Surf's Up, But So Is The Bacteria Count

hughes sufer girl
Mitch Taylor has been hanging ten at Surfrider Beach for three decades.

"You couldn't ask for a better wave," he says.

But you could ask for a cleaner wave. CBS News correspondent Sandra Hughes reports.

"The water is very gross. It has a very nasty smell to it. ... It kind of smells like something died there," says surfer Dan Colella.

In fact, a dead bird was found on the beach there, and nearby there's a very large lagoon with stagnant water.

Already twice this year, officials closed parts of Santa Monica Bay because of sewage spills.

"The bacteria is really high, and we definitely get bad ear infections and bad nasal infections," says Taylor.

An annual environmental study found that seven of the 10 most polluted beaches in California are in L.A. County. But officials say don't panic: There are plenty of beaches that aren't polluted, and California's testing is very rigorous, while some other states aren't testing at all.

"It's allowed places who don't know their water quality to point to California and say 'Oh that's awful, what are you guys doing out there?'" says public health expert Linwood Pendleton, a professor of environmental science at UCLA.

But the dire findings don't keep Pendleton, a die-hard surfer, out of the water

"Staying home, what are you doing?" he asks. "You're inside. You are not in natural light. You are on the sofa. You are sitting at the kitchen table — you are just not being active."

Pendleton says he isn't crazy. He recommends showering after going in the water to rinse off any potential bacteria from the ocean and to check online for the beach rating before diving in.

"The ocean — like life — is full of risks, and so you have to manage it. ... Water quality — just like all the other parts of the ocean — is something you have to be aware of, and so you choose carefully," says Pendleton.

But there are some surfers who say they'll keep surfing, no matter how bad the water gets.

"We've been surfing since we were kids. If we didn't have this, we might as well be sick and dying anyway," says Taylor.

Now that's devotion to the perfect wave.