Surf travel’s gone viral – by Joel Menzies

I startled awake, rain pelting my face, wind lashing my body, incoherent ramblings being muttered by my brother. My last memory was drifting off to sleep, lingering images of clear turquoise barrels on my mind with the sun setting over isolated pacific paradise. Completely disoriented I stumbled up, only to be struck by flying debris. “What the f**K is going on?”

As I gathered myself, the situation slowly crystallised in front of me. The whole bloody roof had been torn off our hut. We were in the middle of a cyclone. The beast responsible for the beautiful waves we had surfed the day before. The rest of the night was spent huddling with the locals and other surfers in the only cement building for a long way.

The next morning we found trees had fallen on our boards, and detritus everywhere. Torrential rain followed for a couple of days, average onshore waves, it was dull. Finally the rain cleared, the water was glassy, surf was pumping. We were frothing! Almost predictably, before we could even manage the paddle out, sphincters collectively started to quiver…..  Satan’s gastro found us! The runoff from the hills had contaminated our drinking water with cow, pig, horse, and human filth. I will never forget the image later that night of finding one of our New Zealand brethren having crawled delirious and dehydrated from his hut, laying in ankle deep water, in spasms of gastro whilst fish surrounded him in a feeding frenzy. He looked up and asked me to drop a rock on his head…. it was heavy (The situation, not the rock).

Until this trip it was the reef and potential ocean hazards that had always gained my attention. This vicious cyclone and its resultant unexpected health consequences really opened my eyes to the vast array of health issues we face whilst travelling to the exotic locations we love to surf. This is just a brief overview of things to consider. Hopefully it will help you avoid finding yourself in ankle deep water surrounded by fish with a stranger holding a rock above your head!

What do I need to watch out for?

With the southern hemisphere swell season ramped up, and hordes of wave hungry surfers embarking on their annual pilgrimage to wave drenched destinations it’s worth having a quick glimpse at a few viruses that are causing grief at some of our favourite destinations. Covering every virus/parasite/bacteria/bug that could cause trouble whilst overseas is beyond the scope of this article, but if you are left hungry for more info – the Centre for Disease Control is a great place to start.

Is that YOOUR mate Dengue?

He is a real douche, no one wants him around.


Dengue fever is a nasty virus that involves delights such as high fevers lasting three to seven days, severe headaches (often behind the eyes) muscle and joint pain, some people will develop a rash a few days after the fever.  Skin bruising and mild bleeding of the gums can occur. It is spread by the bite of an infected female mosquito of the Aedes family. Typically the symptoms of the infection start 4-7 days after the mosquito bite and last up to 10 days. There are 4 strains of the dengue virus, once you have recovered from the infection you will be immune to ONLY the strain you contracted.

I’m pumped for my surf trip, but is Dengue a local where I am heading?

Dengue is one of the leading causes of illness and death in the tropics and sub tropics. It is endemic to the Caribbean, South America, and South and Southeast Asia, and the Pacific Islands. Not many good surf spots there hey?

These mozzies typically inhabit domestic areas in small bodies of water around dwellings. They are most active during the day, and rarely fly more than 200m from their breeding site.

Unfortunately if you have copped it once, if infected a second time (with a different strain) the illness is often much more severe and you are at risk of developing dengue hemorrhagic fever, it’s like getting caught inside 20ft chopes, you don’t want to be there! This can be a life threatening condition.  It can involve severe dehydration through fluid shifts in your body, internal bleeding and multi-organ dysfunction leading to death. Heavy.

What do I do if I think Dengue has found me? Read below for some hot tips on managing it and some other viruses. 


Sounds like a mysterious spicy chicken dish, or a funky voodoo spell. Unfortunately it’s another virus spread by the Aedes Mosquito – remember her, she has been spreading youuur mate dengue around. There has been a recent outbreak reported in the Caribbean, and islands in the Indian Ocean and Western Pacific are known to harbor this spicy burrito! Chikungunya is a viral illness that causes fever, muscle aches, joint inflammation, and other flu like symptoms. It presents itself 3-12 days after you are bitten. Only specialized labs can diagnose this infection and treatment is largely supportive with fluid replacement and analgesia, for the muscle and joint pain.


