Jamie Morton is the NZ Herald's science reporter.

Exposing the injuries beneath the waves

Student and surfer Debbie Remnant says her project to understand surfing injuries is a “real passion”.
Surfer and Unitec osteopathy student Debbie Remnant has begun a research project to gain a better understanding of the physical toll of surfing in New Zealand. Photo / Jwan Milek
Surfer and Unitec osteopathy student Debbie Remnant has begun a research project to gain a better understanding of the physical toll of surfing in New Zealand. Photo / Jwan Milek

Shining a light on the hidden physical toll of wipe-outs and other surfing injuries is the aim of a first-of-its-kind Kiwi study.

While statistics tell us that just as many Kiwis surf as play rugby, surprisingly little is known about the injuries that come with riding waves.

That's despite the Accident Compensation Corporation spending millions each year on thousands of surfing-relating injuries.

Raglan surfer Debbie Remnant now hopes to lift the lid with a nationwide research project she's leading as part of her osteopathy studies at Auckland's Unitec.

"The motivation behind the whole study is to prevent surfing injuries, especially musculoskeletal injuries," she said. "But before we can do any research like that we first have to identify what the problem is here in New Zealand."

She knew otherwise fit and healthy surfers who were carrying serious or chronic injuries.

"I've got friends in their late 20s and early 30s, some competitive surfers and others recreational surfers, who are having shoulder and hip operations due to surfing-related injuries."

Through a survey of 1500 people, she's keen to pinpoint what injuries surfers are suffering and the circumstances around them.

She said traumatic injury might occur while riding the face of a wave, duck-diving (sinking the board under the water) or getting in or out of the water. Years of paddling through swells could also lead to overuse injury.

"Surfing is often not an organised sport - generally there's no coach, no regular training or anything like that," she said. "Warm-ups and warm-downs don't really happen that much. You just go when the surf's good."

Ms Remnant said she considered the project a "real passion" and felt the study might result in new measures to prevent chronic injuries.

"Most surfers I know want to surf until they're at least 80 - it's not a sport you retire from when you're 30, it's a regular part of our life."

Surfers can complete the survey at surfinginjury.co.nz, via the Surfing Injuries NZ Facebook page or at swellmap.co.nz.

Debbie Remnant. Photo / Supplied
Debbie Remnant. Photo / Supplied

Wipe-Outs

• There are an estimated 145,000 surfers in New Zealand.
• Surveys have shown 4.5 per cent of adults and 65 per cent of high school students have surfed in the previous year.
• ACC spends almost $5 million on surfing injury claims each year.
• Between July 2013 and June 2014, there were more than 5200 ACC claims for surfing.

- NZ Herald

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