What’s in surfers’ guts?

Researching the specific funk of surfers

Cliff Kapono
  • Cliff Kapono

This October, UC San Diego School of Medicine doctoral student and native Hawaiian surfer Cliff Kapono sets out on a nine-month global journey to swab surfers in search of unique microorganisms.

“If surfers have a unique microbiome or body chemistry, this could begin to facilitate new types of conversations about the ocean as a therapy, and as a result inspire conservation efforts,” Kapono told Erika Johnson of UC San Diego communications.

Originally proposed as a local survey, the Surfer Biome Project went worldwide with support from an $80,000 grant made by UC San Diego Global Health Institute. The project will collect data from surfers in England, Ireland, Spain, Morocco, California, Hawaii, Chile, and Indonesia.

“These waves represent different environments — river mouths, harbor entrances, marine preserves, or isolated islands.

Kapono’s research tools include the American Gut Project sample kit, which he will distribute to surfers he meets. Within two hours of going in the ocean, surfers will swab hands, feet, navel, chest, mouth, ears, nose, eyes, and surfboards. Subjects will also provide a fecal sample and other information about their health and surfing locations. The information will be added and compared to the database of the American Gut Project, based at UC San Diego School of Medicine.

“We definitely expect to see ocean-specific bacteria on surfer skin and definitely cosmetics such as sunscreen and shampoo,” Kapono anticipated.

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