Surfer With Big Waves
Brian Lantos, DO

Brian Lantos, DO

Board Certified family medicine physician.

Stay Safe While Surfing San Diego’s Waves

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From Black’s Beach to Pacific Beach, San Diego is well known for its surf and sun. Unfortunately, surfing comes with its share of dangers for amateurs and athletes alike, as do all sports. Prompt treatment is important. Injured surfers may also need knowledgeable medical care for a fast and full recovery.

Like many athletes, surfers visit our San Diego-based medical clinic for our comprehensive wellness services. Accident victims trust our exceptional urgent care services. Tourists appreciate our convenient location, just blocks from the ocean.

Common surf injuries we treat include:

  • Severe sunburn
  • Cuts, lacerations, abrasions, and other wounds
  • Head and neck issues
  • Dislocations
  • Marine animal stings

Having seen so many common injuries, we have found that patients often have similar questions about the best ways to avoid ocean-related mishaps. Therefore, we wanted to share some of our knowledge on the best ways to stay safe while riding the waves.

Sunburn

The sun can cause severe harm to your skin. Sunburn can be extremely painful. Yet beach-goers can easily avoid burns if they take the appropriate measures. Wearing a wetsuit or a UV-protected long-sleeved rashguard with a hood can minimize damage from the sun. Adding a brimmed hat can provide much-needed sun protection to your face and neck. We also recommend applying a reef-safe, non-nano, zinc oxide sunscreen to exposed skin areas.

Lacerations

A surfer may be lacerated in numerous ways. Sharp rocks and reefs easily create deep cuts when falling off of a wave. People are also wounded when they are hit by another surfer’s board or fins. It is important to immediately clean these cuts with soap and water to prevent infection. Injured surfers should also seek immediate medical attention to determine whether the laceration needs repair. Patients with deep cuts have much better outcomes when they receive stitches right away.

Head and Neck Injuries

These injuries most often occur when surfers hit their heads or necks on a surfboard, rock, or reef. These are commonly accompanied by a laceration as well as a concussion. These injuries must be immediately evaluated by a medical professional.
One way to prevent a serious head injury is by wearing a surf helmet. This is a common practice in locations where the waves are big or break in shallow water. Most San Diego surf shops carry lightweight, durable helmets. Surfers should never go out alone. If they experience a head injury that results in loss of consciousness, a surf buddy may well save them from drowning. Finally, remember this saying, “when in doubt, don’t go out.”

 

Jellyfish

Stings

San Diego has amazing marine wildlife including dolphins, seals, whales, and birds. However, there are less benign sea creatures that can inflict serious pain. Stingray and jellyfish stings are relatively common in San Diego. Stingrays hang out in the sandy ocean floor where people can easily step on them. This causes stingrays to lash out in defense, using their barbed tales to strike unwitting thalassophiles (ocean lovers). Not only are these stings quite painful, but they can also lead to infections. Stringray victims should therefore seek medical attention promptly.

Jellyfish are free-floating creatures that appear beautiful and harmless. However, they can inflict painful stings with microscopic, harpoon-like structures on their tenticles, called nematocysts. If stung, soak the injured body part in warm water and take tylenol and/or a non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drug (NSAIDs) such as ibuprofen or naproxen, for pain control.

Extremities

The sport of surfing is extremely physical and requires both strength and endurance. Waves can be powerful and can cause serious injuries to the upper and lower extremities. We see shoulder dislocations and knee/ankle derangement all too often in our urgent care clinic. These injuries can have long-lasting impacts if not treated promptly. Therefore, if injured, seek immediate medical attention from a physician experienced with such injuries.

Rip Tides

A rip tide is a strong current formed by water returning to the ocean after waves have crashed in the shallows. If you find yourself floating out to sea without paddling in that direction then you are in a rip tide. If this happens, acknowledge the situation and don’t panic. Do not try swimming to shore; you will likely end up swimming in place and will tire out. Instead, swim parallel to the shore (sideways) in order to get out of the riptide. You will know you have made it out of the riptide when the surrounding water is visibly calm and when you can swim back toward the beach with relative ease.

Whether you are surfing in Pacific Beach or La Jolla Shores, we are well equipped to provide urgent care for surfing injuries. We also offer comprehensive wellness services. Contact us today and learn why so many San Diegans trust Pacific Wellness Center + Urgent Care. Our goal is to help you get back on your feet so that you can score some more incredible surf in San Diego.

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