Regardless of your skin type, hours spent in the water mean that you risk damaging your exposed skin. Most Irish people have pale skin but still intentionally risk causing long-term damage to the skin by getting burnt. Skin cancer is the most common type of cancer in Ireland with more than 5,500 new cases being diagnosed every year.
As a surfer, you spend long hours outdoors and need to take extra care that your skin is protected from the sun. The sun produces 3 types of ultraviolet radiation (UVA, UVB and UVC). UVA and UVB both can cause skin cancer.
- UVB is the one that causes sunburn (and even when you tan, your skin has been damaged).
- UVA (which can effect your skin through clouds and glass!) causes skin to age earlier than it should (those dreaded wrinkles) and increases the risk of skin cancer.
Even in cloudy weather, the skin can absorb UV rays and you should use sun block EVERYDAY to protect your skin.
The easiest way to avoid sunburn is to stay covered up- wear a full-length wetsuit or long sleeved rash vest and long boardshorts in the water. On the beach (here or abroad) wear a t-shirt, sunglasses and wide brimmed hat (that shades your face and neck).
- Wear sun block with a minimum of factor 15 every day, summer and winter. Remember that just because you can’t see the sun, doesn’t mean you won’t get burnt. A cloudy sky can still expose you to 80% of UV rays.
- In the water, wear waterproof factor 30 sun block and make sure to re-apply your sun block when you’re back on dry land.
- Apply sun block at least 20 minutes before you go out, to allow time for your skin to absorb the cream. Be generous with the sun block and make sure you cover your nose, ears, back of your neck, the skin of your hair parting, and soles of your feet, as these areas are exposed when you’re surfing.
- Re-apply cream at least every 2 hours and more often when doing sport or if you're sweaty.
- Remember that if your skin is turning pink, then the damage is already done: get out of the sun and use a stronger sun block next time you’re outside or in the water.
- When you’re abroad, avoid being in the sun when it’s strongest, that’s between 11am and 3pm.
- Wear good quality, polarised sunglasses to protect your eyes. Not the pair you got free with a magazine.
- Watch out for changes to moles and freckles, lumps or growths on the body or a sore that doesn’t heal. If you see any unusual skin changes check it out with your doctor.
Surfers Ear or Exostoses describes bony growths that occur in the external ear canal, the pathway which leads from the outer part of the ear to the ear drum. Cold water and wind rushing into the canal stimulates the tissues to produce excessive bone growth. As a result the canal diameter is gradually reduced. As the canal diameter reduces, debris such as dead skin, wax, sand etc collects in the ear often causing blockage and infection. To reduce the risk of surfer’s ear, particularly in Ireland, it is essential to wear ear plugs. Wearing a hood or helmet will also help reduce risk.
Surfers have a high incidence of Pterygia, inflamed thickenings of the outermost layer of the eye. Although Pterygia growth is usually very slow in severe cases they can cover the iris and pupil area causing blindness. Pterygia are thought to be due to excessive exposure to sunlight, spray and wind. Wear sunglasses where possible will help reduce the rest of pterygia.
Flexibility is often overlooked by surfers. Most surfers just go surfing spending the majority of their time in the water in the paddling or sitting position putting stress particularly on their spine, hips, neck and shoulders eventually causing overuse injuries. To minimise the risk of overuse injury every surfer should follow a flexibility programme to increase flexibility and suppleness.
Surf instructors are particularly prone to back injuries due to lifting heavy object. If you lift a heavy object incorrectly you risk injuring your back. To protect your back from unnecessary stress and possible injury it is important to know how to correctly lift heavy items. Surf instructors put a lot of stress on their backs everyday from the process of bending and lifting. Think about it, bending and lifting heavy foam surfboards, wet wetsuits and other surf school equipment. There are two common mistakes made in lifting. The first is using the wrong muscles, the back muscles, instead of the leg and buttock muscles. You should always bend your knees when lifting heavy objects and keep your trunk vertical when bending down. A horizontal trunk can put pressure on the lower back amounting to hundreds of extra pounds. The second common error is lifting an object too far from the body. Get close to what you are lifting. It decreases the pressure on your spine. Try to start with the centre of the weight no more than 8 inches from your body, then lift the object with a straight back using your leg and buttock muscles. Never push or pull a student on a board into waves (make them paddle). Both put enormous pressure on the lower back and over time can lead to injury.
WEAVER/ JELLY FISH STINGS
The more time you spend in the water the more likely you are to encounter a weaver fish or jelly fish. Weaver fish like to bury themselves in the sand in warm shallow water. The fish is only 5 -15 cm long but has venomous spines along its dorsal fin which is the only part exposed when buried in the sand. When stepped on it feels like a needle prick and as the poison spreads up the foot and leg it causes intense pain. Treat by immediately soaking the effected area in water as hot as can be tolerated. Weaver fish stings can be prevented by wearing boots. Fortunately the majority of the jellyfish that arrive on our shores give only a minor sting or none at all. Jelly fish stings should be treated with vinegar.
Sea Ulcers occur when small scratch and cuts becoming infected by active bacteria found in the sea. Surfers who spend a lot of time in the water will be more prone to sea ulcers and as water temperatures bacteria multiply increasing the incidents of sea ulcers. They are most commonly found on the back of hands, feet, ankles and underarm. As the skin erodes a hole forms and if left untreated it can become a serious problem. Treatment consists of cleaning, drying and sterilising after every surf session. Allow the ulcer to dry in the air and keep clean but do not bandaged over night. The most successful treatment involves