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This past weekend, I turned 23 years of age. Just a few hours before the actual birthday began, I was out celebrating with some close friends, dancing at a trailer park themed bar (what will they think of next?) in downtown San Diego. The DJ chose to play one of 2005’s emo anthems, I Write Sins Not Tragedies, by pop-punk darlings Panic! At The Disco, which caused a wave of nostalgia to wash over my crew. Of course, the logical step was to begin the time-honored, traditional custom of headbanging to such music, which does not generally involve a physical banging of heads. Unfortunately, somehow, the front of my face slammed into the back of my friend’s head, resulting in quite a bit of nasal bleeding. Needless to say, my night ended at that point, and I rushed home with a bag of ice held to my nose.
The day of my 23rd birthday, I sat at home with two black eyes, icing my nose and attempting to figure out if it was crooked or just swollen. The good news is that while it is most likely broken, the doctor told me its straight enough that I won’t need to do anything to fix it. The bad news, however, this was a pretty lame way to break my nose. Most people who have seen me since the incident have assumed that it was a surfing accident, which, is fair enough, considering how often these types of injuries occur in the ocean.
Although I’ve only been out of commission for a few days, and have been given the go-ahead to surf (carefully), this really has led me to appreciate all the times I haven’t been injured. I realize I’m very lucky to have never suffered any terrible surfing injuries, but a lot of this has to do with the fact that I am keenly aware of the potential risks, and I take extra precautions in the water. Many surf injuries are preventable, and so I thought it couldn’t hurt (get it?) to write a little list on the ways that personal harm can be avoided in the surf.
1. Blunt Trauma
Surfboards, especially longboards, can be very dangerous weapons if misused. I’ve seen all sorts of accidents, from a longboard to the head to a shortboard nose straight into... places. Whenever I jump off my longboard, I try to use my arms to cover my head upon surfacing, just in case my board was somehow launched into the air. The one time I failed to do this, I got a log falling out of the sky onto my eye (resulting in the only other time I’d had a shiner, prior to Saturday’s events). The ocean floor can also pose a risk to surfers - I’ve seen several neck and spine injuries, as well as concussions caused by hitting the bottom. Again, your arms are the best way to protect your head. Sometimes it's unavoidable, but if possible, cover that noggin!
If you’ve ever had red, irritated eyes after a long, sunny surf session, it is highly likely that you are developing what is known as a pterygium. Pterygiums, which are growths over the eye sort of like cataracts, that can become threatening to one’s vision if not treated in time. The surgery has a painful recovery that involves staying out of the water for a couple months, which is not exactly optimal (but it is optical!). Surfers are prone to these pesky, difficult to spell irritants, because of our prolonged exposure to the sun, and the glare reflecting off of the ocean. While there are surfing sunglasses available, if you choose not to wear them, the best way to slow down the growth of a pterygium is to wear sunnies or a hat whenever you’re outside but not surfing.
3. Surfer’s Ear
Most individuals who have been regularly surfing in cold waters for several years probably have some development of surfer’s ear in one or both ears. Surfer’s ear, or Exostosis, is your body’s response to constantly braving cold wind and water, and your ear actually grows extra bone inside the ear! This extra bone growth can cause hearing loss and greater vulnerability to ear infections, and if it gets to the point in which causes complete blockage of the canal, it requires a removal surgery. Earplugs are one of the only ways to help reduce the risk of surfer’s ear, as well as wearing wetsuit hoods when conditions are extra cold and windy.
Other common surfing injuries are ligament tears (knees and shoulders), but because they are so patient-specific, with a number of factors contributing to each tear, I decided to leave the advice to the experts. All-in-all, surfing isn’t necessarily the most dangerous activity in the world, but it is very high risk, and is technically classified as an extreme sport. It is always important to take care of yourself, be aware of your surroundings, and know your limits.