Jun 15, 2005 Table of Contents

Please note: This information was current at the time of publication. But medical information is always changing, and some information given here may be out of date. For regularly updated information on a variety of health topics, please visit familydoctor.org, the AAFP patient education Web site.

Information from Your Family Doctor

Safe Surfing

Am Fam Physician. 2005 Jun 15;71(12):2319-2320.

See related article on health issues for surfers.

How can I stay safe while I’m surfing?

The most common surfing injuries are cuts, sprains, and broken bones. Most cuts are caused by a surfer’s own board. Be aware of your board and other people around you. You can buy rubber guards for the side rails and fins to keep your board from hurting you or someone else. Buy a special helmet made for surfers and wear it every time you surf (see figure below). A special surfboard leash can keep your board from hitting someone else. But it also can make your board snap back and hit you. Ask an experienced surfer to show you how to use the leash.

What should I do about cuts?

If you get cut, get out of the water and push gently on the skin around the cut. If the bleeding does not stop, call your doctor. Cuts can get infected from germs in the water. See your doctor if a cut does not stop hurting, turns red, or has yellowish fluid coming out of it.

Can I do anything to keep from getting ear problems?

Surfers can get ear problems, especially if they surf in cold water. Using earplugs is the easiest way to prevent most ear problems.

Strong waves or hitting the water too hard can break your eardrum. Wearing a helmet and earplugs can keep this from happening. Water in your ear canal can cause infections. Make sure your ears are dry after you leave the ocean.

Surfing in cold water can cause bony growths in your ear canal. This can lead to hearing problems and ear infections. See your doctor if you have ear pain, trouble hearing, or fluid coming out of your ear.

What else might be dangerous?

Surfers should be aware of stingrays, coral, jellyfish, and sharks (see figure below). Stingrays bury themselves in shallow sand. They will stay away if they know you are coming. If there are stingrays where you surf, drag your feet through the sand to keep from stepping on them. If you get stung, get out of the water right away. Put hot water on the area where you were stung to help stop the pain. See your doctor if the area keeps hurting or you feel sick.

Jellyfish float in the water and can sting you. They usually travel in groups and are hard to see. Jellyfish stings are painful, and some can even be deadly. Do not surf when jellyfish are in the water. If you get stung, get out of the water right away. Take off any parts of the jellyfish that are still on your skin, but do not use your bare hands. Do not use fresh water to rinse off the area. Fresh water can make the sting worse. Try rinsing with salt water, alcohol, baking soda, or vinegar. Hot salt water or hot packs can help with the pain. See your doctor right away if you feel sick.

Coral reefs can be dangerous for surfers. Be aware of how deep the water is where you surf. Do not surf over shallow coral reefs. Cuts from coral can be painful and heal slowly. See your doctor if the pain and redness do not go away.

Sharks very rarely attack people. Common sense can protect you from most shark attacks. Do not go into the water if sharks have been reported in your area. Do not surf if you are bleeding or have open cuts. If you see a shark, get out of the water. Do not try to touch the shark. Get help right away if you think you have been bitten.


This handout is provided to you by your family doctor and the American Academy of Family Physicians. Other health-related information is available from the AAFP online at http://familydoctor.org.

This information provides a general overview and may not apply to everyone. Talk to your family doctor to find out if this information applies to you and to get more information on this subject.

Copyright © 2005 by the American Academy of Family Physicians.
This content is owned by the AAFP. A person viewing it online may make one printout of the material and may use that printout only for his or her personal, non-commercial reference. This material may not otherwise be downloaded, copied, printed, stored, transmitted or reproduced in any medium, whether now known or later invented, except as authorized in writing by the AAFP. Contact afpserv@aafp.org for copyright questions and/or permission requests.

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