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Surfers might have the answer to redefining what being healthy means




Cliff Kapono surfing
Cliff Kapono surfing
Via Cliff Kapono

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There’s something interesting going down in the labs at UC San Diego. A project seeking to determine what "healthy" means by studying surfers.

https://vimeo.com/178696707

That video is a trailer put together by Cliff Kapono, surfer, scientist and head researcher of the Surfer Biome project. Kapono joined A Martinez to explain what it is he’s doing with this global study.

What is the Surfer Biome Project?

"Basically, what we're trying to do is investigate the differences between surfers across the world. The differences that we're looking at is in their bacteria and the chemicals that are found on and in their body...

We're really trying to decriminalize the way we look at chemicals or molecules. You know, it's not necessarily always pesticides or toxins, sometimes a chemical or a molecule can be something like caffeine. This is something we're not really used to seeing as a chemical. We kind of just want to be able to show that there's many different types of chemicals, many different types of molecules that are found on and in us and what is their role in keeping us healthy? That's the big question."

Why surfers?

"I mean there's 20 million surfers across the world now, so we're looking at this unique demographic because that's 20 million people who are so diligent in trying to get into the water every day.

Whenever the waves are good or even when the waves aren't good, surfers have a very unique lifestyle, that they're constantly immersed in their environment and there's not too many demographics of population that are so committed to being in their environment, really submersing themselves in that environment. And this demographic transcends races, cultures and geographic space, so this is something that we want to see. Is the commonality of being in the ocean, constantly giving them a unique chemical and biological profile? And can we detect that?"

Sample collection 

"I travel with this suitcase of Q-tips and swabs and I ask these surfers if they're willing to let me pretty much rub their faces, ears, eyes, nose, mouth, chest, hands, feet...but the weirdest for sure is when I have to Q-tip the navel. It's just really awkward for everyone in the room to have me Q-tipping someone's belly button, but after that we take the swabs and we put it into a cooler or dry ice and we ship it overnight to California..."

The big picture

"The whole idea is that we're trying to characterize and find empirical evidence to suggest we interact with our environment, or our environment interacts with us...you know you go to the doctor and you take your blood pressure, you take your height, your weight...we essentially want to use the microbiome types of bacterias and chemicals that are found on and in you as another way to illustrate what your health baseline is. 

So, if we can establish that through a project like the Surfer Biome project, then we can begin to characterize an interaction with our environment. We can see how we are impacting it and how is it impacting us and I think that's very critical if we want to try to influence decisions whether it's political or local about how we treat our environment and how we treat ourselves."

To listen to the full segment, click the blue play button above.