Surfing: Safety Basics. Part III. First aid for accidents.

Observing safety rules when surfing is the absolute requirement that surfers should never forget about. In one way or another, everyone who goes into the water with a board understands that lots of lives depend on him and on the ones around him in the ocean. Nevertheless, safety in the ocean depends, unfortunately, not only on the sportsmen themselves but also on some external conditions that may often be quite unpredictable in this sport.
Let's discuss in detail what kind of danger may expect a surfer in the water, accidents of what kind may occur and what a surfer should know in order to be ready for those accidents. We will pay special attention to rendering first aid to those who found themselves in situations dangerous to their lives.
We would like to mention at the beginning that all the information given below is not a professional training course in rendering first aid, so we recommend that you make yourself familiar with some other reliable sources as well. Besides, one should never forget that the FIRST thing to be done when an accident occurs is asking for qualified assistance. And only after that, we may start taking certain actions to improve the condition or save the life of the injured person. Everything in its turn though.
The number of surfers at surf spots of all kinds has considerably grown lately. This is due to the improving abilities of the people to pay more attention to sports and entertainment and to fulfill their own wishes. But the growing number of novices attending the beaches makes the safety in the ocean worse, as lots of them find no time for learning the rules of behavior in the water and among other surfers beforehand. And if we also consider their minimal skills and experience in riding the waves, we get that critical situation that makes surfing quite dangerous in peak hours.

First aid kit

Hence, before going in for surfing, professionally or as an amateur, you should collect your own first aid kit containing the most important medicine and bandaging materials: antiseptics to clean and sterilize wounds, iodine or its analogues, antibiotic ointment, anesthetics, sterile bandages and gauze, plasters, etc. You never know when you or your friends may need all that stuff.
We believe that a first aid kit for surfing should look like this:
  • Betadine & antiseptic cream
  • Bandages / dressings / gauze / plasters
  • Rid / mosquito repellent
  • Headache pills / aspirin
  • Swimmers ear drops
  • Earplugs / proplugs
  • Immoduim / diorhea stuff

First aid for cuts and wounds

The practical experience shows that most of the injuries and damages are acquired when a surfer hits the ocean bottom or strikes against his own or another surfer's board. It causes numerous cuts and wounds that may look rather scary to the surfer himself and to the people around him.
However, the first thing you should pay attention to when an accident occurs is your own emotional condition. It may seem unimportant at such a moment, but on the contrary it is very important actually. In any situation, no matter what is going on around you and how hard it may seem, you always have to preserve as much self-control as possible and remain as calm as you can be. It can really save your life sometimes.
By the way, since surfing is one of the extreme kinds of sports, every sportsman should be morally ready for that sort of critical situations in order not to lose self-control and to be always aware of what needs to be done in an emergency.
So, if you wound or cut yourself with corals or a board fin, you should immediately come out of the water even if the wound is not too deep. First, even a small amount of blood may attract attention of various sea creatures, including sharks. Second, sea water, especially in southern areas, is just full of all kinds of bacteria and microorganisms. So it's very easy to infect a fresh wound.
Once out of the water, wash the wound with clean water and remove coral pieces, sand and any other foreign materials out of it. Then apply your antiseptic to avoid infections. Ordinary iodine will do. To keep the wound clean, including while waiting for a qualified help to arrive if the injuries are serious, cover the wound with a sterile bandage and fix it with plaster.
If the wound is not that serious and you decide to do without doctor's assistance, you still have to constantly keep an eye on the affected part of your body so that it remains clean. You should timely change the bandages and apply antiseptics to the wound. If you notice that the area around the wound is becoming inflamed, the skin is getting red and there appears pus inside, it means you didn't manage to keep the wound uninfected. Anyway, it's better to ask for professional help. If you are at home, use a piece of bandage wetted with an antiseptic agent to remove the pus, and re-dress the wound.
Never go back into the ocean with an open wound till it closes up completely and never stay under the open sunlight with no dressing on the wound. And you should also remember that in a lot of tropical countries there are an enormous number of various infections dangerous for the human health. In case of any complications, it's always better to immediately see a doctor to get some antibiotics prescribed.

Backbone and neck injuries

First aid for fracturesBackbone and neck injuries occur quite often in surfing. They are rather dangerous as they may lead to disability. In case of such injuries, it's extremely important not to cause any extra harm to the injured person so that his poor condition doesn't get even worse.
Backbone and neck injuries can be detected from an unnatural position of the surfer's body and pricking or numbness of the limbs. At the same time, the injured person himself may be found in a state of posttraumatic shock.
The main thing one should remember when such injuries occur is that the surfer must be fully immobilized. His body must be positioned so that it makes a straight line and then fixed in this position. To help him out of the state of shock, it is required to keep his body warm.

