Does sand suspended in big waves affect surfers at all?
August 11, 2014 12:20 PM   Subscribe

Calling moderate to biggish wave surfers: Every time I watch a surfing video, I always notice the amount of sand suspended in the water column - aka at 1:11 of this video. I know there's a lot of other things going on for a surfer to think about, but I've always wondered if surfers feel or notice sand grains in any way.

Sand can be quite abrasive. Wave action is creating that sand, and not just sand - there's a lot of good surfing breaks where there are reefs, and pieces of reef also break off, so you might get coral and shell particles, which can be quite coarse. With more energy, sand grain size is going to increase, and depending on turbulence and wave energy, there's going to be a lot of particles that are suspended in the water and saltating (bouncing) around on the bottom. There's both a lot of reworking of the sediment as well as breaking it down. So I would think surfers might notice sand just a little bit, maybe even more in certain areas or increases in wave energy.

HOWEVER, I've noticed that when I'm in surf (not as a surfer) with a lot of sand, the only thing I'm apt to notice afterward is sand in my swimming suit. And, unless there's a surfing vocabulary word I'm missing, I've never heard surfers talk about it; even the books like The Wave (in the section about Jaws) don't really mention it, and google searching has led me nowhere. And it makes sense that with all the other things going on - like water weight/turbulence/currents and seafloor rocks & reefs in situ that can kill you - a surfer wouldn't notice some mild sand abrasion. Also, you know, wet suits and rash guards. But I see a lot of sand in the water sometimes, so I can't help but wonder.

So: do surfers notice sand in the water at all?
posted by barchan to Sports, Hobbies, & Recreation (8 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
I grew up bodysurfing in no-wetsuit-needed water and never noticed the sand in the water. It was only noticeable if I got washing-machined and sand got jammed in my suit (and hair and everywhere else). The sensation just from the water itself is pretty all-encompassing, so I don't think my skin ever noticed having sand just brushing against it as well.
posted by rtha at 12:28 PM on August 11, 2014 [2 favorites]

Like rtha, I too bodysurfed without a wetsuit, in the pacific. I never felt like I was being sandblasted. I don't know if it was the salt keeping everything nicely suspended or my fear of getting entangled in that nasty, bulbous sea weed, or that the water was about 54 degrees. Sand never entered the equation.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 2:35 PM on August 11, 2014

I've surfed moderate but never big waves, and never noticed the sand.

Though the amount of suspended sand in the video looks like it's a lot more than what we normally see in Hawai`i. Maybe our silica sand doesn't stay as suspended in the water column as much? The story might be different in California.
posted by kanewai at 2:55 PM on August 11, 2014

I only surf little waves, but what rtha said. I only notice the sand when I get washing machined and my snot's full of sand for the next 6 hours. (TMI?)

EDIT: I'm in California. There is lots of sand here.
posted by small_ruminant at 11:16 PM on August 11, 2014

I don't surf, but I have swam in the ocean. Seems like where there's going to be lots of sand in the water is close to shore. When you're surfing further out it's probably not as much of a factor. I have noticed sand when I was in very shallow water letting waves wash around me.
posted by catatethebird at 9:40 AM on August 12, 2014

Thank you all for your answers. I really wasn't expecting much different, but it's good to have some anecdotal evidence.

Although this makes me want to experiment to see how much sand you need in moving water for a person to feel it.
posted by barchan at 12:27 PM on August 12, 2014

Oh, small_ruminant, your tidbit was interesting, not TMI. There's a number of situations where I've never noticed dirt or sand in the air or around me, including the beach, and then my snot just runs dirt for hours later. Always interesting when I'm working in a lot of red clay.
posted by barchan at 12:30 PM on August 12, 2014

catethebird, I spent yesterday body boarding in the surf and it's still true. You just don't much notice it til you're pretty much sitting in the surf- it has to be that shallow.

However, the water *is* all churned up and I wouldn't let it get in my eyes or anything until it's clearer (at about 4 feet deep where I was).
posted by small_ruminant at 8:18 AM on August 13, 2014

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