24 January 2011

Until There are Armored Wetsuits

As I sit with my left leg propped up, recovering from a fin hit to my thigh a few days ago, I’m stewing about my forced hiatus from surfing and ruminating on what could have prevented it.

I’m not sure why the woman on the green shortboard didn’t see me when she turned into my leg (red helmet, light blue board, definitely in her field of vision). It might have helped if I’d yelled loudly, but it seemed as if there was no time: she was about to hit me, and I needed to turtle fast in a futile attempt to use my surfboard as a shield.

What would certainly have lessened the damage is if she'd had Pro Teck fins on her board. Pro Tecks have a flexible edge designed to reduce fin cuts. I’ve got them on all of my boards (except the 9:Fish, which employs an unavailable size). There are some gruesome photos on Surf Co Hawaii’s website that document the destruction wrought by ordinary fins. When I was learning to surf, one not-very-serious, self-inflicted fin cut was all it took for me to adopt this sensible safety measure. In subsequent years, I’ve had occasion to hit my legs hard into two of these fins, causing both fins to break, but I was not cut nor did I incur a significant contusion. Had the shortboarder employed them, my wetsuit would not have been slashed and I would not be limping around, unable to bend my knee past about 70 degrees without pain, and kept out of the water for who knows how much longer.

Sadly, I’m the only surfer I know who uses Pro Tecks. The reason I hear most often for sticking with standard fins is that Pro Tecks wouldn’t perform as well. Although an expert or pro surfer might make that case, at the beginner through intermediate levels, I really don’t think the difference would be that noticeable.

There’s more behind that excuse, however. Although it’s much more common, I’ve also noticed that many surfers don’t add nose guards to their boards, not even on a sharp and pointy thruster. Since the nose rides out of the water, any reasonable justification escapes me. Riding an unguarded thruster at a crowded break is like surfing with a spear attached to the front of your board, with the primary danger to other surfers. Standard fins are a danger to a board's rider as well. Although some people I know take the trouble to sand them to make the edge less sharp, they've still been cut during wipeouts (fortunately all were wearing wetsuits that took the main damage instead of their skin).

Although I’ve started to see more helmets in the lineup recently, very few surfers choose to wear them, another safety device forsworn. I can attest that a helmet has saved my head several times from a hard blow by my surfboard or another’s.

So what’s the reason most surfers won’t take reasonable steps to improved the safety of the sport for themselves and other riders? I can only attribute it to the machismo inherent in surfing, a fear that they won’t look cool, a statement that they’re so good they don’t need safety accessories, a concern that they’ll be seen as a kook. And me? Frankly, I don’t care what people think when they see me out in the lineup in my helmet, on a board with Pro Teck fins and nose and tail guards; if those things keep me a little safer, I’ll have more water time and less down time - and so will anyone I have the misfortune to run into.

For now, I wait for my leg to heal. Perhaps one day someone will invent an armored wetsuit to protect against injuries such as this. Hmm, that might also be useful against the toothsome Landlord...


  1. Sorry to hear you are out of the water. I know only too well how frustrating that is. Hope you heal fast.

  2. Just wanted to say I love love your blog and it is the best surfer blog on the Internet. I look so forward to reading all your new posts and getting your viewpoint. I hope that your leg heals very soon and you're back in the water quickly!