Surfing and injury prevention

As a Queensland-er, I must confess that I feel a little remiss as I cannot surf. In fact, I am pretty sure I would fall off a surfboard on the sand, let alone try and stand on a surfboard in an ever-moving ocean! I appreciate and admire the skills required, however, to not only stand up, but to actually stand up for any period of time. As an injury prevention researcher during the peak of our summer season and annual holidays, I was interested to see a recent publication exploring the nature and magnitude of injuries sustained during surfing. Woodacre, Waydia and Wienand-Barnett summarised the self-reported injuries sustained during 2012 for 130 surfers from the UK. Having seen surfers and surfing incidents first-hand, I was unsurprised to see that head injuries featured most commonly, cuts and lacerations were the most common injury type, and that surfers reported most often colliding with their own boards. My interest was peaked!

A quick Google Scholar search, and I came across a number of other interesting surfing-injury papers that you may also care to read. Nathanson, Haynes and Galanis examined the self-reported injuries sustained by 1348 surfers, again finding that cuts and lacerations were the most common injury type, and that most injuries emerged from collisions with the surfer’s own board. Taylor, Bennett, Carter, Garewal and Finch examined injuries sustained by Victorian surfers, similarly finding that cuts and lacerations were the most common injury type, and collisions with surfboards and other surfers were the main injury mechanism. Taking a different approach, Nathanson, Bird, Dao and Tam-Sing examined the medically-treated injuries sustained during competitive surfing, reporting a 2.4 times greater risk of injury when surfing larger waves and 2.6 times greater risk of injury when surfing over hard surfaces such as rocks and reefs.

So what does this mean for injury prevention? In my case, it means that I won’t be taking up surfing! For those who do surf, however, how can the research findings help keep them safe? Sunshine has suggested a number of treatment options and harm minimisation strategies, such as rubber surfboard nose covers. Woodacre and others acknowledge that helmets – which can prevent serious head injuries – are unlikely to be used by surfers as head injuries are a relatively uncommon occurrence. I am interested to hear other’s experiences, and tips for injury prevention.

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