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Preventing Surfing Injuries
Those who have taken to the waves with gusto, only to feel exhausted and sore the morning (or mornings!) after, can tell you that surfing is unquestionably a sport that is incredibly demanding on the body. The strength and athletic prowess it requires is not lost on anyone who gives it a try. Just as other athletes participate in a comprehensive regimen to keep their bodies fit and injury-free, so, too, can surfers. If you’re starting out as a surfer and want to prevent injury, you’ll want to pay attention to the following tips to keep you safe and strong in the water. Warm Up! Just as with other sports that will engage your muscles and challenge your cardiovascular system, it is important to arm up before paddling out. This is a piece of the puzzle that is incredibly easy to skip, but regrettably also a step that causes problems later on, so don’t skimp on it! Even a brief ten minute period dedicated to stretching (while doing other things, like perusing surf reports or talking to fellow surfers) could pay dividends later on in prevention of overuse injuries in the shoulders, back, and neck. Strength Training Developing strength in the core, as well as in the shoulders and neck, is crucial for long-term success as a surfer. The Recovery Room for injury prevention confirms this notion, particularly as it pertains to shoulder muscles: Surfing requires long periods and frequent bouts of high intensity of shoulder activity, and external rotation could be a predisposing factor for S[houlder] I[mpingement]. Strengthening the rotator cuff and improving scapular stability should alleviate SI in swimmers. Although these muscles can be developed in the act of surfing itself, they should also be incorporated into a regimen that includes cross-training. This way, the body gets used to a number of different types of movement, reducing the risk of overuse injuries. As you add strength training into your mix, be sure to not do so at the expense of our next method: flexibility training. Flexibility Training Important to the success of a surfer in need of the ability to be nimble and agile in the unpredictable water is a high degree of flexibility, particularly in the neck and shoulders, hip flexors, and core/back. Powerful waves can pull the body in a number of directions; an ability to sustain this tossing and turning with minimal injury is crucial for injury prevention. The aforementioned warming up can assist with this in the short-term, but flexibility training (through extended stretching sessions, yoga, tai chi, or other stretching exercises) as a part of your athletic regimen can ensure that one’s range of motion is wide and comfortable, further preventing injury. Other Tips for Protection in the Water Preparing the body to surf safely is but one piece of the total “safe surfing” package. Here are a few of our other essential tips for making each surf outing a safe and enjoyable one: For beginners, ride a soft top surface board. They are far more forgiving when they land on you, and can reduce the chance of severe injury if you’re struck by your own board or if someone else is struck by yours. As you advance your level of surfing you will realize that a soft-top board limits your abilities in the water and should choose “hard” surfboard (typically one coated in fiberglass). However, with advanced skill level you will also be less dangerous in the water, negating the need for a soft top board. There are other ways that our boards can hurt us. Their fins or noses can become dangerous bludgeons when we’re forced from their tops. Protect yourself from these dangers by sanding down your fins to dull the edge and equip your board’s nose with a guard. Leashes can also be a cause of injury if tangled or wrapped around you in a moment of high intensity. Practice separating from your leash quickly; this way, when you find yourself in a moment where it is more of a liability than an asset, you can escape in a short time. Wipeouts happen to all surfers, no matter how skilled. To reduce the likelihood of catastrophic injury when they happen, train yourself to wipeout with your arms crossed over your head. This stance will prevent your board from hitting you in the head directly, and can protect your head and face from making contact with the sea floor or a reef. Surfing is one of the most relaxing and healing sports to pursue, and is worth it for all the moments of relaxation and reward it can provide. However, like any sport, it also holds the potential for injury. By first recognizing this reality, and then acting to minimize some of the most common threats, you can improve your time spent on the water.
How to Recover from Surfing Injuries
In addition to being a great cardiovascular workout, and one that has proven effective in clearing the mind and heightening the mood, surfing (the traditional style, or modified body surfing) is a relatively low-impact way to exercise in the water. However, it is not without risk, and there are a number of injuries that one can sustain in the sport of surfing. When trying to return back to the water, it is essential that one do so safely, after ample time has elapsed for healing. Here, we’ll talk about a few common injuries that can happen while surfing, and how to nurse yourself or someone you know back to health. The Cut/Laceration Cuts and lacerations are some of the most common injuries sustained while surfing. 24% of those surveyed have received a cut to the face, 17% to the head, 20% to the foot, and 16% to the leg while surfing. These cuts can be caused by a number of things. Those surfing near reefs can get grazed by coral; they could also be caused by the board itself―either by a sharp fin, or a quick pass of the leash (more on that shortly). Once you realize you’ve sustained a cut, you should move quickly to ensure the wound is properly cleaned out. Threats of bacteria from the water you’re in, tiny organisms living in coral, or even shards of fiberglass from your board create conditions that are prime for infection if left unattended. Combat this concern by cleaning the wound out as soon as possible. Hydrogen peroxide, betadine (a type of iodine), and an antibiotic may all be needed to prevent your cut from becoming infected. Leash-Related Injuries The leash can be a safety tool when properly deployed, keeping you from being hit by a stray board, and preventing you from separation from your own board. However, the leash is occasionally also a vehicle for injury, creating risks of laceration (as mentioned above), rope burn, or―in extreme cases―strangulation or amputation if wrapped around a digit or limb too tightly for