Let's be honest, surfing carries with it some really unique ailments. We get weird sh*t happening to us that certainly doesn't happen to the rest of the population.
Let's start with the obvious. Sinus drain. Yeh, just gotto love that.
What happens when you wipe out is water flushes it's way up your nose and into your sinuses. There's plenty space back there, and cos some of the cavities are below the level of your nose it means once it gets in there, it stays put as long as you're upright. Just waiting til later that day or the next when you bend forward and force that water upward....and out....
Generally happens at exactly the worst moment, like leaning over your colleagues desk or something. Next minute a whole lotta gunk comes pouring out your nose. Lovely, ain't it? Just tell 'em it's seawater not snot...
At least nose drips have humour value. Nothing funny about Surfer's Ear. It's proper name is Exostosis, which is the medical term for an abnormal growth of bone inside the ear canal. It occurs cos of frequent exposure to cold water and/or wind, which causes the bone surrounding the ear canal to thicken and constrict the canal.
No-one really knows why cold temps causes a bony growth to develop, but it's thought to be an evolutionary defense mechanism. Basically, your body reacts to the cold by growing a protective layer of bone around the ear canal to stop cold water/wind from entering it.
The bony growth can trap water, ear wax and other crap within the ear canal, and you end up with repeated ear infections. No fun in that. As it gets worse, it ends up affecting your hearing too. So if you're finding it hard to follow the chatter in the line-up or you're finding water is always getting stuck in your ears, go get em checked.
It mostly affects only one ear. And if you're wondering why that is...it'll generally be the ear that faces into the prevailing wind direction that's offshore at your local break. And hey, PE's not called the windy city for nothing....so we may not have the cold water as a factor, but the wind chill sure is.
The hectic thing about Surfers Ear is the treatment. They drill that bony growth out. Yip, some ou sticks a drill into your ear and goes zzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz. Actually, things have improved a bit these days, and some doc's go in from a cut behind your ear. But either way - you're outta the water for at least 6 weeks.
Best ways to prevent it are to keep those ears happy - so either chuck some earplugs or prestik in there, or wear your hoodie. That's why you'll always see me in my squid lid.... look like a dork, but no-one's gonna have to drill my ears.
Not sure how many people have had this next weird one. But I did ask around a bit in the lineup to make sure it wasn't just me! Turns out not. When the waters really cold, my lil finger goes AWOL after a while. It just sticks out to the side, and no matter how hard I try to bring it back next to my ring finger it ain't interested. Stays stuck out there like a Teaspoon Tips ad. It's the oddest thing to sit there and stare at your hand and just will that pinkie to move back to where it should be, but it won't move.
I can't work out the mechanism behind it, despite dredging up my anatomy memory bank from 20 years ago at varsity. Best guess is it's either a cramp in the abductor digiti minimi, which is the hands most superficial muscle (and the guy responsible for making the lil finger go outwards), or it's some sort of temporary nerve paralysis of branch of the ulna nerve which gets knocked out by the cold and stops working, and in the process stops working the lil muscle whose job it is to keep Mr Pinky in place. Anyone else have a theory on this?
The cold doesn't just make the pinky misbehave. It can turn your hands into useless stumps. Come out of a mid-winter sesh, fumble to get your key, and then try unlock your car door. And hope no-one is watching. Cos you stand there like a muppet trying to rotate your whole upper body just to get the damn key to turn cos your stupid hands refuse to turn it! I'll admit to having to accost random people in the car park at Hummies and asking them to unlock my door for me. They look at you like you're nuts!
The refusal of your hands to operate in a sensible manner might be due to low-grade hypothermia. The body reacts to being a a really cold environment by prioritizing where the blood should go to keep you ticking. This means blood gets redirected to your core whilst your extremities are treated as being expendable in the bigger scheme of things. Getting less blood makes your hands not only cold, but also impairs the ability of the muscles in that area - so goodbye dexterity, hello lobster claws.
Speaking of cold, ice-cream headaches anyone? if you aren't a dedicated hoodie wearer then you've certainly had a few of these every winter. Generally hit you on that 3rd duckdive in a row. Feels like someone has thrown liquid nitrogen over your head and it's about to explode.
Wonder why it's worse when you're paddling back out versus just wiping out? Wind chill! Expose that freshly dunked pip to the icy breeze and boom, brain-busting pain engulfs you.
A quick anatomy lesson - your blood vessels expand and collapse in response to your bodies temperature, and the environmental temperature. Your bod is a happy camper wrapped up in it's layer of neoprene, to the point that you might actually be getting a bit hot in there when you're paddling your gat off to get back out to the line-up. Your pip becomes a way your body can regulate some of that heat, so the blood vessels up there expand to allow you to cool down a bit.
So far so good. Until you duck-dive and stick that pip with it's nicely expanded blood vessels into the vrek-cold water. Funny enough it's still feeling OK. BUT. Then you surface. As your head emerges from the water the wind hits. Welcome to a world of pain.
Your heads gone from trying to help you blow off extra heat to suddenly thinking it's in the Antarctic cos of the wind chill. So now the blood vessels go from being wide open, to trying to shut down shop as quick as they can to prevent heat loss. It's called vasospasm, and it hurts like hell.
Don't like em? No choice but to stick a hoodie on.
Not all weird surf ailments are cold-water related. Sometimes it's long summer sessions that get us too. Summer water temps mean no wetties, which translates into no nice rubber protection between you and your board. For guys who're stacking up multiple daily sessions this could end up giving them what known as surf bumps. Those funny growths on your body that grow to protect some place where a lot of unusual pressure takes place. Mostly on the rib cage, but it can be the knees or feet to for those longboarders into knee-paddling.
They're fibrous half-domed lumps of thickened skin and overgrown connective tissue caused by the friction and pressure of paddling a surfboard. Cos let's face it. Lying on your board isn't as comfy as lying on your couch, and your body thinks so too and reacts accordingly.
Wettie and boardie tans make spotting a surfer dead easy. Either brown from the knee's down. Or nice lil brown ring around the neck and some brown hands stuck on the end of lily-white arms. Funny how most of us are good at putting sun screen on our faces, but the hands & neck are just get left to fry.
And long-session induced neck rashes thanks to your wetsuit neck rubbing it raw leave you looking like someone into S&M. Remember to vaseline that neckline if you don't want to be getting funny looks. Unless you gonna hide it by wearing a poloneck for a coupla days...
So there you have it, some weird stuff surfers get. You can't call yourself a surfer til you've had at least one of these!