Zika fever! Until recently it was mostly found in Africa and Asia. In April 2007 an outbreak of Zika occurred on Yap Island in Micronesia. Since then it has emerged increasingly in the places we love to visit. In particular this year outbreaks have been reported in French Polynesia (Tahiti and its neighbors), New Caledonia and Easter Island. Zika Fever is closely related to Dengue fever. Think of Zika Fever as Dengue’s little brother, still a douche but doesn’t inflict as much pain. Symptoms of Zika fever may include fever, headache, red eyes, rash, muscle aches, and joint pains. The illness is usually mild and lasts 4-7 days.

I’m sweating like a fat kid on a jumping castle!

If you, or one of your mates start displaying any of the symptoms mentioned above your best course of action is to rest, stay hydrated, and take paracetamol for fevers and pain (avoid aspirin as this can make it worse).  Any fluids you can get your hands on are good, just make sure if its water – it’s clean water. Soft drinks are great to keep some sugar in the system. It’s a good idea to throw some electrolyte powder you can mix with clean water in your board bag as well. Any is good, powerade, gatorade, gastrolyte, just something that can replace salts and sugar if you are losing it to sweat, or if a diabolical gastro finds you!

Should you feel really ill or start to develop any of the following symptoms after the temperature declines you should IMMEDIATELY seek emergency medical treatment.

  • Severe abdominal pain or persistent vomiting
  • Red spots or patches on the skin
  • Bleeding from nose or gums
  • Vomiting blood
  • Black, tarry stools (feces, excrement)
  • Drowsiness or irritability
  • Pale, cold, or clammy skin
  • Difficulty breathing 


There are no vaccines currently available to protect against Dengue, Zika or Chikungunya. The only way to avoid infection is to dodge the mozzies. Here are some tips to avoid mosquito exposure.

Wear long sleeved, loose fitting shirts and long pants.

Use insect repellent with 20-30% DEET on exposed skin and clothing.

If your mate is on an Arak attack and has passed out on the sand, drag him inside, and spray some repellent on him!

Where possible sleep indoors with fly screen and use a mozzie net over your bed.

Camping and adventure stores sell permethrin treated clothing and gear, that keeps mozzies at bay.

If you see items collecting rain water (old bottles, cans, or tires) lying around, empty them and dispose of them. This will help eradicate mosquito breeding areas within your immediate vicinity. If they are water storage containers, ensure they are covered.

It is the people living in endemic areas (areas where dengue and these over infectious diseases are common) that are most at risk of infection. As surfers we are at more risk than other travelers as we tend to gravitate towards these areas, and away from ready access to medical help.


Well fortunately taking these simple precautions goes a very long way in keeping you protected from illness. Keep in mind that the riskiest thing you’re going to be involved in is getting to the breaks. Jumping on the back of that ute/truck/scooter screaming to exotic barrels is the most dangerous thing you will do on your epic adventure. Often we are only presented with one means to get to the waves, but stack the odds in your favor where you can. If you can sit inside, instead of hanging out the back do it! If there is a belt use it! If you’re going to party, work out a way to get yourself home that doesn’t involve you being in charge of a vehicle.

Things you need before you travel

1. Travel Insurance

2. Vaccinations – visit your local Doctor, they’ll jab you with the required vaccinations for your destination. See them as early before travel (like months, if possible) as some vaccines are given over a course of time. If you’re flying out next week – it’s not too late, you may not have protection this trip, but you’re sorting yourself for the next one!

3. Medications – while chatting with your Doc about vaccinations, ask if you need malarial prophylaxis for your destination, and if other meds (like some antibiotics for traveler’s diarrhea) could be useful.

4. First Aid kit, you may need more or less in this depending on where you are heading, chat with your doc about this.

5. Boards, YEEEEEEWW!!

There are a couple of great, reliable websites that have loads of information on how to make the memories of your trip epic barrels and not hallucinations through a dehydrated fit of dengue fever!

Joel Menzies

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *