Here are a few common injuries and how to avoid them.
1. Head injuries.
There are several ways of injuring your head whilst surfing. A common cause of concussion, skull fracture and intracranial bleed is being hit by the board itself. The rail, nose or tail can all cause significant injury. If your board is on a leash it is more likely to get pulled back towards your head. The wind and waves can both throw the board at your head. People also hit their heads on hard sand, rocks and other people’s boards and heads. Being knocked out in the sea is potentially life threatening as drowning is possible.
Avoidance. Wearing a helmet is the best way of avoiding head injuries while surfing. Unfortunately, many people are put off wearing one by other surfers laughing at them. However, there are some professional surfers who do wear helmets, particularly on bigger waves. Other tactics are to keep your board down-wind and on your beach side so that the waves do not throw it at you. You could think about getting a board with soft rails as these will cause less damage if they hit you. Avoid surfing near rocks unless you really know what you are doing. Keep well away from other surfers, particularly inexperienced people who are more likely to crash into you.
2. Sprains and fractures.
There are several ways in which you can break a bone or sprain a joint while surfing. One of the commonest causes is hitting the bottom in shallow water. This can break your neck, ankle or arm. Shoulders and ankles can also be sprained from the combination of cold and unaccustomed activity.
Avoidance. Be super-aware of your depth. Be very careful at speed in shallow water. Under or over estimating your depth can make you hit the floor hard or at an angle which increases the risk of a sprain or fracture. Warm up before going in the water and don’t overdo it if you aren’t too fit.
3. Repetitive strain injuries.
Paddling out can be a cause of repetitive strain injury (RSI) as well as sprains. If you are not accustomed to the activity and have not warmed up you are at risk of RSI of the shoulder or a rotator cuff injury. This involves injury to the muscles around the shoulder joint and can be very painful. It can also put you out of the water for some time.
Avoidance. Again, make sure you warm up properly before going in the water. Doing a few stretches when no one is looking is a great idea. Make sure you have a wet suit which allows for swimming and arm movement as some types are restrictive and it will make you work harder. Be aware of your body when you are paddling out and rest if you are tired or have any pain or discomfort.
Summary. Surfing can be dangerous but taking a few simple precautions can keep you safe and stop you getting an injury which may be life-changing and stop you surfing for some time.
Dr Toby Bateson MB ChB created and generously contributed this article. He is currently busy developing the ultimate defence against Surfer’s Ear at his Cornwall based company ZenPlugs.
I received no payment or even earplugs for this article. Honest.