Wear earplugs when you surf
Surfer’s ear is nasty, and it’s not rare. Luckily for us, it’s completely avoidable. With one little piece of kit, you can avoid one of the worst parts of cold water surfing.
What is surfer’s ear?
When you repeatedly dunk your head in cold water (that’s any surfer outside of the tropics), or the wind is up (sorry warm water surfers, that includes you too) your body can respond by growing bone across your ear canal. The bone growth – exostosis – narrows the ear canal, making it harder for water to drain and more likely that you’ll get an ear infection.
After repeated ear infections and serious hearing loss, you might start thinking about medical attention. This, my friends, is the grizzly bit.
The only way to overcome surfer’s ear, and there’s a chance it will come back, is to allow an ENT specialist to cut this newly formed bone out of your skull. That means taking a scalpel to the skin behind your ear, pulling it away like a flap, then taking a drill or chisel to the offending bone.
So how do you avoid it? Stop surfing?
I hate earplugs. They’re annoying and fiddly – especially when you’re wearing gloves – and they can be really uncomfortable. But surfer’s ear is worse. So I use the least annoying ones I can.
There are a load of different earplugs on the market. If I could offer you one tip, it’s not to scrimp. Luckily for you, that’s what I did. The upshot is that I’ve collected dozens of different types until, eventually, investing in something worthwhile.
Here are a few I’ve tried, and some I’ve had recommended.
After years of trialling, this is what I recommend the most. They do what they’re supposed to do (water out, sound in) and they have some good additional features, like different sizes, a mini-leash to keep them secure and a fancy little carry case for travel. Most of my surfing friends rave about these earplugs too.
Bottom line, they’re comfortable and secure, so you don’t have to muck about once you’re in the water.
Doc’s Pro Plugs
This is a pair I sometimes revert back to. They’re musicians’ earplugs, so not as good as they could be for keeping water out, but they allow sound in. They also have a little leash that you can run through your wetsuit zipper, so they’re not going to disappear when you get worked.
These are from the same school as Doc’s Pro Plugs. I’ve not tried them yet, but they look to have all the same functionality with a little more staying power. Water stays out, sound can get in, and there’s a sturdy looking leash to hold it all together.
Seals Balance Pro Ear Cap
These are the classic “bung” type plugs. They block your ear completely. No water can get in, but that means the same for sound.
Pro tip (for the Brits reading this)
I’ve been told recently that the NHS can provide you with custom fit ear plugs for something in the region of £20-£30.
Might be one to explore?