Surfing is a sport that will develop your balance, flexibility, and endurance. It is a great overall exercise that works out your core muscle and upper body muscles and increases your ability to absorb oxygen. Besides, it is good for the heart and particularly therapeutic.
Surfing is a fun activity that works out many different muscle groups on the arms, shoulders, back, and core and improves your overall physical health. It is also a great way to step away from your day-to-day routine and wipe away stress. Finally, it is a good activity to improve your mental well-being, and thus, to meditate while staying active.
But like with any other sport or physical activity, accidents may happen. Most surfers will have at least one injury at some point in their lives. From lacerations to concussions, there are small possibilities that your session takes a turn for the worse.
The most common injuries you can suffer from surfing are head injuries, concussions, lacerations, shoulder issues, bruises, sprains, and strains. However, some serious injuries can be avoided. Read along to learn more about these common injuries and how to prevent them.
10 Common Injuries in Surfing
- Those are some of the most common injuries and are usually caused by fins, sharp rocks, or coral reefs.
- Lacerations cannot be easily avoided, so the best thing you can do is research or tap all the local knowledge you can and learn your limits.
- Treat a laceration by cleaning it and adding a sterile compression while keeping the affected area above heart level to reduce the bleeding. If the bleeding is profuse, call an ambulance while applying as much pressure as you can. Be careful to avoid an infection.
2. Concussion and head injuries
- Your head and neck can also be severely injured from a collision with your own or somebody else’s surfboard, the ocean’s floor, or a submerged boulder.
- The symptoms of a concussion or head injury are dizziness, headache, confusion, nausea, and double vision. You can tell someone is suffering from a concussion if they are vomiting, have poor coordination, slurred speech, or impaired performance.
- You should immediately seek medical assistance to check for a possible spinal or brain injury. If you were unconscious for more than five minutes, it is recommended that you get observed at the hospital.
- Beginners should use foam surfboards and can even wear helmets to avoid severe head trauma.
- Concussions, spine fractures, and fractures in the face, neck, and jaw all require immediate medical attention.
3. Eye damages
- Eye damages can be caused by a collision with yours or someone else’s surfboard. Due to its sharp and pointy tip, a surfboard can damage your eye and lead to a permanent loss of vision.
- To prevent serious damages, you can install a soft nose guard on your surfboard.
- Call an ambulance as soon as possible if you experience a loss of sight or if your eye socket bleeds.
4. Surfer’s eye
- The primary cause of this condition is ultraviolet radiation from the sun. However, you do not have to be a surfer to get a surfer’s eye or “pterygium,” as anyone who spends a lot of time outdoors can be affected.
- This condition occurs when the sun, dust, or wind damages the thin membrane covering the surface of the eye.
- Although not usually a serious condition, a surfer’s eye can cause annoying symptoms where your eye might feel gritty, itchy, look red, or feel like you have something in it.
- Some over-the-counter ointments and eye drops can clear up the redness and irritation. You can also get your eyes checked to get prescribed proper medicine.
5. Shoulder impingement and strain
- Shoulder impingement and strain can be caused by repetitive paddling, an intense surf session, or unaccustomed volume and poor stabilizing muscles.
- It is characterized by pain on the overhead activities and during paddling or even day-to-day activities, like reaching up to something.
- Treat the injury by avoiding anything that may cause sharp pain. However, you still need to try and keep the shoulder as mobile as possible.
- Avoid this injury by working on the stabilizing muscles of your shoulder, such as your rotator cuff.
- Activate these muscles with low weight and high reps using the internal and external rotation of the shoulders.
- Rotator cuff impingement and tendonitis are common injuries among surfers, so you have to learn how to paddle properly and efficiently. Also, do not forget to warm up before a session and stretch after.
- Bruises are another impact-related injury caused by contact with boards, other surfers, the beach, and the reef.
- Minor cases can be treated with ice, compression, rest, and elevation.
- Severe cases require medical attention for pain relief.
- The best thing to avoid this type of injury is to be well-conditioned, have good knowledge, and apply proper surf etiquette. Surf waves that match your ability and do not get too close to other surfers. Also, remember not to jump head first when you are close to the shore.
7. Back pain and strains
- Back injuries usually occur as a result of the twists and turns forced upon the torso. They can also be due to a heavy wipeout.
