Carly Lindmeier is a 20-year-old from the city of Orange, California. She works in marketing, enjoys surfing and paddleboarding and, like many other twentysomethings in Southern California, laments not going to the beach more often. Unlike her peers, however, there's a legitimate medical reason for her to get in the water: Lindmeier has cystic fibrosis, and the ocean helps her symptoms.
Cystic fibrosis (CF) is a rare progressive disease that affects the lungs of some 30,000 people in the United States. CF causes a thick, sticky mucus to form in the lungs. That mucus blocks the airway, making it harder for those living with CF to breathe, and fosters the growth of harmful bacteria, which leads to life-threatening lung illnesses.
It’s a degenerative disease, and as recently as the 1980s the median lifespan for those with CF was less than 20 years. But over the past three decades, advances in medicine have vastly improved the quality of life and life expectancy of those fighting CF. Perhaps the most interesting treatment isn’t something that comes with a multisyllabic name and a laundry list of side effects, however: It’s saltwater.
In 2006, researchers at Australia’s Royal Prince Albert Hospital found that saltwater was incredibly effective at rehydrating the lining of the lungs and allowing patients to eliminate that harmful bacteria.
“I’d say going out into the water and surfing is pretty similar to, say, staying at home and being hooked up to the machines,” Lindmeier says, referring to a pulsating inflatable vest cystic fibrosis patients have to put on multiple times each day to loosen up the harmful mucus in the lungs. “But the difference is it’s more fun. It’s just the perfect tradeoff, and the extra cardio and workout I get surfing is much better than the vest, I think.”
Lindmeier first started surfing eight years ago, shortly after the Australian study was published, and began standup paddleboarding a few years after that. For her, the benefits of surfing were immediately noticeable.
“For me, surfing is just so natural and cleansing,” she says. “I mean, the moment I dive down into the water, my sinuses are cleared, and the moment I get out of the water, I feel like I can actually breathe again. I don’t know if I can say that surfing necessarily has improved my cystic fibrosis per se, because it’s progressive and will always get worse, but more than anything it has improved my mental health and made the treatments easier to deal with."
Lindmeier isn't the only one who's taken note of the healing powers of the ocean. The Cystic Fibrosis Foundation (CFF) developed a saline solution that mimics the salinity of seawater and is now used by patients with CF globally, meaning those afflicted now engage in “surf sessions” around the world no matter where they live. And that realization has struck a chord with the surfing community.
In 2007, big-wave surfing legends Laird Hamilton and Dave Kalama joined together with the CFF to become co-chairs of the Pipeline to a Cure gala, an annual event that raises money for CF research while celebrating the positive impacts a relationship with the ocean offers those battling the disease. In the years since its inception, Pipeline to a Cure has raised millions of dollars for CF research; last year’s event alone brought in more than $600,000.
“Most surfers already know the benefits of the ocean on a daily basis, on a smaller level,” says Kalama. “But to have this event, and have it support something we all know and believe in, you know, helping these kids that really do suffer from an incredibly challenging disease, it was very easy to get the surf community behind it.”
This year’s event, which will be held July 11 at the Hyatt Regency in Huntington Beach, California, will pair Hamilton and Kalama with athletes and musicians, including surfer Jamie Mitchell and band Green Day, for a night of auctions and performances.
“It’s great to go there every year and, pun intended, see all the new medicines that are coming through the pipeline,” says Lindmeier. “I see the event has definitely helped a lot in raising money, because right now research for CF has no government funding. And people still don’t realize what CF is, but I’m hoping that Pipeline can help people learn about the disease, and then hopefully the government will get involved, and maybe then we can find a cure.”
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