When surfers are young, with flexible bodies and joints that don’t yet ache, it is easy to ignore the potential for injury that our favorite pastime holds. But after a decade or two in the water —after millions of paddle repetitions and thousands of torqueing maneuvers, not to mention an untold number of wipeouts — our bodies inevitably become unbalanced and start to break down, and those knees, shoulders, backs and ankles that once felt invincible begin to betray us. The recent World Tour event at Trestles is a great example of our fragility, as nearly 15% of the top 34 had to miss the event due to injury, and both Kelly Slater and Dane Reynolds surfed their heats injured and ended up bowing out early. It isn’t just the upper echelon of surfing that suffers from strained ligaments and broken bones. As I write this, I am recuperating from a shoulder injury that I received six weeks ago on a swell strike to Chile. There are surely thousands of others like me who are currently dry docked and waiting for their bodies to heal.
In the course of our careers as wave riders, practically every surfer will spend at least some time out of the water with an injury. While this time away can be extremely frustrating, there are a number of things we can do to help our recovery go smoothly. Here are a few tips for surviving your next injury:
1: Don’t skimp on the rehab. As easy as it might be to sit on the couch and feel sorry for yourself, the fastest way to get back in the water is to take a proactive approach to your injury and concentrate on rehabilitation. Enlist the expertise of a good physical therapist, set up a routine, and then stick to it. Primary injuries often result in secondary problems caused by atrophy and disuse, so do whatever you can to maintain flexibility and strength and speed up the recovery process.
2: Watch what you eat. Comfort food is nice — especially when you are laid up with an injury and feeling a bit bummed — but the reality is that what you put into your body plays a big part in the healing process. When dealing with an injury, the body requires extra nutrients, so ensure that you are eating a lot of veggies, fruits, whole grains, legumes, and nuts—basically everything you should already be eating anyway. An added bonus to a healthy recovery diet is that you are less likely to gain weight while off your feet and inactive.
3: Cross train. Remember when pro surfers did little more than surf and party? These days, it seems like everyone is on a training regimen—and it can all be traced back to a potentially career-ending injury. In 2004, Mick Fanning tore his hamstring off the bone during a mistimed floater—but instead of sitting on his ass and wallowing in drunken self-pity, he trained tirelessly throughout the rehabilitation process, and ended up coming back fitter and stronger than ever. His two world titles are testament to the fact that cross training does wonders for your surfing. Biking, running and yoga are all great ways to strengthen both the muscular and cardiovascular systems. While you are out of the water, look for other ways to stay fit — you might just come out of your injury ripping harder than before you went down.
4: Do things you normally wouldn’t do. Surfers can be a pretty narrow-minded bunch, and we often fail to take advantage of opportunities to do anything besides play in the waves. But a balanced life is a happy life so use your injury as motivation to broaden your horizons and see what else the world has to offer. Spend time with people that you love, find ways to express yourself artistically or musically, look for new business opportunities, or try traveling without boards for a change. Finding new ways to express yourself will keep your mind off of your injury and make you a more well-rounded person.
5: Keep a healthy perspective. Let’s be honest for a moment. Yes, it is a bummer that your body is broken. And yes, it sucks that you don’t get to surf for a few months. But as bad as your situation might seem right now, things could be a lot worse. There are 20,000 children starving to death as you read this article, and over a billion of the earth’s inhabitants don’t have access to clean drinking water. Instead of feeling sorry for yourself, spend this time counting your blessings — or better yet, finding ways to give aid to those who are really suffering. Nothing makes one feel better than bringing happiness to others, and surfing can often become a very selfish pursuit, so take this opportunity to focus on others. You’ll be surprised how much happier it will make you feel. Plus, a positive attitude does wonders for the healing process.
For more from Matt, see Surf Sleep Travel.