Welcome to the dark side of the well-favored paradise-sport.
Besides the utmost fun surfers have out there, there’s always a fair bit of risk involved.
First of all, surfing takes place where a human being should not be after all – in the surf!
What many people don’t realize is that surfing is an extreme sport. Being successful at extreme sports, you have to be extremely calculating to avoid risks, and some of us tend to be very good at it. Yeah, a majority of people think riding a motorcycle, surfing or snowboarding is a gamble, and should be avoided at all costs. The truth is: NO!
There are tons of talented people out there, who naturally feel the urge to test their boundaries and raise the stakes. It’s great to succeed at something, and surfing, just like any other high-risk activity, requires a fair bit of calculation to play it safe.
Even the best of us fail, as most of the top names in surfing have had bad close-calls during their lives when surfing!
Let us introduce you to the most common surfing injuries and accidents, and how to prevent them.
What are the most common surfing injuries?
Although surfing is not a direct-contact sport like rugby, there are quite a few things to consider to stay safe and have fun!
Don’t go in if you are incredibly stressed or when you don’t feel like it. Yeah, surfing is most probably THE BEST stress-relieving sport out there, but there’s a fine line when being too stressed for the session. I already know that many surfers won’t listen to that advice, but consider the fact that gut feeling is there for a reason!
Whoa! Started a little rough here. Well, this is the most extreme case that an accident can cause. Drowning usually happens, when a surfer gets either wiped out, loses his/her surfboard, and gets caught inside the uncertain swells and waves. Other times somebody might get hit by the board which leaves the surfer unconscious. There are many ways to get wiped out bad, for instance, if you hit the shallow reef, a sandbank, or fall down the wave in an awkward position. So, to not drown – know your limits!
Surfers can get tangled up by each other’s leashes when they bail their boards.
When somebody gets hit by the surfboard, the consequences can be pretty adverse. Saving an unconscious surfer in the surf is extremely risky and dangerous to the lifesaver as well. If you see somebody panicking (a drowning person never yells, since they are in a deep panic), you should be extremely cautious when going to save the person.
How to save a drowning person? Most of the time, the person who is drowning will do anything to stay on the surface, and often inexperienced people can drown with the one who went in to save (people in panic lose the use of their instincts, and often have extreme strength). What you should do, is to throw the drowning person something that he or she can hold onto, like a surfboard, a life vest, or anything that floats. If you have to go in personally, dive in behind the person who’s drowning, and use MORE then you have to get the drowning person back to the shore. Sometimes, slapping the panicking person will “wake them up,” and they stop panicking.
Related: Surf Safety
2. Shoulder/back/neck overuse
Surfing requires a lot of paddling, using your shoulders, while your neck and back are tensioned all the time. Once you are a regular surfer, your muscles will adapt to the paddling position, and you don’t feel as tense as you did in the very beginning. To reduce the stiffness, stretch after and before surfing!
3. Collision with other surfers
Try to keep a safe distance from other surfers. You never know what might happen. Better to be safe than sorry. If you make a mistake, say sorry and keep a fair distance from other surfers.
A 6-foot surfboard loose on the surf area can be extremely dangerous, so check that your leash is up to date and attached well to your leg.
4. Broken ribs
Another accident that can leave surfers away from the surf for up to a month. Your ribs heal in about two to four weeks. Bones break easily if you land in an awkward position or “simply” get hit by the board terribly.
Sharp coral reef and surfboard fins can slice up the skin terribly. To avoid that, use booties when surfing over the reef, and practice sanding the fins so they would not be as sharp. You can round the edges, not sand them too much.
6. Poked eye
Oh man, that’s scary, but happens now and then around the world. Always protect your head and face when you fall off the board. Also, keep distant around other surfers and avoid crowded spots. It’s an unwritten safety rule to use a rubber plug on top of the sharp shortboards.
7. Head trauma
Loose surfboard in the surf is probably one of the most common reasons why innocent people get injured. Sometimes a leash brokes, other times people don’t even use the leash. Why not? They say if you don’t have the leash, you work more for the wave to maximize your effort. After all, this article is about safety, so you should never practice this anywhere where people are surfing nearby. The loose surfboard cannot be seen from the shore, where beginner surfers or kids could be playing and duck-diving the waves when the loose board is washed towards the beach.
8. Broken eardrums
Heavy wipeouts can damage the inner ears, which is painful as…The human body balance control station is located in the inner ears, so take care! Many surfers use earplugs to avoid bacteria, loud noises from the waves and protect against air drum damage.