too long. For lacerations and rope burn, much of the same advice as provided above also applies. To prevent the more extreme scenarios, find a leash that can detach as needed. As Brian Keaulana says, “[a] leash should be like a fuse―it should break, or you should be able to release it, if the situation gets too critical.” As you advance in your level of skill, or start to surf in heavier surf, look at leash options that will allow for detachment should they ever become a threat to your safety. The Rotator Cuff Injury Although your arms and shoulders play a relatively minimal role in the act of surfing, your will spend most of your time paddling on your board. For this reason, your arms and shoulders are essential to advance your skill level. When they are used repetitively, they can sustain injury. Of chief concern in this portion of surfing is the rotator cuff. An integral part of the shoulder joint, it can fall out of alignment when used often by the avid surfer (the same is true for gymnasts, baseball players, and other athletes who use the shoulder joint often). Injuries to the rotator cuff happen most often when it is repeatedly pushed out of alignment, as paddling―with the arms in front of the body―likely does. While the standard advice of rest, ice, compression, and elevation (or RICE) are appropriate here, other recommendations include exercises that bring shoulders back into alignment. Core exercises and posture checks, which emphasize proper alignment, can go a long way in healing the present injury, and preventing future ones. The Surfboard Contusion An additional threat of injury that may not come to mind initially is the surfboard contusion, or the bruises and injuries that happen when you’re hit by your board. While these may not sound severe, extreme cases taking place in deep water or under rough surf conditions can break bones, knock out teeth, or even cause concussions. Should you experience the latter of these―if a board hit to the head results in sensitivity from bright lights, nausea, or vomiting, balance problems, or issues with balance and “fogginess” ―activity should be halted immediately. Gradually facilitate a return to the waves, stopping if any early stages yield a return of symptoms. Getting injured is a letdown for any athlete who loves their sport. Be patient and diligent as recovery persists, following doctor guidelines and safety advice, and you’ll be back on your board before you know it.
Surfer Skills: Read the Waves
In the sport of surfing, there are many important skills to master. Going from paddling position to standing is no easy feat. Once you learn to balance on your board and catch waves, you’ll feel so proud of yourself. However, your learning doesn’t stop there. All pro or lifelong surfers have another skill up their wetsuit sleeves, and it has nothing to do with their bodies. Even after mastering the right positions and movements, there is still one HUGE factor that you also have to address. The ocean. Rather than thinking of dominating the waves, think of working with them. Surfing may be a solo sport, but it might be helpful to think of the waves as your partner. While you cannot master the ocean, Mother Nature does reign supreme. Despite this, you can learn to read her signs. From judging consistency, to reading the shape of a wave, to learning how a wave breaks over certain types of ocean topography, it takes lots of experience to quickly and accurately understand what big blue is telling you. As a matter of fact, learning how to read the ocean and spot the right waves will make all the difference in your surf day. Knowing at what level or stage you are in your surfing, and understanding the ocean and its patterns are all key to perfecting your craft.  So, if you don’t know how to read the wave breaks or tides, don’t panic! Below, we have brought you a beginner’s guide on how to read waves and all of the ocean’s signs. Cheers to more surf days in your future! Eyes on the Prize Before getting in the water, and while you are in the water, you always should have your eyes on the prize. The prize in this situation means the horizon. Surfers have to continually scan the horizon. This is mandatory in order to determine what type of wave is forming and if that is the wave you want to catch. Before paddling out, pay attention to where the waves you want to ride are breaking in relation to your spot on the shore. If you see a good area with strong waves breaking, keep a mental note of how far out from the shore you need to be. Also, pay close attention to the lineup. Closely watch where other surfers line up and take off, and how they paddle and anticipate the waves. You will learn valuable lessons in watching others, especially the pros. When on the water, if you see a lump forming, that means the wave is coming your way. If you see that a swell appears wider than previous sets, it may tell you that you should paddle outside so you don’t get caught inside. Also, paying attention to the horizon keeps you aware of other surfers, the marine life, and any other potential threats that may be close to you and your board. Analyze Wave Shape While you analyze the wave shape, take notice of the small factors that affect the wave. Those things such as tide, wind, kelp, wave size, currents, and swell direction will affect the shape of the wave. The shape of the wave might determine if you can surf that day. As a beginner, you don’t want to put yourself in danger by trying to catch waves that are far too big or fast. On the other hand, if the waves aren’t up to your surfing ability, you may want to try elsewhere. Look to the ocean and ask yourself: Are the waves too big? Too fast? Too shallow? Will they make it harder for you to surf? Be honest with yourself and about your abilities. Don’t Forget to Notice Tide While you scan the horizon and observe the wave shapes, you also need to determine if the tide is going in or going out. You should always know the ideal tide conditions for your surf destination, as every spot will be different. Some areas might have more swells in high tide, and others might have sizeable swells during low tide. Every area is different, due to factors such as wave type and ocean geography. Look for Patterns Patterns in the waves are known as sets. Sets will tell surfers how they should approach a specific area or wave. Pay attention to how many waves you see in each set, and look to see where they are breaking. Also, pay attention to the time between the end and beginning of each set. Long breaks or lulls in between sets usually present a great time to catch inside waves. However, if there are short lulls, you might find it more beneficial to paddle back into position.