First aid for fractures

Hitting the ocean bottom may also be the reason of fractures, both closed and open ones accompanied with blood losses. As for open fractures, it is required to immediately control bleeding by applying a tourniquet in an area higher than the injured one. Then you have to fix the position of the limb. To do that, you may use any objects around you: a piece of a surfboard, stick or plank, or anything else – tie it tightly to the limb at the fracture spot.

Dangerous sea creatures and first aid for their bites and stings

As a rule, surfers choose southern surf spots in the search for the most attractive waves. But, no matter where you go and what surf spots you find the most captivating, you should first make yourself familiar with the available information about the local sea creatures and the fauna in general. There are lots of sea creatures, particularly in southern countries, that can be not just dangerous, but deadly to a man. So, before going to southern surf spots, you have to be aware of how you should behave there.
We will give you just a few examples describing the types of bites of the creatures that surfers can meet in the ocean and will tell you what should be done in order to render first aid to yourself or to another person.
You can hardly surprise anyone with a jellyfish today. But do we all know that some of them can be deadly to a man?


The so-called Portuguese man-of-war or bluebottle is one of the dangerous kinds of jellyfishes. If you get stung by a bluebottle, you have to immediately call an ambulance or take the injured person to hospital. The advice about vinegar that should be applied to the wound is disproved by some American biologists who believe that vinegar only helps the poison release itself from the stinging cells much faster. In case there are any tentacles in the stung spot, you have to remove them carefully. It is allowed to apply a cold dry compress to the wound.
Among other dangerous jellyfishes, there are also the sea wasp or box jellyfish and another small (its size is only about one centimeter), but a poisonous jellyfish called irukandji. In case one of those jellyfishes stings you, do not scratch or rub the wound, as it makes your blood flow more intense, which causes the poison to spread over the body faster. The same way as in the previous example, while waiting for qualified aid, you can apply a cold dry compress to the wound. Sometimes a jellyfish sting may lead to a cardiac arrest. In this case, an immediate cardiopulmonary resuscitation is required.
If you get attacked by an electric ray or a rockfish, you may place the injured spot into hot but not scorching water. This will relieve the pain considerably. If you are injured by a blue-ringed octopus, a compressive bandage must be applied. In case of shortness of breath or respiratory arrest, artificial pulmonary ventilation must be done.
urchinsLess dangerous, but no less unpleasant and more obvious are encounters with urchins. They live in southern latitudes, at depths of up to 25 m. They can reach about 10 cm in length. With their light-sensitive receptors, they react sharply when a surfer or just anyone simply having a rest on the coast is nearby closing the sunlight. Feeling the danger, urchins immediately attack with their thin and sharp needles that can go deep into a human body.
Yeah, sometimes you really have to watch your step when going into the water! wink
The particular trouble lies in the fact that urchin needles are made of limestone and are quite brittle. Once in a human body, they break easily, making it rather a difficult task to remove them. The poison contained in the needles is not so dangerous to humans, but it can make pain more intense and cause allergic reactions and inflammations. If a needle is inside your body for a long period of time, its poison can lead to joint inflammations and muscle discomfort and pain.
To remove an urchin needle from your body, put the injured area into hot water and then some pour lemon juice or vinegar upon the needle. The acid will make it softer, and it will be easier to remove the needle without breaking it at its end. You can also pour some hot oil on the needle and then apply a bottle with hot water to the spot. When the oil starts evaporating, the needle may rise a little, making it easier to remove it.
If you realize you can't remove the needle from your body, you should better ask for professional assistance. By the way, after being attacked by an urchin, you may also find black or red spots on your body, as the staining agent may have got inside together with the needle. After the needle is removed, the color of your skin will return to its normal condition within a couple of days. But if the redness remains there after that period, it means there still may be some fragments of the needle inside your skin. To avoid problems of this sort when surfing in southern countries, it's better to wear special suits and shoes.
As you can see, surfing is not solely about adrenaline and pleasure. Sometimes we may encounter unforeseen situations that are beyond our control, but we should be ready for them though. And sometimes, first aid can save the life of the injured person – everyone must remember that!
Surfing: Safety Basics. Part IV. Shark attacks