For better or for worse, the ocean contains a vast array of animal life, some of which you may encounter while catching a few waves. This list will introduce you to some of the more common critters you could run into and how to deal with a wild encounter.
Seals and Sea LionsThere are a number of these playful and inquisitive creatures that may come up to see what you are doing, but watch out; they can sometimes get a little too playful and might nip at your feet. Also, it is illegal to touch seals and sea lions in many places, so know your local regulations before hitting the water. Whatever the law has to say on the matter, it is always safer to stay away from any large-toothed mammals while floating in the vast and heartless ocean, so keep your distance, if you can. Plus, where there are seals, there are often sharks, so keep your eyes on the water if you are near a bunch of these furballs.
Sting RaysSting rays often show up when the water is warm, and with an historic El Nino right around the corner, these little buggers are likely to be lurking under the water’s surface. In the shallows, rays often skirt along the sea floor, so they are easy to step on. To avoid them, shuffle your feet as you enter the water. If you do get stung, submerge the sting in hot water and keep your eye out for any swelling, as this may indicate an allergic reaction (similar to a bee sting). And no, peeing on it won’t help, unless you are into other watersports besides surfing.
GuitarfishGuitarfish are flat fish, similar to rays, that skate along the sea floor often in the shallows. This makes them easy to step on, too, and they will likely freak you out, as you will think you are stepping on a sting ray. But, if you feel something squirm out from under your foot without that oh-so-lovely shock of pain, it was likely one of these harmless little friends. Again, if you want to avoid them altogether, shuffle your feet while walking into the water and get on your board (and stay on your board) when you are deep enough.
Leopard SharksLeopard sharks are ubiquitous in Southern California and like to breed close to shore, so during mating season, you will likely run into these ferocious looking little fish. Luckily, they have no interest in humans and will likely try to stay out of your way; plus they only get up to about five feet when fully grown, and the ones spotted in reefs and tidepools rarely get above two feet long.
Moon JelliesFound on the East and West coasts, Moon jellies often show up in droves and frequently wash ashore in clear blobs of animal goo. While in the water, they are largely harmless, though if jellies show up, you may get a bit itchy due to the mildly stinging nematocysts in their tentacles floating in the water as they get broken up in the waves. Simply take a hot shower after surfing to soothe any irritation.
DolphinsOne of the most majestic and magical experiences you will ever have in the water is surfing with dolphins, and this happens more often than you would think. Just like us, dolphins like to catch waves, and sometimes they join us out in the lineup. They are largely friendly, so there is nothing to fear, just treat them like you would any other surfer and give them the wave if they have a better position.