Written by SurfWriter Girls Sunny Magdaug and Patti Kishel
“I don’t want to belong to any club that would accept me as a member,” comedian Groucho Marx, the wise-cracking, cigar-smoking member of the Marx Brothers, once said.
The same thing might be said about Huntington/Seal Beach’s Ray Bay Surf Club – the unofficial organization made up of people who have been stung by stingrays.
With a membership roster that includes surfers, swimmers, other people in the water, and anyone unlucky enough to cross paths with a stingray, it’s a club that keeps growing…especially when the water is warm, creating an ideal environment for stingrays.
Seal Beach, at the mouth of the San Gabriel River, is the epicenter of Orange County’s stingray action. The fact that the river has naturally warmer water – made even warmer by the emissions from the nearby power plant – makes it an inviting breeding and gathering spot for the rays.
Ranging in size from 6 – 7 feet from the top of its body to the tip of its tail, stingrays weigh as much as 700 lbs.
Each year an average of 400 people get stung in Seal Beach alone. To avoid becoming a statistic yourself, lifeguards advise people in the water to be watchful, especially at the water’s edge where stingrays like to gather.
And to do the “stingray shuffle,” shuffling your feet to stir up the sand and keep the rays at a distance.
If you do get stung, let the nearest lifeguard know and seek first aid.
It’s important to properly clean and disinfect the wound, removing any barb fragments or foreign particles. Treatment normally involves soaking the injured area in hot water to counteract the toxins and reduce the pain.
Reactions to a sting can vary from mild to severe, depending on the type of injury and people’s tolerance levels.
Several Surfrider Foundation members from the Huntington/Seal Beach Chapter have been stung by the rays, including Jeff Coffman, Tony Soriano and Joe “Samoa” McMullin.
“The worst sting took 3 weeks to heal,” said Tony. “The stinger broke on the outside edge of my foot and eventually worked its way through to the top of my foot and out. The barbs are like hooks and if you pull on them they don’t come out.”
Joe added that when he gets stung he calls home and his wife knows to put the water on the stove to heat it up and have it ready so he can soak his wound. “The longer you can soak it in hot water, the better.”
The Ray Bay Surf Club members are a hearty, fun-loving group and even have an annual Surfin’ Safari campout to Doheny Beach where they surf, eat, and swap stingray stories.
Jellyfish, though less-likely to be encountered at OC beaches, are another sea creature that stings and water-goers should stay away from them. Some jellyfish are as small as a millimeter and others are as big as a person and can weigh over 400 lbs.
A sting, or even just touching them, can result in painful consequences requiring immediate first aid.
While stingrays like to bury themselves in the ocean’s sandy bottom – where unsuspecting people step on them – jellyfish, which are balloon-like and gelatinous in appearance, float in the water.
So, when you’re at the beach be on the lookout – where you walk and where you swim.
And, when it comes to joining a stingray club, just make sure all the members drive Corvettes.
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