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Reducing Gnarly Surf Injuries with Proper Preparation

By Martha Michael

Surfing Injuries

Even the best surfers in the world can’t always stand up to powerful swells successfully, proven when professionals have died trying, such as Tahitian legend Malik Joyeux, who was taken down by an eight-foot wave at the North Shore Pipeline in Hawaii.

According to Wavelength Magazine, approximately 10 surfers die each year out of 23 million who practice the sport. Those aren’t bad odds, but it doesn’t mitigate the vast number of injuries you can get while riding the waves.

Muscle Beach

By some estimations, surfing is one of the most physically demanding sports in existence. An article in Surfer Today suggests you need to strengthen various muscle groups before catching any waves, otherwise you could get beached due to injury.

Even for the initial action -- paddling out onto the water -- you engage a number of muscle groups, including:

  • Trapezius
  • Deltoids
  • Biceps
  • Triceps
  • Rectus abdominis
  • Latissimus dorsi
  • Obliques

Once in place along the surfline, when you’re ready to stand up on the board (or try, at least), you begin using your biceps, triceps and deltoids, as well as your pectoralis major muscles. Then, when you find the curl of the waves, you engage your lower body muscle groups, including quadriceps, gluteals and gastrocnemius.

Your hips are an important part of the process because you’re making torso rotations constantly while surfing. You also need them to be strong to complete cutbacks.

Before You Board

Stretching your body before surfing is a part of successful preparation for the sport, where water places strong resistance against your muscle power. You want to stretch those areas used for paddling out, duck diving, and catching your first set of waves. And stretch at the end of your swim, as well.

Beginning with the demands on your outer shoulders, arms and back, your chiropractor can give you feedback about your readiness to tackle your wellness plan, as well as offer you relief. Most surfers want to maximize their flexibility to engage in the movement needed for:

  • Cutbacks
  • Aerials
  • Bottom-turns
  • Carves
  • Torso rotations

You need to maximize your flexibility, which can be attained through regular chiropractic visits and such practices as yoga or tai chi. Of course, you want to put your healthiest foot forward with a balanced diet and strength training. Without foundational habits, surfers may suffer from aching muscles or become injured when knocked down by waves.

Bailing out of Injuries

Pacific Surf, a San Diego-based business providing surf lessons and camps, has an article on its website addressing common injuries seen by its staff members. Most are sustained when surfers have direct contact with their boards.

There’s always the risk of a wipeout, and when you hit the seabed it can also do some damage, particularly on a shallow reef. A range of common injuries include cuts and scrapes, sprains, fractures, and swimmer’s ear.

More than just personal preparation, an understanding of surf etiquette can actually minimize your chance of injuries. It includes respecting the rights of others and standing down to allow just one surfer per wave. You need to be aware of your environment at all times, and for proper safety, use the right surfing gear. If you’ve never surfed, lessons are a must.

Even adhering to warnings, it’s not entirely in your control. Surfers have been sidelined by acts of nature or boards that break and render their leashes useless. If you hit the waves and injuries occur, see a chiropractor for treatment. Your physical trauma can be assessed and treated, plus chiropractic adjustments are an option to correct spinal restrictions that occur from both everyday living and the beating your body can take from wipeouts.

Preparing for a great day on the crest and in the barrel goes a long way toward advancing your surfing career. And regular input from your chiropractor makes you more likely to hang loose, which is always a good idea.

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