The benefits of surfing have been known to those who have been involved in the sport for some time and is the reason it often becomes a compulsion for surfers. Evidence more recently has shown significant benefits as a result of surfing to physical and mental health in disabled children, war veterans and those with mental illness.
When looking at epidemiology of acute injuries associated with surfing the data is limited. In fact, acute injury rates when compared to contact sports is relatively low. The most common cause for acute injury was due to “wiping out” or in other words, collisions with other surfers, the surfboard, or local environmental factors.
Chronic or overuse injuries are relatively common. These are more likely in experienced surfers and in a large part are proportional to the time spent in the water. Again, the evidence is relatively lacking but data suggests the lower back, shoulder and knee injuries are most common. Prolonged paddling in a prone position is a likely driver for both the lumbar spine and shoulder issues. As a surfer’s ability improves, the explosive nature of the hack, whack, reo, cuttie, float and other radical moves likely play a role.
If you haven’t surfed before and intend joining the line-up there are some simple considerations for your safety. Firstly, paddling out in conditions that suit your ability is probably the most important yet overlooked factor. It may seem obvious, but being a competent swimmer clearly helps. Secondly, paddling straight out to the peak to join the crowds isn’t always best practice. If you are new to the sport, I would pick a spot that is not crowded. Knowing how to read the conditions and potential hazards like rips is something that takes time, so another option is splashing out on some lessons, or even ensuring you surf with a friend. On the whole learning or progressing is much easier and fun when you are not terrified, you’re in control, and are actually able to get out the back.
Unless you are a grommet, spend some time warming up and stretching before you get in the water. A regular strengthening regime focusing on your core, proximal chain control, scapular/cuff mechanics and overall balance and proprioception will go a long way to prepare you for those long sessions also. Thankfully one of the benefits of the televised WSL events, is we get to see our surfing heroes do exactly that! Also, should you develop a niggle or injury, don’t paddle through it. At Foundation, we can help settle things and give you expert advice to maximise your surfing time and prevent long-term problems.
Reference: Axis Sports Medicine - Dr Simon Baker on 19.11.2018