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ACSM is fortunate to be the go-to source on sports medicine and exercise science for several national and international media outlets. You can find some of our most recent coverage below, or you can view archived articles.  

Surfers Take Their Knocks, Doctor Says

by User Not Found | Aug 01, 2011
Dangers include cuts, falls, fights

SEATTLE – Surfing under the influence of drugs or alcohol are two of the prime dangers facing surfing enthusiasts, according to information presented today at the 56th Annual Meeting of the American College of Sports Medicine in Seattle. Other factors include wave height, board length and interactions among surfers.

The most common surfing injuries involve lacerations, contusions and soft-tissue damage, said James MacDonald, M.D., a physician and lead author of the surfing study. Often, the culprit is a surfer’s own board, which, tethered by a leash to the wrist or ankle, recoils into the head or face after a fall. Eye injuries such as ruptured globe or orbital fractures are common.

“The ‘cool factor’ sort of mitigates against wearing helmets or ear plugs to protect against swimmer’s ear,” MacDonald said.

MacDonald cited the “cool factor” as also influencing choice of sun protection. While the most effective sunblocks contain zinc oxide and titanium dioxide, surfers may shun them and risk skin cancer from exposure to ultraviolet light. Surfers wearing wetsuits often exhibit a telltale sunburn pattern – what MacDonald calls “the surfer’s version of a farmer tan.”

The notion of a peaceful, harmonious surfer culture may be quaintly outdated, said MacDonald.

“I was surprised at how much violence there can be in surfing culture. Some of the injuries I’ve seen have nothing to do with surfing—they’re fisticuffs. There’s no referee out in the water to break up fights.” As popular surfing sites become crowded with novices and out-of-towners, veteran surfers may react to protect their “zones.”

MacDonald urged physicians new to treating surfers to keep in mind that it’s common to surf water ski or conduct other boating sports under the influence of alcohol, marijuana or other drugs. When the surfer is high, so is the risk of drowning.

Injury rates tend to high among both the most experienced surfers and the least experienced, according to MacDonald. Large waves – five meters or more in height – tend to keep less experienced enthusiasts away. However, newer surfers often crowd together and, as in skiing, tend to fall off more often. Those with full-time jobs that cut into wave time may experience injuries relating to deconditioning, such as muscle strains, soft tissue damage and falls.

“It’s the same way as in skiing you see people getting on the slopes at Thanksgiving and they’re deconditioned – they haven’t skied all year,” MacDonald said.

Board length also plays a role. “Short boards tend to attract a more aggressive surfing style,” said MacDonald. Smaller and less buoyant, short boards affect paddling style as well as surfing style. hereas the longer boards favored by older surfers can be paddled while kneeling, short boards are usually paddled while prone. This requires arching the back, which becomes more difficult with age.

Whatever the risk or injury, said MacDonald, surfers feel compelled to get back to the sport. Surfers often ask him to close lacerations with a liquid adhesive rather than sutures, telling him, “I don’t care what kind of a scar I have, doctor – I just want to get back into the water.”


The American College of Sports Medicine is the largest sports medicine and exercise science organization in the world. More than 35,000 international, national and regional members and certified professionals are dedicated to advancing and integrating scientific research to provide educational and practical applications of exercise science and sports medicine.

The conclusions outlined in this news release are those of the researchers only, and should not be construed as an official statement of the American College of Sports Medicine.

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