more in common with the onset of poison ivy than with a sultry night spent camping next to stagnant water.  Shortly, you will find yourself itching furiously.

Your Body’s Reaction
The association with poison ivy is apt.  The itching and swelling are your body’s reaction to the saliva of the bedbug which was injected into your blood stream during feeding.

It should be noted that not all people experience an allergic reaction.  Some are virtually immune.  Others have a much milder response.  This can lead to a puzzling conundrum.  How can it be bedbugs if two people have slept in the same bed but only one person is experiencing distress?

It is not the least part of the insidious nature of bedbug bites that they manifest in ways that are illusory and misleading, leading to uncertainty and deepening the distress of the sufferer.

The Delayed Manifestation and the Nine Day Duration
My own experience is a case in point.  I was bitten in a motel room over the course of two nights.  The bites, however, didn’t become full blown until four days later when I was staying at my parent’s house.  I was seeing what appeared to be new bites each day, so I was naturally alarmed that I was being bitten anew and worried that I had carried the bugs with me and infested their home.

Bedbugs can hitchhike on luggage and clothing and travel along with you.  So I washed everything in hot water and tumble dried twice in a hot dryer.  I sprayed the inside of my luggage with a bedbug spray and made sure nothing was placed on the floor.  Still, I wasn’t sure.  I frantically searched the seams and stitching of the bedding and awoke suddenly at intervals, switching on the light to try to catch the critters in the act.  It was all an illusion.  The bedbugs had not traveled with me but the original bites continued appearing in new and maddening ways for five more days!

My bites continued itching for nine days after I was bitten, with the severest reaction occurring on the fifth day.  The swelling lasted for nearly two weeks.  The red marks took more than a month to fade.  Even after the episode was over, I felt phantom bites from time to time, a not uncommon psychological reaction to the trauma of having been fed upon.  I comforted myself with the knowledge that bedbugs do not bite during the day and that if I had been bitten at all, it was not by bedbugs.

Treatments
The recent bedbug scourge, which gained a foothold in New York City last year and is now spreading up and down the East Coast (I was bitten in Alexandria, VA) has come on so fast many doctors have been thrown for a loop.  Discussion threads are rife with stories of misdiagnoses by physicians who are seeing a variety of manifestations of the bites for the first time.

Treatment with topical analgesics can be ineffective on reactions as severe as these.  In some cases the reactions can be so dire they can lead to anaphylactic shock.  Relief can be difficult to find.  A hot shower will provide only a temporary respite, followed by a fierce spike in itching.  Skin moisturizers will offer only mild and unsatisfactory aid.

Swelling and itching from bedbug bites should be treated for what they are, an allergic reaction.  If your doctor won’t prescribe an appropriate antihistamine at once, choose an over the counter medication like Benadryl or Zyrtec and attack the problem yourself.  It is your best chance for easing the itching.

Again, it’s important to emphasize that not all people react to bedbug bites in the same way, but judging by the discussion threads, severe reactions are widespread.  Unfortunately, the dearth of information, the confusion and skepticism, as well as the delayed reaction and the nine day cycle, all tend to prolong the sufferer’s misery and delay immediate and effective action.

If you fear you have been bitten by bedbugs, get yourself to a doctor, take proper measures to relieve the itching and try to relax.  It will all be over soon enough and you will never mistake bedbug bites for any other kind of bites again.