When people think about a sports concussion, they generally associate it with rough sports, like football or rugby, where the players get tackled and thrown to the ground. But head injuries often occur in other types of sports.
A head injury is not commonly thought of as something to worry about while surfing. Surfing is not commonly associated with concussions, but they can and do happen. A 2015 survey of 50 surfers found that 70 percent of them had suffered some type of head injury while surfing.
The most common head injury was a facial laceration. The second most common one was a concussion. More than half of the respondents said they had experienced a traumatic brain injury (TBI) due to a concussion.
How Surfing Head Injuries Occur
A concussion does not require a direct blow to the head. It is often due to an acceleration of the head coupled with a sudden, quick deceleration. This causes the brain to bounce against the skull as it goes back and forth inside the head.
Examples of ways in which a surfing sports concussion may occur include:
- Collisions between surfers. Rarely is a surfer alone in the water. Often, there are many surfers fighting for a wave. They may collide with each other while trying to capture the wave. Collisions are also common when surfers are traveling at high speeds on the waves and crash into each other. They may just tap another surfer’s knee or any other part of the body that will then throw the surfers off their surfboard and into the water. The rapid deceleration can result in a sports concussion.
- Hitting the head on the surfboard. Any way in which the surfboard and the head come into contact can result in a concussion. Surfers may slip when they are trying to stand up and fall onto the surfboard. Or, the surfboard may flip up into the air when the surfer is trying to stand up and come crashing down on the head of the surfer.
- Surfing in shallow water. Surfing in shallow water, like around shallow reefs or above rocks, can result in surfers hitting their heads on the rocks or on the ocean floor. Surfers should always be aware of the depth of the water in the area where they are surfing.
How to Respond to a Surfing Head Injury
A surfer who experiences a head injury while in the water should get out of the water immediately. Even if the surfer is not sure the head injury was serious enough to cause a sports concussion, the surfer should take the following steps:
- Tell someone nearby that they hit their head while surfing and could possibly have a concussion.
- If still in the water, ask someone to paddle back with them to the shore.
- Paddle back slowly. Overexertion can increase the severity of the injury.
- If the surfer is wearing a wetsuit, he or she should take it off in order to be sure there is proper blood flow to the body and the brain.
- Ask someone to call a medic or drive the surfer to the hospital. A person who has experienced a head injury should never, under no circumstances, drive.
Multiple Concussions Can Cause Brain Damage
Just one concussion can cause serious brain damage. If a surfer has a second concussion before the previous one has healed, the chances of long-term brain damage increase.
A surfer may feel just fine and like they have recovered, but multiple concussions occurring within 6 to 18 months can lead to long-term neurological and functional deficits.