Surfing

01 Overview

Surfing is a popular water sport where the surfer rides a wave in the ocean on a surfboard or body board towards the shore. British Columbia has many spots for surfing, Tofino being one of the most popular. Due to its popularity, surfing is scheduled to make its debut at the 2020 Summer Olympics in Tokyo. While there is some risk for physical injury in surfing, there is strong evidence that these injuries can be prevented.

(see Section 04 - Prevention)
Athlete silhouette
View Common Injuries by clicking the blue dots on the silhouette

Lacerations to the face and head, and a ruptured eardrum are common injuries experienced in surfers. Additionally, concussions, cervical spine fractures, fractures of the face, jaw and skull, and eye injuries are also seen among surfers.

Shoulder dislocations, sprains and strains, and fractures are some of the most common injuries in surfing. Inflammation and swelling of the rotator cuff (impingement) and tendinitis are common, which can result in pain in the front shoulder. This chronic condition is most commonly seen among beginner due to poor paddling technique, and among older surfers due to years of paddling.

The arm can sustain fractures, sprains and strains, and various lacerations, abrasions, and contusions.

The wrist and hand can sustain fractures, sprains and strains, and various lacerations, abrasions, and contusions.

Surfers can experience low back pain and, in rare cases, spinal cord injury caused by hyperextension of the back (surfer’s myelopathy).

Ankle sprains and strains are common to surfers, as well as lacerations to the leg, shin or calf, and knee.

02 Injury Statistics

The most common injuries in surfing occur to the head, the shoulder and arm, the back, and the leg. The overall surfing injury rate declined—from 3.5 in 2006 to 1.79 injuries in 2015 per 1,000 hours of surfing.

The injury rate in aerial surfers, who do tricks taking the surfboard into the air, is 1.35 injuries per 1,000 hours of surfing.

Curious about the research on injuries?

It is estimated that...

03 Risk Factors

Risk factors for surfing injury include: equipment, fitness level, surfing technique, level of experience, and number of hours spent surfing.

  • Environment

    The unpredictable nature of the ocean can put a surfer at risk of injury. This includes the type of wave, the wave height, and the break of the wave, which are dependent on factors such as tides, wind speed, and wind direction. The unknown incline and composition of the sea floor, including hard sand, coral reefs, and submerged rocks, also affect the risk of injury to the surfer.

  • Fitness Level

    Having a poor level of fitness can increase your risk of injury. Surfing requires sustained balance and prolonged periods of time lying on the stomach, so the back and core muscles should be well-conditioned. Biceps and triceps, used when paddling on the water, are also at risk of injury if these muscles are weak.

  • Experience

    Surfing style is linked to the surfer’s level of experience and can influence the risk of ankle injury. Competitive surfers and surfers who perform aerial maneuvers are at a higher risk of sustaining an injury. Surfers, especially new ones, are at risk of injury from lying on their stomach for long periods of time.

  • Equipment

    Contact with the surfer’s own board or another surfer’s board is a primary cause of injury. The rails, fins, leash, and nose of the surfboard can cause eye-related injuries and serious lacerations. Surfboard design has changed over the years to allow the surfer to maneuver and perform more easily, but it may also place increased stress on ligaments and muscles.

  • Technique

    The motion of paddling and being in a prone position (lying on the stomach) for long periods of time puts surfers at risk of injury. Paddling puts the surfer’s back in a hyperextended position which can result in injury, especially among novice surfers.

  • Exposure

    Surfers who surf more than 6.5 hours per week are at a higher risk of sustaining an injury.

04 How can I prevent injury?

Some muscle soreness or joint pain is expected when increasing your level of physical activity. It is important to listen to your body for persistent or worsening pain, and to know when to rest. Learn more about how to prevent injuries in surfing.

  • Participant & Parent

    Talk to your coach or organization about the prevention strategies below and how they might be incorporated into training and policies.

    Strength Training and Neuromuscular Training Program

    The risk of all lower body injuries may be reduced by up to 50% by regular participation in a balance training exercise program with a resistance training component, such as a neuromuscular training warm-up program.

    Sport Injury Prevention Research Centre Neuromuscular Training
    The Sport Injury Prevention Research Centre has developed a neuromuscular training warm-up program that can be adapted to many sports. Incorporating a warm-up program like this one into your training program at least two times per week has been associated with a significant reduction in injury.

    Click here to view poster.

     

    Oslo Sport Trauma Research Centre Neuromuscular Training
    Some athletes sustain shoulder injuries due to the physical demands of surfing. The Oslo Sport Trauma Research Centre has developed exercises that specifically help keep the shoulder and back strong and reduce the risk of injuries. This resource includes videos and PDFs for download.

    Learn more about exercises to help prevent shoulder injuries.

    Learn more about exercises to help prevent back injuries.

    For more exercises, visit http://fittoplay.org/.

