To Wear Protective Gear When Surfing – Yea or Nay?

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Mother Nature is pretty unpredictable. One moment you’re riding one of her majestic waves, the next thing you know, you’re caught inside a monstrous swell without a way out. Some live to tell the tale, while others are not as lucky.

Dusty Payne being rescued by surfers and paramedics after his wipeout

Just recently, Dusty Payne suffered a serious wipeout that left him with a smashed forehead and a broken jaw. Fortunately for the Maui surfer, there were fast-acting individuals around the area who helped him, so he’s now on the road to recovery. But you can’t always count on people showing up at the precise moment that you need them. What if Keoki Saguibo and others didn’t reach Payne fast enough? He could have suffered even more serious injuries or worse…

Following Payne’s wipeout, ex-pro surfer Micah Nickens “suggested” that surfers should start using flotation devices whenever charging dangerous waves.

Micah Nickens “suggesting” protective gear | Facebook

Seems logical, but why do we seldom (if not never) see surfers use safety gear today? Is it because it instills fake confidence, making you feel like you can take on any type of wave (regardless of your skills)? Is it because you think that protective gear can alter your surfing performance? Or is it because helmets and flotation devices make you look uncool?

In the past, surfers weren’t shy about using helmets and other protective gear. Former world champion Tom Carroll was always seen surfing with a helmet – whether he was competing or just free surfing. He attributed his decision to don the headgear to when Steve ‘Beaver’ Massfeller suffered a life-altering injury when he (Massfeller) went head first on Pipeline’s reefs.

In an interview, he explained that he kind of knew that he had to start wearing one because he wasn’t the type to pull back. In fact, it has saved him countless times. “I hit the reef head-first a couple of times,” Carroll shared. “And then at Chopes, the board speared through the helmet and into my ear… It was a freak accident, but I’m just glad I had the helmet on.”

With the growing number of incidents similar to Payne’s (remember Owen’s Pipeline beating that took him out of the 2016 CT), it’s puzzling why surfing federations have yet to advise or promote their use.

Obviously, impact vests and helmets will not prevent you from wiping out, but they most definitely can increase your chances of surviving a nasty fall. Most fatal surfing accidents are consequences of head injury, so if you can minimize the odds of getting knocked out, then the less likely you are to drown. If you do end up unconscious, the vest will keep you buoyant, hence making the rescue a breeze.

Tom Carroll conquering Pipeline wearing his cool helmet | Surfer Today

Though there is some truth to them affecting your surfing performance, it’s not something that you can’t get used to over time. “When I first started wearing one at Pipe I use to get collected by the lip, it was just a shocker,” Carroll explained. “You kind of have to be prepared to wear it when it’s two foot to get used to it.”

And as for the cool factor? Tom Carroll and Australian surfing hall of famer Gary Elkerton wear helmets and no one would dare say that they’re dorks. Now, if only Kelly Slater or John John Florence would wear them during a competition and make protective gear cool again.

You may or may not choose to wear a helmet or impact vest – it’s your call. But do keep in mind that no one is exempted from surfing accidents. Pro surfers have died or hurt themselves badly. Surfing is a dangerous sport, but it seems we forget that concept from time to time (at least, until something bad happens). So what will it be – vanity and ego, or logic?

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