Is Surfing Dangerous?
In the 15 years I have been coaching surfing, many people have asked me: is surfing dangerous?
So I´ve decided to write down my thoughts on this matter.
For me surfing is not dangerous compared to other sports: statistically speaking, you are much more likely to get hurt playing soccer, skating, horse riding, kite surfing, cycling…
I have surfed for 33 years, most of my life, and I´ve only had a few little cuts on my feet from fins when I sat down on my board while waiting in the lineup, my own surfboard hitting me when I forgot to be cover up in a wipeout etc. So basically nothing more than a few bumps and bruises from my own lack of attention.
But 5 weeks ago I had what was for me a life changing accident. I now try to take the positive from that event, and see everything from a different perspective.
In the morning I had surfed perfect barreling waves on a local reef break for 2 hours and everything went fine. I went on to give the surf class at Famara beach, had a fantastic day with super motivated Lanzasurfers enjoying amazing glassy conditions. On finishing the day at the beach, I felt tired but still adrenalized from my morning session, so I decided to go back into the water.
The swell had dropped down massively, but waves were still fun and beautiful. On the 4th wave I took, I pulled an aerial and landed badly back on my board. I wasn’t focusing and I didn´t care if I finished the maneuver nicely, I was not prepared and hadn´t planned the move out properly, so all my weigh landed on my front leg in a rotation, I heard a crack and felt the bone break.
My whole life flashed before me in that moment, I was overwhelmed by a crazy mix of emotions and sensations. I couldn’t feel the pain yet as adrenaline was pumping through my veins, but I knew something was really wrong and my foot was hanging out weirdly. I asked for help then caught the first wave in.
I dragged myself on the rocks, then several local surfers who had seen it all happening were suddenly here grabbing me and carrying me back to land (thank you José, Carlos, Yeray, Darwin, Martin, Sandro, Luis, Will, Hector, Claudio, Amelia and all the others for all your amazing help and care!). This is when the pain hit; it was unbearable until the ambulance arrived and took me to hospital where I finally got the first of numerous shots of morphine.
I want to tell people about this situation with these few words, to help others and myself understand how, when, and why accidents happen, and how we can avoid them.
In my case the main factor that produced my accident was a lack of focus:
- Where was I? Too much talking in the lineup, not enough observation of the sea, of the waves and of what was happening around me,
- What was I doing? I didn´t visualize how I wanted to surf, didn’t focus on the moment, my mind was cluttered when it should have been clear. I should have paid attention to the little signals: how I was feeling, what other surfers were doing, what changes were taking place in the conditions out at sea…
I should have listened to myself and what my body was telling me:
- Was I tired, weak, thirsty, hungry, cold, stressed?
- Was I physically prepared to surf that many hours that day?
- Was there enough wax on my board? Did I have the right fins, leash etc. for the type of surf manoeuvre I was trying to perform?
- Was I mentally ready? Was I focused, had I planned my surfing session?
- How long was I planning to surf for?
We must pay attention to these and many other elements to make sure our surf session is safe: are those around me good surfers from whom I can learn, or are they kamikaze maniacs and a danger to me? How are the waves, how are the conditions, are they changing, will I surf the left or the right? Is my body sending me messages I should listen to? Am I ready to quickly react to changing conditions, or get out of the water if needed before putting myself in a dangerous situation?
These are the questions that we should be asking ourselves when we go out to surf. If I had asked them on that day I wouldn´t be nursing a broken leg!
Surfing is much safer than most other sports… as long as you are focused, following basic safety rules, paying attention to what’s happening around you and to the signals your body is sending you.
I hope these words can help you surf well and safely, with more happiness, concentration and determination.
As for me, my leg is getting better each day and I will be back in the water very soon!
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