- Any sudden movements can potentially damage a poorly conditioned back.
- Back injuries can be treated with electrotherapy, massage, exercise, stretching, and mobilization to resolve the pain.
- Consult a doctor for hands-on treatment, especially if you suffer from severe, constant back pain.
- To reduce the risks of back injuries, start with a good warm-up and stretch after each surf session. Also, work on your flexibility by doing yoga, pilates, and core strengthening.
8. Ankle and knee injuries
- Ankle injuries are also quite common due to the performance of aerial maneuvers and awkward landings.
- Syndesmosis or high ankle sprains are becoming more common as well, and occur when the foot is forced upward, toward the shin.
- Knee injuries are also prevalent. They are caused by the compression from the wave and when a leg slips off the board while the other leg remains on it.
- Seek immediate medical assistance, especially if the pain is intolerable as this may indicate a serious injury.
- Strength training and proper positioning when doing maneuvers are the best things to do to prevent these injuries.
9. Ear injuries
- “Exostosis” is a common ear problem that usually affects surfers. It is caused by chronic exposure to cold water and can lead to the growth of bony lumps in the ear canal and affect hearing.
- It is also called the surfer’s ear and should not be confused with the swimmer’s ear. The treatment for this condition involves grounding down the bone and is performed by an ear, nose, and throat physician.
10. Bites and stings
- Sea urchin wounds, jellyfish stings, and stingray injuries are quite common while getting bitten by a shark is rare.
- For serious and potentially fatal stings or wounds, call an ambulance immediately.
- Treat stings with warm saltwater and try to remove the spines or tentacles from the skin.
- Treat a stingray sting with hot water.
- Use antibiotics to alleviate the pain and reduce the chances of infection.
It is best to seek professional help to properly treat any injury that makes you uncomfortable, as it can eventually affect the rest of your body if not addressed immediately.
How common are surfing injuries?
Compared with some other sports, the overall risk of injury while surfing is low. A study shows that you can only get 22 injuries per 1,000 days of surfing, or 0.26 injuries per surfer per year, and the majority of those injuries are not serious.
Another research suggests that lacerations account for nearly half of all surfing injuries, while sprains account for over a quarter of them, followed by fractures and dislocations. Surfer’s ears and swimmer’s ears are other common health problems.
These common injuries are mainly caused by a surfer’s own board or that of a fellow surfer. Wiping out accounts for 36% of injuries, while striking the seabed accounts for 18%.
How can surfing injuries be prevented?
Surfing injuries can be prevented by doing warm-ups before paddling out, stretching after a surf session, and doing appropriate exercises designed to strengthen your muscles and make you more flexible. To give you a more in-depth explanation, we’ve listed ways to prevent surfing injuries.
1. Warm up
Surfers should always undertake warm-up exercises before surfing to prepare the body and reduce the risks of injury. Both general and specific exercises are effective and include a quick yoga sequence or a surf-specific lunge that replicates the movements or maneuvers in the water.
The benefits of a good warm-up include:
- An increased blood flow
- An increased oxygen delivery to the muscles
- Smoother muscle contraction, which leads to a smoother, more graceful surfing
- An increased speed of nerve impulses, which improves reaction time
Stretching before or after a surf session is also important to allow your joints to move smoothly through a full range of motion and reduce the risks of injury. Static or still-stretching exercises, including yoga and pilates sequences, are a good stretching combination.
The benefits of stretching include:
- Increased performance
- Increased flexibility
- A better posture
- Decreased back pain
- Decreased muscle soreness
Surfers must also engage in strength training to improve their overall performance. However, anyone with a complex injury history should consult their doctor or physical therapist/physiotherapist to know what exercise programs are good for them and will not further cause any damage.
There is a general exercise program designed for the relatively healthy majority of surfers, but people with an injury history can do a more specific set of exercises to rehabilitate their injuries and condition their bodies. Furthermore, you should consult a medical professional to know what movements aggravate your injuries. This way, you’ll know what your activity or surf limitations are.
4. Rest and sleep
This may seem obvious, but proper rest and an adequate amount of sleep are essential and will help you enjoy more of your time in the water as you will be more focused while remaining injury-free.
