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A Surfer’s Guide to Ocean Safety

5 min read

A Surfer’s Guide to Ocean Safety a surfer on a wave in malibu

“The ocean is calling, and I must go…”

Okay, that’s not exactly how the famous John Muir quote goes. But, for a surfer, it’s easy to feel that way more often than not! There’s nothing quite like hitting the beach, checking out the waves, and getting out into the water.

Whether you’re a beginner or you’ve been surfing for years, there are countless benefits to the sport that bring people back for more all the time. It’s a great workout, it can improve your mental health, it boosts balance and coordination, and it’s a lot of fun.

But, there are a lot of things surfers need to be aware of when it comes to ocean safety. From basic surfing etiquette to reducing your risk of injuries, staying vigilant in the water will help to keep you (and others) safe. That’s especially true for new surfers, but it never hurts for seasoned pros to have a reminder when it comes to safety.

So, what are the most important things to know before you paddle out? How can you enjoy your time in the water while staying as safe as possible?

Plan and Prepare

As tempting as it is to head out to the water at first sunlight without a plan in place, that's not exactly the smartest thing to do when you’re a newbie to the sport. Planning ahead and preparing for your adventure will keep you safer and reduce your risk of getting hurt.

That starts with a few basic “checklist” items that you should go over every time you’re ready to bring your board into the water, including:

  • Letting someone on land know where you’ll be and what you’re doing
  • Checking the weather and the tides
  • Double-checking your equipment
  • Protecting yourself from the sun

If you’re planning on surfing a lot, it’s worth it to invest in waterproof equipment or protective gear for your electronic devices, including your phone. Some smartphone models are waterproof, and others can be dried out if they get wet, but it’s better to be safe than sorry. Your phone, smartwatch, or other communicative devices should be a crucial part of your emergency plan in case you need to call for help, so make sure you keep them safe and dry.

Keep Yourself and Others Safe

Once you’re in the water, vigilance is key. 

First, always be aware of your surroundings, including any other nearby surfers. Surfing etiquette isn’t just about having good manners in the water, it’s about respecting other people and keeping everyone safe. In fact, it’s important to look out for any other type of craft in the water. Keep a safe distance, give them the space they need, and acknowledge that you see them.

If there are others in the water, make sure to control your board. You should never release your board unless you’re 100% certain no one is behind you. Other tips to keep in mind that can help to keep others safe include:

  • Using the leash on your board so it doesn’t get away from you
  • Never “dropping in” on another surfer
  • Not snaking another surfer’s wave
  • Communicating with others when necessary

You should also be equipped to handle a potential emergency, whether you have to help yourself or someone else in the water. Even experienced surfers, sailors, paddleboarders, and swimmers get into trouble sometimes. Having a basic knowledge of how to avoid rip currents is a good place to start, but if you get caught in one, knowing how to escape can save your life. Keep these tips in mind, and you can safely get out of that terrifying situation:

  • Stay as calm as possible and don’t fight against the current
  • Swim parallel to the shore until you’ve escaped the current
  • Swim to shore
  • If getting to shore isn’t possible, call for help

If you see someone else struggling in the water, throw them something that floats and give them instructions on how to escape the current. Getting someone else to remain calm isn’t easy, but keep trying! Make sure someone calls for a lifeguard, and don’t try to rescue the person yourself, or you both could end up getting trapped in the tide.

How to Avoid and Treat Injuries

Surfing isn’t a low-impact sport. While you’re not chasing after a ball or crashing into other people, it takes a lot of stamina, balance, strength, and coordination. It also takes a lot of preparation and concentration to avoid injuries.

Injury prevention starts with taking care of yourself. You should never surf if your body isn’t up for the task. Does that mean you need to be the fittest person in the world? No. But, you should have the strength and endurance to manage your board and to hold your own in the water without getting exhausted right away. In addition to being physically fit, you should warm up before each session. Do a few stretches and move your body. Getting your muscles warm will help to prevent cramps or more serious injuries.

Most importantly, listen to your body. If something starts to hurt or feels uncomfortable, stop immediately and get back to shore. You might be able to go back out, but it’s better to take stock of how you’re feeling and get checked out if necessary.

If you do experience an injury, get help immediately. Your first source of assistance can come from the lifeguard or even other surfers on the beach. In emergencies, don’t hesitate to have someone call 911 or any paramedics that might be on staff. Chances are, a medical professional will ask you to describe your pain on a scale. Pain scales are meant to be quick ways for healthcare professionals to gauge what you’re feeling, but they’re subjective to several factors, including each individual’s tolerance for pain. So, be sure to describe what you’re feeling and what you need in detail, if possible.

If your injury isn’t an emergency but is still causing you problems, make an appointment with your doctor as soon as possible. One of the worst things you can do is to let an injury go without getting it checked out. You could end up making it worse or turning a minor injury into something serious.

Surfing is an incredible sport to get into, but it can also be a risky one without knowing the right ways to stay safe. Let these tips be your guide to ocean safety before, during, and after your time in the water. Making your well-being a priority will make each session more enjoyable and will allow you to keep surfing safely for years to come.


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