I came across this Magic Seaweed post entitled Barrels Paid in Blood, written by Chris Hunt (09.07.15), and after the recent Mick Fanning shark encounter it really got me thinking about the dangers of surfing.
Surfing is an adrenaline packed activity but even professionals come a cropper at some stage. As Hunt says in his article, you can experience “cheese-gratings, knockouts, near deaths, and that's just the travelling pros. Keeping in mind these guys are the best in the biz, that doesn't bode well for the rest of us mere mortals.”
Hunt was writing about Kandui in Indonesia, where many pros gathered for the best swell of the year. Unfortunately, the majority of them left with an injury of one kind or another including minor foot injuries, hip and knee injuries, and more serious shoulder and head injuries. Several pros were knocked out and are lucky to have made it back to shore.
Sure accidents do happen, but there are ways and means to avoid them until you’ve built up enough experience to really go for it like the guys in Kandui.
1. Eye Damage
It’s a fairly gruesome injury but some surfers can end up with damage caused to the eye thanks to the wayward tip of a surfboard. The injury can vary from a black eye, to permanent damage and even loss of vision.
Method of prevention: Make sure you’ve attached a soft nose guard on the tip of your surfboard. They don’t cost much but thereafter, any contact your face has with the surfboard’s sharp tip will be much kinder.
2. Head Trauma
If you suffer a collision with the rails, fins, or nose of a surfboard you can end up with acute surfing injuries. The other common causes of head trauma include contact with coral reefs, hard sand ocean floor, and submerged rocks. The sort of injuries you’re likely to receive can include concussion, cervical spine fracture, and fractures of the face, jaw, skull, and teeth.
Method of prevention: Novice surfers should ideally ride soft top surfboards as this will help to prevent head trauma injuries if you’re in collision with the board itself. More experienced surfers who are trying out hazardous breaks for the first time often opt to wear a helmet. You should use the right surfing gear and if you’re unsure, ask for professional advice before purchasing a surfboard or any surfing equipment.
If you do wipeout, learn to do so with your hands crossed overhead. By maintaining this defensive position you can protect your head and face from your surfboard and the sea floor. If you’re surfing over a shallow bottom, try to fall flat and allow the water to cushion your fall. Never ever dive in head-first because severe neck injuries are a possibility if you hit the bottom. A good surf school can teach you these techniques.
Humans are just great big softies, let’s face it. Our skin and muscle covering is no real match for a coral reef or the sharp rocks, or hard sand floor lurking beneath the surface. If you’re not careful you can experience a nasty laceration requiring stitches, and run the risk of infection depending on what you collided with or the water quality.
Method of prevention: Again, if you’re a beginner, opt for a softer fin on your surfboard, so at least if you collide with that you’re less likely to suffer cuts. If you’re surfing on or around rocks or a coral reef, you might want to wear booties on your feet. Not a cool look? Neither is spending 8 hours in A and E and missing all the surf.
4. Shoulder Strain
If you spend a lot of your time surfing, especially as a beginner, you may find yourself overusing your shoulder, resulting in rotator-cuff impingement and tendinitis. This causes a great deal of pain in the front shoulder and the deltoid region. This can develop into a chronic condition if you have poor paddling technique, or, if you’ve been surfing for donkey’s years and are constantly paddling.
Method of prevention: Believe it or not, simply stretching and warming up properly before you hit the beach can save your body from injury and improve your performance. Ten minutes spent stretching properly, while you’re observing conditions and other surfers, should be enough to warm you up. This is especially important for beginners and for older surfers. Remember – the risk of injury actually doubles for surfers in their 40s or older, regardless of how experienced they are.
It stands to reason that here in the UK we’re prone to sunburn with our fair skin and lack of sunshine. You may laugh sunburn off as a minor ailment compared to other surfing injuries, but keep in mind that incidents of skin cancer are higher now than they’ve ever been, and skin cancer can kill.
Method of prevention: Always wear sunscreen of factor 30+ and make sure it’s in date. Sunscreen that’s out of date? You might just as well lather yourself in vegetable oil. Wearing a wetsuit will add buoyancy, sun protection and help to prevent seabed abrasions. Drink enough water before and after surfing as this will help you to avoid dehydration.
6. Lack of Preparation
Sure you can buy yourself a board and head out on the waves, but what do you know about the environment? And how will you deal with the waves that come your way? The majority of surfing injuries happen in smaller waves, while surfing in overhead waves increases the risk of more severe injuries. Similarly, if you try to catch the same waves as a fellow surfer, not only is this bad etiquette, it’s likely to lead to collisions.
Method of prevention: You can lower your chances of injury by always being prepared. You’ll learn what you need to know if you take lessons with an accredited surf school. They’ll teach you all the appropriate skills, techniques and water safety you need, and make you aware of surfing etiquette. You’ll find out about giving other surfers some distance, catching waves individually (one stand up paddler per wave, one surfer per wave), attaching leg rope to boards and not jumping off your board when caught by broken waves. Always look around first to make sure all your fellow surfers are safe from the actions you intend to take.
7. Delay in Treating Injuries
If you delay treating any injuries that you or a fellow surfer has sustained, you run the risk of exacerbating the injury, or allowing infection to set in.
Method of prevention: Stop surfing immediately and seek prompt treatment. Have a mobile fully charged so that you can make a call in case of emergency. Call 999 for an ambulance if the situation warrants it. The emergency services can also decide whether to send out the coastguard.
It’s not all doom and gloom. Across the globe, it’s estimated that 18 million people enjoy surfing, and it is actually a safe sport when compared to many others, with a low overall risk of injury. Most injuries that do occur are not serious and preventions can be taken to ensure minimal risk. Just be sure to take some lessons from experienced surfers who know the area, make adequate preparations before you begin and get to know your environment, it’s likely that you can surf without any problems at all!
If you are in the Cornwall area then let us know and we can get you included on a surfing lesson with our experienced instructors.