Getting sick on a Surf trip

“Sick” a term used far too often in surfing and actually makes me feel sick when I accidentally say it out of its correct context.

My relationship with surfing and the word sick is usually justified. I’ve shit myself on a Sri Lankan train, finally finished Shantaram due to a bout of Jungle fever and dodged death in Central America. So here’s my advice on how to handle it:

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  1. Pre-trip planning. A couple of months before your trip check out the common illnesses that are associated with the area you’re traveling to. Get a head start on this as a lot of tropical places require vaccinations for entry into the country and can take weeks to start to work, or given in a series of shots over a period of time. If you are on any medication, pack it in a labeled box and store in your hand luggage, also keep copies of your prescriptions. No explanation necessary.
  2. Road Kill: Although we are well prepared for Malaria and terrorist attacks, most of us won’t hesitate to jump into a death-trap tuk tuk or moped and kain it amongst the crazy local traffic to hunt for waves. It is kind of half of the fun, but it is also very dangerous. Most vehicles you will hire will be absolute pieces of crap with little to no safety devices. Lots of people die in traffic accidents, so to avoid becoming one of the statistics, hire a local driver who will know the roads/ etiquette better than you. You will also be helping out the local economy by doing so. If you’re budget is a bit thin, hire the best car you can afford (with regards to safety, not an 80’s pimp convertible Merc). If you ignore this advice and opt for the £2 per day moped, make sure you never drive after a day full of surfing and a few sun down Bintangs. You don’t have to deny yourself those sweet post-surf sunset-beers, you can have plenty, just pay a local to drive you back to where you’re staying and give him some cash to get back home afterwards. Everyone’s a winner.
  3. Assume you’re going to get diarrhea, dehydration, a rash and some sort of respiratory problem and pack the treatments. Amongst my friends and I, these are the most common illnesses and although not life-threatening, having to get out of perfect 4ft Santa Teresa because your groin is on fire, gets old quick. Canesten cream will clear that bad boy up in a day.
  4. Book a nice place. This may sound obvious but if you don’t have to slum it, don’t. There is nothing cool about being completely feral sleeping on a hammock for €3 per night when you can afford a nice private cabana. You’re on holiday, live outside your means. You will thank me when you’re not running to the one toilet in a 12 bed dorm and are violently evacuating your bowels every hour through the night.
  5. Have some reading material and viewing material. Being ill can actually be a great excuse to watch a Lord of the Rings Trilogy or finish Shantaram, but without any media to consume you could possibly become insane as well.
  6. Get sick with a mate. Ok, this is quite a selfish way of looking at it but when you’re sick with a mate you can slob out watching movies all day together and the company is priceless, especially when they are going through what you’re going through. If it’s a dose of Bali belly then chances are you’ll all get it anyway.
  7. Let cuts heal before they become serious. This is easier said than done when the surf’s pumping, but if you’re in a place for longer than a week and you’ve got a fin cut that could go nasty, keep it clean and dry and go see the local sights. It’s a nice break from chaining yourself to tide times and swell forecasts.
  8. Brush teeth with antibacterial mouthwash. Forget about the fluoride conspiracy for a moment and more about the bacteria harbouring on your toothbrush and the undrinkable tap water you’re brushing your teeth with. Blast those pearly whites with the strongest stuff you can get your hands on.
  9.  Don’t be too hasty/ overthink it. This may sound slighty contradictory but a fag and a strong coffee at home would have probably given you the same bowel twinge. Stressing out and worrying about things that haven’t happened can actually make you ill. So just enjoy the ride and try to do what I do, travel with a sensible, slightly unsympathetic partner who’s real about things and knows when its time to call a Doctor and when it’s time to ride it out.
  10. On that note; Know when to call it a day. If you have to cut the trip short and go home, go home but seek advice off the following people in this order: 1. A Doctor, 2. A sensible friend, 3. A local guy (surf lodge owner you’ve got to know), 4. Your parents. Parents are always the last as they will want you home a the slightest sniff of jungle fever, the local guy will have seen your condition a thousand times, your sensible mate will be able to make the impossible decision for you and the Doctor will give you sound medical advice.  For example, last year I got meningitis in Costa Rica and thought my brain was going to explode and I was going to die. Whilst getting absolutely screwed over in an American style and priced private hospital, that my travel insurance didn’t cover me for, my parents were ready to re-mortgage their house to pay the estimated $40,000 to keep me in the ward ‘under supervision’. Jasmine, my lovely partner and trusted sensible friend smelled a rat and suggested we get out of there and go to the free church-run hospital. I took her advice, had a tantrum, ripped the IV out of my arm, got a bullshit “good luck” off the Doctors, then took the advice of a very lovely trainee Doctor at the Church Hospital who had seen much worse things that day than my headache. A couple of lumbar punctures later, I was in the Caribbean taking my medication and ‘relaxing’ upon Doctors orders.