5. Good nutrition
Good nutrition will help you recover faster by replenishing your body and providing you with the necessary protein and water. A simple, sustainable, and balanced diet will provide your mind and body the nutrients it needs to function well on a daily basis.
Here are more tips on how to prevent surfing injuries:
1. Be aware of the surfing etiquette
Observe the right of way on the wave
1. The surfer who is furthest out or who has been waiting for the longest has the right of way.
2. The closest surfer to the peak of the breaking wave has the right of way.
3. The first to feet or first onto the wave should have the wave.
4. You should communicate and call “left” or “right” if the wave is dual-peaking.
Don’t drop in
Cutting in front of other surfers who are already riding the wave is the best way to get yourself in trouble or injured. To avoid this, observe the right of way.
Never paddle repeatedly around someone just to get the inside position on a wave.
Share some waves
Do not hog the waves. Instead, share them. Even if you can paddle faster and furthest outside and catch a wave every time, it is not wise to do it often.
If you run over someone, drop in on someone, or breach any of the surfing etiquette and rules, apologize. It’s just good manners and saying “sorry” goes a long way to smoothen things out.
Respect the locals
Respect the locals while visiting a surfing spot. Keep in mind that they surf that spot every day, so you should keep things friendly and earn some respect for yourself. It is also best not to mob surf spots in large numbers.
Learn the right way of paddling out
Do not ditch your board or paddle into other surfers’ paths. Observe the waves and time your paddle out according to the timing of sets. It is also best to ask a local surfer where the best way to paddle out is.
Surf spots according to your ability
Pick a spot within your ability range because if not, you will end up upsetting other surfers by getting in the way or being a potential hazard to everyone. Always check with local surfers if you are unsure where to surf.
Help other surfers
Surfing can be a dangerous and fatal activity, so you should look after each other and aid other surfers whenever they’re in trouble.
Respect the beach
Do not litter, vandalize, or do or use anything that will negatively impact the beach or your surroundings.
2. Use the right surfing gear
- Get professional advice when purchasing a surfboard.
- Choose flexible fins, a board with a blunt nose, or use a protective nose guard for your surfboard.
- Wear a wetsuit for buoyancy.
- Wear sun protection that is not harmful to the ocean/coral reefs.
- Wear leg ropes, especially when surfing big waves.
3. Check the spot/surfing environment
- Before entering the water, check the weather and the beach conditions.
- Never surf alone if you are a beginner.
- Children should be supervised at all times by a responsible adult when they are surfing.
4. Know the sport
- Choose an activity that suits your fitness level.
- Know and use the right surfing techniques.
- Know how to use surf equipment safely and properly.
- Hydrate before and after each surf session.
How do I stop getting hit by a surfboard?
To avoid getting hit by your surfboard, follow the tips below:
Wipe out properly
When you feel like you’re going to wipe out, place your hands crossed overhead and maintain this defensive position when getting thrashed. As you surface, protect your head and face from your surfboard. If there are people around, paddle to your board as fast as you can and start paddling out to avoid hitting them. Additionally, during a wipeout, fall as far as possible from your surfboard and avoid holding the leash.
Never dive head first
Always fall flat when surfing shallow waters and allow the water to cushion your fall. Diving head-first will cause serious neck injuries if you hit the bottom of the ocean.
Do not jump feet first
This may seem like a better idea, but if you land in shallow water, you could sprain your ankle or cut your feet up if you are surfing over coral reefs.
Relax and recover
If you had a bad wipe-out, get back on your board and paddle to an area where you can catch your breath and rest for a moment.
Unsharpen your fins
Using sandpaper, dull the edges of your fins, so that it won’t cut you open.
Use a nose guard
Apply a nose guard onto your board or have your board shaped with a slightly blunted tip, so that if your board recoils on its leash, you will not get hurt.
Know the environment
Before surfing, talk to locals if you are new to the spot, and then watch at least on a set roll through so you can assess the best entry and exit points, as well as the potential hazards.
Learn to undo your leash
When your eyes are closed underwater, you have to learn how to undo your leash, especially if you are surfing over coral or near crab pots or kelp, as underwater leash snags can be fatal. A quick-release leash will help in this kind of situation.
Why do I get a headache after surfing?