    Managing Concussion

    Head injuries occur when surfing, so it is important to be aware of concussion signs and symptoms and know what to do if concussion is suspected. The Concussion Awareness Training Tool (CATT) is an online resource for participants and parents to learn more about how to recognize, prevent, and manage a concussion. CATT also includes resources on how to respond to a potential concussion situation, as well as detailed Return to School and Return to Sport protocol.

    Other Considerations (about this section)

    Education
    If you are new to surfing, take surfing lessons at a reputable surf school. Be familiar with safety precautions and proper technique. Know how to assess both ocean and weather conditions before heading out on the water. Popular surfing spots often have surf reports online; know how to read and interpret these reports so you know the safest time to go out.

    AdventureSmart is a national program providing information to keep you safe while participating in outdoor recreational activities.

    Learn more about surfing safety.

    The State Government of Victoria (Australia) has information on preventing injuries in surfing. It includes information on stand-up paddleboarding, surfing gear, and surfing etiquette.

    Surf Science also has information on common surfing injuries.

    Drowning Prevention
    Any water-based activity comes with the risk of drowning. Find out more about drowning prevention from:

    Equipment
    Make sure that the surfboard is the right buoyancy and length for your height and weight. A nose guard attached to the top of your surfboard can reduce your risk of eye injury. Your risk of head injury can be reduced by wearing a surf helmet.

    Sport-related Physicals
    Surfing is a physically demanding sport and some pre-existing conditions may increase the risk of injury. An annual sport-related physical evaluation ensuring fitness to participate can help to reduce risk of injury. KidsHealth provides information about what sports physicals are, why they may be appropriate and where you may go to get them.

    Learn more about Kids Health Sports Physicals.

  • Coach & Teacher

    Talk to your organization or school about the prevention strategies below and how they might be incorporated into training and policies.

    Strength Training and Neuromuscular Training Program

    The risk of all lower body injuries may be reduced by up to 50% by regular participation in a balance training exercise program with a resistance training component, such as a neuromuscular training warm-up program.

    Sport Injury Prevention Research Centre Neuromuscular Training
    The Sport Injury Prevention Research Centre has developed a neuromuscular training warm-up program that can be adapted to many sports. Incorporating a warm-up program like this one into your training program at least two times per week has been associated with a significant reduction in injury.

    Click here to view poster.

     

    Oslo Sport Trauma Research Centre Neuromuscular Training
    Some athletes sustain shoulder injuries due to the physical demands of surfing. The Oslo Sport Trauma Research Centre has developed exercises that specifically help keep the shoulder and back strong and reduce the risk of injuries. This resource includes videos and PDFs for download.

    Learn more about exercises to help prevent shoulder injuries.

    Learn more about exercises to help prevent back injuries.

    For more exercises, visit http://fittoplay.org/.

    Managing Concussion

    Head injuries occur when surfing, so it is important to be aware of concussion signs and symptoms and know what to do if concussion is suspected. The Concussion Awareness Training Tool (CATT) is an online resource for coaches and teachers to learn more about how to recognize, prevent, and manage a concussion. CATT also includes resources on how to respond to a potential concussion situation, as well as detailed Return to School and Return to Sport protocol.

    Other Considerations (about this section)

    Certification
    The International Surfing Association (ISA) offers Water Safety Accreditation courses.

    Education
    Newcomers to surfing should take lessons at a reputable surf school, and be familiar with safety precautions and proper technique. Educate surfers on both ocean and weather conditions before heading out on the water. Popular surfing spots often have surf reports online.

    AdventureSmart is a national program providing information to keep you safe while participating in outdoor recreational activities.

    Learn more about surfing safety.

    The State Government of Victoria (Australia) has information on preventing injuries in surfing. It includes information on stand-up paddleboarding, surfing gear, and surfing etiquette.

    Surf Science also has information on common surfing injuries.

    Drowning Prevention
    Any water-based activity comes with the risk of drowning. Find out more about drowning prevention from:

    Equipment
    Surfboards should be the right buoyancy and length for the surfer’s height and weight. A nose guard attached to the top of the surfboard can reduce the risk of eye injury. The risk of head injury can be reduced by wearing a surf helmet.

    Sport-related Physicals
    Surfing is a physically demanding sport and some pre-existing conditions may increase the risk of injury. An annual sport-related physical evaluation ensuring fitness to participate can help to reduce risk of injury. KidsHealth provides information about what sports physicals are, why they may be appropriate and where you may go to get them.

    Learn more about Kids Health Sports Physicals.

  • Official & Administrator

    Talk to your coaches, teachers, organization, or school about the prevention strategies below and how they might be incorporated into training and policies.

    Strength Training and Neuromuscular Training Program

    The risk of all lower body injuries may be reduced by up to 50% by regular participation in a balance training exercise program with a resistance training component, such as a neuromuscular training warm-up program.

    Sport Injury Prevention Research Centre Neuromuscular Training
    The Sport Injury Prevention Research Centre has developed a neuromuscular training warm-up program that can be adapted to many sports. Incorporating a warm-up program like this one into your training program at least two times per week has been associated with a significant reduction in injury.

    Click here to view poster.