9. Shark attack
A notorious surf spot like Margaret River is a place that’s not for the light-hearted. Sharks, one of the oldest creatures on our planet, can be rather hostile and territorial. Generally, the “great white” shark is known to be the most feared. Sometimes people confuse dolphins with sharks if they can not tell the difference in the fins. Shark’s dorsal fin looks like a triangle, where the rear part of the fin is upwards, while dolphin fins have more of a pointy tip on the top and a curve on the back.
They sell loads of different “shark repellents,” that send signals to avoid sharks getting too close to humans. Usually, an open wound and direct blood attract sharks right away from miles away.
Surfing without a decent water-sports sunscreen, your skin is exposed to high levels of UV radiation. To avoid it – practice using SPF 50+ sunscreen on your skin, decent zinc on your face, and SPF 50+ lip balm on your lips. Human skin is the largest organ and should be protected at all costs. Don’t forget to apply the sunscreen to the back of your legs!
How to heal the wounds?
Serious injuries must be examined by health professionals, while minor cuts and bruises can be cleaned with clear water. As purifying as the ocean seems, there’s a ton of bacteria in the water that can cause the unhealed bruise to swell and stop the healing process. Depending on the person’s immunity, minor cuts, and bruises take a few days up to a whole week to heal. The human body is generating millions of new cells every day, so eat healthily and get plenty of sleep to stay healthy!
How to stay safe when surfing?
An adequate swimming physique is something that every surfer MUST have. They say if you can swim a mile without being blown out, you should be fine surfing on average on waves. Also, knowing the surfing etiquette is necessary so that you would stay safe around others as well.
Shoulders, neck, and back are the most overused parts of the body when surfing, that need to be well maintained to keep your body healthy and well-functioning. Yes, I know when the surf is pumping right in front of you, there’s not much temptation to take your time and exercise at a beach.
Do aerobic/dynamic stretches before going in; you let your muscles adapt to the upcoming conditions. Also, paddle in slowly, and start increasing your intensity gradually – a great warm-up will let you enjoy the waves longer, without feeling lousy withdrawal symptoms the next day. After the session, it’s good to stretch your muscles by doing static and longer stretches. That will help the muscles to cool down.
Use adequate wetsuit for temperatures
Hypothermia happens, when your body temperature drops below the average body temperature. Also, having a too thick wetsuit can overheat your body. Use a good brand and right size wetsuit that is adequate for the occasion!
Avoid surfing to exhaustion
Use a leash, in case your “batteries” start to blink on 10%. Surfing in intense conditions, managing your stamina is essential things to do. If you already feel like you are going to have a cramp or feel dizzy, get out!
Safe breath holding
Wiping out is normal. What many beginner surfers do wrong – is that after wiping out they try to reach the surface as fast as possible, which is your body’s instinct. Actually, the more you struggle being underwater, the more oxygen leaves your body leaving you breathless. Try to stay calm and don’t panic!
Appropriate safety gear
What are the ways to minimize your risks when surfing? People wear helmets, UV-protective sunglasses and it’s an unwritten recommendation to use rubber-nose plugs on a sharp shortboard nose, and sand down the fins to reduce the risk of slicing someone’s skin on a crowded spot.
Another safety gear on heavy surf is the earplugs that prevent your eardrums get blasted after a massive wipeout.
In conclusion: be aware of your surroundings: other surfers and the bathymetry of a particular beach break. Avoid surfing over the razor-sharp reef, if you don’t consider yourself a 10/10 surfer and know precisely the characteristics of an absolute break and the wave.
Cover your head when you wipeout
Covering your head is the essential thing to cover when you wipe it out.
“The Crash Reel”
One of the greatest movies to watch for anyone into extreme sports. The film is about a former professional snowboarder, Kevin Pearce, who got crashed on a training day and had a nasty brain injury, and by today recovered from it. He is also making the “brain awareness” movement.
The movie shows that a lot of people who are into extreme sports want to continue doing what they were doing before, avoiding the fact that the same injury can be extremely damaging to the health and the lives of the closest one. Take care of yourself; there is only one life!
Don’t jump off a wave with a loose surfboard!
Yes, it’s fun, but the wind can turn the direction of the board and pull it towards you or other surfers. There are a ton of videos out there of people landing on their boards after jumping off a wave or getting hit by the board.
Know your limits
Risk vs. Uncertainty
You have to know your limits, and if you want to push them, do it at a reasonable pace.
There are two ways to deal with an adrenaline rush:
- 1) Go in with a confident & calculated approach.
- 2) Push yourself in and hope for the best.
If you consider yourself as the last one, I genuinely recommend taking it easy. There is a fine line between danger and succeeding. Take risks that limit your loss.
I created Nulltuul to share my experience, research and analysis with other surf enthusiasts out there. If I'm not surfing on my travels - I like to photograph waves, surfers, and the surf lifestyle in general.