Headaches and/or shoulder pain are caused by the hyper-contraction of the muscle called levator scapula, which attaches the neck to your shoulder blades. Paddling and looking out at the wave sets cause this muscle to extend over long periods. Besides, it also gets rotated when looking in the direction you are headed, which creates stress, thus causing headaches and chronic neck pain.
Here is a list of yoga poses you can do after a surf session to help with repetitive strain injuries.
1. Suboccipital release
This alleviates headache pain and tensions at the base of the skull.
- On a flat surface, lie on your back.
- Release the lower back by bending your knees.
- Keep the back of your head in contact with the surface.
- Exhale while making a double chin, flexing your neck, and pressing your back of your neck toward the floor.
- Repeat this 10 times and hold 5 seconds at the bottom of the movement.
2. Levator scapulae stretch
This also targets the upper trapezius and scalenes and alleviates neck pain.
- While seated, lengthen through the crown of your head, and then, laterally flex your neck to bring your left ear toward your left shoulder.
- Hold for 5 breaths.
- Keep your neck in the same position as in step 1 and rotate your chin toward your left shoulder.
- Hold for 5 breaths.
- This last step is optional: From the position in step 1 or 2, let your head fall back behind your shoulder to open up the front neck musculature.
- Repeat this step on the opposite side.
3. Cow face pose (for shoulders)
This pose stretches the ankles, hips, arms, shoulders, and chest.
- Sit in a crossed-legged position with your right knee in front of your left knee.
- Bring your left arm up, straight toward the ceiling.
- Bend your left elbow, bringing your left hand to the back of your neck.
- Lift your right arm out to the right side and bend your elbow, bringing your right arm up the center of the back.
- Clasp your hands behind your back and draw both elbows toward the center.
- Keep your head from tilting forward by pressing the back of your head into your left arm, and then breathe evenly.
- Inhale while releasing your arms and try the pose with your left leg and right arm on top.
- Avoid twisting just to join your hands.
- Spread your collarbones.
While in the cow face pose, be sure to keep your spine aligned rather than twisted. You should have a straight line from the top of your head through your tailbone. Do not stick your ribs out while your hands are clasped, and try to drop your tailbone to the floor, broaden your lower back, and resist rounding your back and curving your chest inward.
4. Upward facing dog
This pose will activate the lats and pull the chest forward. It also targets the chest, abdominals, shoulders, forearms, triceps, and lower back.
- Lie on the floor face down, extend your legs, and spread them a few inches apart. Rest your feet on the mat without tucking your toes.
- Place your hands on the floor next to your lower ribs, alongside your body.
- Hug your elbows in while pointing your fingers to the top of the mat.
- Inhale as you press through your hands firmly into the floor and straighten your arms while lifting your torso and legs a few inches off the floor.
- Press down firmly through the tops of your feet and engage your leg muscles to keep your thighs lifted off of the floor.
- Drop your shoulders away from your ears.
- Lift your chest toward the ceiling while keeping your elbows pressed alongside your body.
- Tilt your head toward the sky without crunching your neck.
- Hold the pose for 30 seconds and release by exhaling and slowly lowering your torso and forehead to the mat.
- Turn your head right and rest your left ear on the mat.
- Relax and repeat up to five times.
5. Rabbit pose
This pose will strengthen your back muscles and provide relief.
- Start in a child pose and hold onto your heels with your hands. Then, pull your forehead toward your knees while keeping the top of your head against the floor.
- Hold tightly onto your heels.
- Inhale while lifting your hips up or toward the ceiling.
- Roll onto the crown of your head and press your forehead as close to your knees as possible.
- Hold for 4 breaths.
- Release by slowly exhaling and lowering your hips to your heels, and slide your forehead back to the floor into the child pose.
Avoid these poses if you have a serious neck, shoulder, knee, or back injury. Consult a medical professional before doing any exercises. Do any modifications or variations that are recommended to avoid any strains or any serious injury.
Surfing is a fun sport that offers many mental and physical health benefits, but it can also cause injuries if you are not prepared. Therefore, you need to take preventive measures and be knowledgeable before engaging in this new activity.
Don’t let the fact that you can get injured while surfing stop you from trying this amazing water sport. These injuries are totally avoidable with proper training and preparations. Remember everything that we have discussed in this article the next time you hit the waves to help you lessen the chances of you getting hurt while you’re out in the ocean.