     

    Oslo Sport Trauma Research Centre Neuromuscular Training
    Some athletes sustain shoulder injuries due to the physical demands of surfing. The Oslo Sport Trauma Research Centre has developed exercises that specifically help keep the shoulder and back strong and reduce the risk of injuries. This resource includes videos and PDFs for download.

    Learn more about exercises to help prevent shoulder injuries.

    Learn more about exercises to help prevent back injuries.

    For more exercises, visit http://fittoplay.org/.

    Managing Concussion

    Head injuries occur when surfing, so it is important to be aware of concussion signs and symptoms and know what to do if concussion is suspected. The Concussion Awareness Training Tool (CATT) is an online resource for coaches and teachers to learn more about how to recognize, prevent, and manage a concussion. CATT also includes resources on how to respond to a potential concussion situation, as well as detailed Return to School and Return to Sport protocol.

    Other Considerations (about this section)

    Certification
    The International Surfing Association (ISA) offers a Judging and Officiating Development Program for those who wish to become accredited surfing officials.

    The ISA also offers Water Safety Accreditation courses.

    Education
    Newcomers to surfing should take lessons at a reputable surf school, and be familiar with safety precautions and proper technique. This should include understanding ocean and weather conditions. Popular surfing spots often have surf reports online.

    AdventureSmart is a national program providing information to keep you safe while participating in outdoor recreational activities.

    Learn more about surfing safety.

    The State Government of Victoria (Australia) has information on preventing injuries in surfing. It includes information on stand-up paddleboarding, surfing gear, and surfing etiquette.

    Surf Science also has information on common surfing injuries.

    Drowning Prevention
    Any water-based activity comes with the risk of drowning. Find out more about drowning prevention from:

    Equipment
    Surfboards should be the right buoyancy and length for the surfer’s height and weight. A nose guard attached to the top of the surfboard can reduce the risk of eye injury. The risk of head injury can be reduced by wearing a surf helmet.

    Sport-related Physicals
    Surfing is a physically demanding sport and some pre-existing conditions may increase the risk of injury. An annual sport-related physical evaluation ensuring fitness to participate can help to reduce risk of injury. KidsHealth provides information about what sports physicals are, why they may be appropriate and where you may go to get them.

    Learn more about Kids Health Sports Physicals.

  • Health Professional

    The role of health professionals in preventing surfing injuries has two main components:

    1. Providing ongoing education to participants, parents, and coaches on effective injury prevention programs such as balance and resistance training; and
    2. Ensuring that injured surfers are completely healed and fit-to-perform before returning to activity to prevent re-injury or chronic injury.

    Strength Training and Neuromuscular Training Program

    The risk of all lower body injuries may be reduced by up to 50% by regular participation in a balance training exercise program with a resistance training component, such as a neuromuscular training warm-up program.

    Sport Injury Prevention Research Centre Neuromuscular Training
    The Sport Injury Prevention Research Centre has developed a neuromuscular training warm-up program that can be adapted to many sports. Incorporating a warm-up program like this one into your training program at least two times per week has been associated with a significant reduction in injury.

    Click here to view poster.

     

    Oslo Sport Trauma Research Centre Neuromuscular Training
    Some athletes sustain shoulder injuries due to the physical demands of surfing. The Oslo Sport Trauma Research Centre has developed exercises that specifically help keep the shoulder and back strong and reduce the risk of injuries. This resource includes videos and PDFs for download.

    Learn more about exercises to help prevent shoulder injuries.

    Learn more about exercises to help prevent back injuries.

    For more exercises, visit http://fittoplay.org/.

    Managing Concussion

    It is important to be aware of concussion signs and symptoms and know what to do if concussion is suspected.The Concussion Awareness Training Tool (CATT) is an online resource to learn more about how to diagnose and manage a concussion. CATT also includes resources on how to assess a potential concussion, as well as detailed Return to School and Return to Sport protocol.

    Other Considerations (about this section)

    Education
    Encourage surfers to enroll in lessons at a reputable surf school and become familiar with safety precautions and proper technique.

    Encourage parents, teachers, and surfers to understand both ocean and weather conditions before heading out on the water. Popular surfing spots often have surf reports online. They should also be aware of the importance of appropriate clothing and equipment for surfing.

    AdventureSmart is a national program providing information to keep you safe while participating in outdoor recreational activities.

    Learn more about surfing safety.

    The State Government of Victoria (Australia) has information on preventing injuries in surfing. It includes information on stand-up paddleboarding, surfing gear, and surfing etiquette.

    Surf Science also has information on common surfing injuries.

    Sport-related Physicals
    Surfing can be a physically demanding sport and some pre-existing conditions may increase the risk of injury. An annual sport-related physical evaluation ensuring fitness to participate can help to reduce risk of injury. Surfers can be screened for underlying muscular tightness, weakness, and passive joint range of motion in key joint areas such as the ankle and shoulders. The American Academy of Pediatrics provides information about preparticipation physical evaluation.

    Learn more about Preparticipation Physical Evaluation.