Surfing-related injuries and protecting against them

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Surfing is a non-contact sport that is relatively safe and injury-free comparing to team sports like rugby or football or extreme individual sports like rock-climbing. However, it does have its own specifics and there are certain risks associated with it: you are often in a deep water with several different marine organisms, the paddling moves are repetitive and put strain on your neck, shoulders and arms and the sun’s UV-light exposure is often intense – unless you surf in southern Chile! There’s also danger of hitting yourself in the ocean floor, reef or cliffs on some cliff breaks if you get wiped out and it can get nasty if you don’t immediately disinfect the gash – but do you have lime with you at all times?! Last but not the least, one of the most common surfing-related injuries sources are from contact with another surfer/surfboard, mainly the sharp fins of someone’s board as you duck-dive a wave. Hence one needs to be careful when surfing in a relatively crowded area with many guys around, especially beginners.

Before you head in the water and start surfing, it is always the best idea to warm up well, use a good water-resistant sunscreen and familiarize yourself with the conditions. On a boat surf charter, your surf guide should tell you about the local conditions so you minimize the paddling time to wrong spots. Good warm-up decreases the risk of injuring yourself when performing various moves during take-offs, sharp turns and barrel-riding maneuvers. Quality 30+ or stronger sunscreen is a must as you are exposed to strong levels of sunlight than you are on the ground! Make sure that the sunscreen is water-resistant for the duration of the surf session, not only at the beginning.

Having an idea about the ocean floor topography also helps to decrease the injury risk. The areas with sand bottoms, like parts of Brazil, report much lower injury rates than those areas with terrain of reef/coral. Therefore when surfing any kind of a reef break, you gotta be cautious and do not surf breaks that are above your ability. Imagine getting pulled into the face of the wave and consequently pushed up and around it, then getting dumped into the breakers above the reef and hitting it! The reef cuts can often be severe and wounds need to be treated/disinfected urgently as potential for infections is large.

Surfing with crowds is another potentially hazardous situation as surfboards have developed into sharper tools, mainly the nose, fins and rail. With many people in the water, a surfer often needs to duck-dive a wave to give way. You both need to be extra cautious not to collide as the scenarios can be pretty bad, with severe cuts, concussions or fractures waiting to happen.

While shark attacks are more famous than they are frequent, there are other marine creatures that one needs to be aware of, mainly jellyfish, stingrays and fish. Especially when you surf in boardies only, your body is exposed to marine life and stings or collisions can occur. You can’t go wrong with wearing at least a rash vest that is protecting your upper body from the sunshine and skin rashes.


  • Always have insurance organized for your surf trip!
  • Do not forget to include good quality water-resistant sunscreen and sunglasses in your luggage to protect your eyes and skin. You might be able to purchase this on the spot, but we do not recommend taking the risk.
  • Get yourself a good first-aid kit for overseas trips! Make sure it has conforming bandage, antiseptics, insect repellent, gloves, tweezers, scissors, chloride wound wash, thermal/shock blanket, zinc strapping tape – in case something happens, be it a reef cut, wound after a collision or insect stings.
  • When surfing, stick to the etiquette and respect the rights of other surfers and you will avoid most collisions.
  • Drink lots of water.
  • Do not let beginners and children surf alone.
  • Use quality and correct equipment.

Do you have any further advice or questions on the topic? Please share and comment below…

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