The Pacific ocean, that mercurial body of water nipping at the left coast, is filthy and freezing and dark and ominous and unforgiving. Oh yeah, and it smells bad too. A dip of the toe is immersion therapy for your every dark, deep fear rolled into one giant mass of churning, ferocious, pissed-off water that can, and might, actually kill you. Phobias to tackle in the Pacific include, but are not limited to, bacteria, water, waves, pollution, rare disease, exposure, killer sea creatures and badass surf punks itching for an excuse to smash your face in.

The temperature makes the ocean a great spot for sobering up, cutthroat games of Truth or Dare and, in a pinch, a place to dunk a spare organ while awaiting transplant. It’s not so fantastic for lazy lolling in the waves, which is just as well, seeing as how those waves are jagged and cruel and will push you under and hold you down while you swallow mouthful after mouthful of contaminated salt water garnished in fish/child/dog poop.

Reams can be written about the myriad toxins and pollutants infesting our waters here and abroad — the pesticides, the oil slicks, massive amounts of defiled waste. High tide brings in a curdled green foam that bites at your toes with fanged teeth and stinky breath. This is just one of the more colorful side effects of eutrophication, wherein excessive amounts of nitrogen in the waterways, caused by the inordinate amount of human waste that filters into the ocean by way of inefficient septic flow, creates an imbalance that leads to “algal blooms,” or what is known as “slime” to you and me. This slime can be found all along the coast, but specifically on beaches where creek runoff meets the ocean (Topanga Beach, Las Flores, Nicholas Creek, etc.), and can be collected and used to frighten small children and prissy girls with press-on nails, if handling algae is your thing.

There are countless surf spots that have recently been transformed into disease casinos — where you can bet on your chances of contracting non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma and a host of other reproductive cancers. And even if you don’t contract something terminal, the Pacific promises sores, welts and rashes due to chemical dumping and/or ecosystem imbalance. And even if you escape the agony of festering wounds and respiratory failure, you can, at the very least, score a gash while fighting your way back to shore during high tide, while the waves pummel you again and again into the craggy, jagged rocks peppering the shore.

Toxicity, temperature and smell aside, the Pacific is unforgiving in oh-so-many other ways. It’s choppy and cruel and dark and creepy. It’s awash with predators wanting to take a bite out of you — sharks, stingrays, jellyfish, giant squid, you name it, they’re there — inches away from your blue, goose-pimpled toes, just waiting for the perfect opportunity to strike. And chew.

And if you surf, beware the snaggletoothed locals who lay claim to the best breaks and the biggest waves and don’t take kindly to strangers, especially the pale, privileged ones who reek of Valley and tend to wobble and lose their boards. You’ll know them: They’ll be the ones yelling “Kooks!” from the water.

Our ocean is sick and scary and struggling. If you go head to head, it will kick your ass every time. If you’re triumphant, you come out the other side of it changed — stronger, wiser, armed with a deep inner knowing, a glimpse of your true, invincible nature, and a strange patch of angry, itchy bumps dotting the length of your torso.