Pro Surfer Raises Alarm Over Water Pollution

Times Staff Writer

Blond-haired Scott Daley has built his fearless reputation by slashing and ripping across the world’s gnarliest waves.

Monster surf? No problem. It’s what is potentially in the waves that frightens him.

“If we don’t do something about the deteriorating conditions of our oceans, sooner or later our beaches will be closed,” the Hermosa Beach resident said.

Daley is trying to deal equally fearlessly with what he sees as a mounting threat to the shores of America. He wants to be a spokesman for a handful of surfers worried that rapid population growth and the industrialization of Southern California have overtaxed sewage treatment systems, strained oil refining plants and resulted in the dumping of chemical and human waste into the oceans.


“People must come up with the belief that ocean is life. Someone must make that clear,” he said.

Among Best in World

As a professional surfer, Daley has consistently ranked among the top five in the world. His reputation as one of the premier big-wave riders on the north shore of Hawaii, where sets can be 35 feet high, lends credence to his nickname of “The Great White Surfer.” As the elder statesman of the pro tour at age 31, Daley thinks he can capitalize on his reputation but must do it quickly.

Tom Pratt, founder of the Surfrider Foundation, which is concerned with issues affecting surfers, said: “Water pollution is getting worse. You look at the population growth here. There is a lag time between growth and how businesses that dump waste and byproducts deal with improving.”


Pratt said such pollution is a problem that may be solved only “10 to 20 years down the road.”

For Daley, that is not soon enough. Smelly air and murky seas here have soured him. He is not sure he will be at El Porto or Surfrider Beach in Malibu this winter, a time when the pros hang loose with friends, away from the competitive pressures of the professional tour.

“I don’t see it getting any better right now,” he said.

Job May Be Affected

High concentrations of bacteria in the water, which closed a smattering of beaches in Southern California last summer, may also affect his job, Daley said. He is the promotions and team manager for Body Glove International of Hermosa Beach, a main sponsor of the U.S. Pro Tour of Surfing and Bodyboarding.

“There may come a time when I can’t do my work because of the irresponsibility regarding waste management,” Daley said during an interview in his crowded office at the Body Glove plant on 6th Street.

Daley conceded that he has no scientific proof that the waters of Southern California, particularly his home turf in Santa Monica Bay, are being polluted. But his personal experience, he argued, should carry weight.

“I’ve surfed Manhattan Beach all my life,” Daley said. “I was a junior lifeguard. It’s been a good 25 years that I’ve been in the water here. . . . I’ve been in the water when this stuff (waste) has been dumped. I’ve smelled acid in the air, diesel fuel in the water. I’ve been in the water and seen the brownish foam on the waves.”


Lifeguards Issue Warnings

On four occasions, he said, lifeguards have told him that it would be a good idea to get medical injections after surfing in water suspected of having high concentrations of hepatitis-producing viruses.

At Malibu, Daley said, he saw five friends “throwing up for days” after extended stays in water that he believes had high levels of bacteria. Another time, he developed a boil on his left leg 9 inches in circumference when water that looked especially dirty came in contact with a rash caused by the wax on his surfboard.

Professional surfers already take some precautions against contaminated water. Many rinse their ears with a solution of alcohol and boric acid to cut down on infections. Some gargle after leaving the ocean. But most surfers, according to Daley, have been slow to realize the danger.

Change in Attitudes

However, Bill Sullivan of the Professional Surfing Assn. of America (PSAA) says attitudes may be changing after a recent pro event at the Manhattan Beach Pier.

Added assistant Mike Balzer: “Some of the San Diego guys were complaining when they got out of the water that their hair was greasy. They asked what was wrong with the water.”

Daley’s worst experience with polluted water, however, was not in Southern California but recently at a popular New Jersey surfing spot called State Street. Pollution problems there have been well-documented in the media.


Daley found himself right in the middle of untreated sewage. “That water was dirty out there,” he said. “I put my hand in the water, about a foot down, and I couldn’t see it.”

He pointed to a scar on his right leg and foot. “I got a staph(ylococcus) infection there,” he said.

It May Get Worse

The experience was a mixed blessing. It taught Daley that things are not all that bad on the West Coast yet--"Out here, you can see your hand"--but it reinforced his belief that things will get worse here if people like him don’t speak out.

“The beaches will close,” he said. “L.A. flocks to the beach. We love it. What will happen on another 110-degree day like we had last Labor Day? The beaches are jammed, and you can’t go in the water (because it’s polluted).”