Stab Magazine | Is It Time For Surfers To Start Wearing Protective Gear?

Is It Time For Surfers To Start Wearing Protective Gear?

Dusty Payne’s wipeout has raised some concerns.

news // Jan 11, 2018
Words by stab
Reading Time: 4 minutes

Just yesterday, Tom Carey informed us that Dusty’s crash resulted in a broken jaw and a fractured skull. The doctors are expecting a full recovery, but still. A broken jaw is a broken jaw and a fractured skull is a fractured skull. 

After getting knocked unconscious and held under for three (3) waves, Dusty was lucky to have the quick-acting Keoki Saguibo, Mikey ‘Red’ O’Shaughnessy, Jimmy ‘Uluboi’ Napeahi, and several others to help pull him and get him to shore.

Lucky lucky. Video: Surf Slab

But as seen by an incident just hours later at nearby Rocky Point, where an unidentified man dragged from the water was unable to be resuscitated, this isn’t always the case. You can’t always count on people getting there soon enough, if at all. Which raises the question, why do most surfers shy away from precautionary measures in (smaller) waves of consequence?

The ocean is one of the most dynamic and powerful forces on earth, making any perception of safety in the surf illusory, but there are products specifically designed to help offset the ocean’s perils, including helmets and impact/flotation vests. Thanks to the teste-driven culture that steers our sport, it’s considered uncool to use these devices in waves below 30-feet. Some mock their use altogether.  

Yesterday ex-pro surfer and current Dakine Marketing Director, Micah Nickens, offered a proposal to the surfing public via Facebook. In a short paragraph, Micah confronts this anti-safety stigma with the tone of a man who’s seen too many friends gasping for air. You can read it below:

Screen Shot 2018 01 09 at 11.32.56 AM

They have a point.

Micah, obviously affected by Dusty’s incident and the slew of near-fatal moments that have come before it (including those of Owen Wright, Evan Geiselman, and Kalani Chapman, who nearly drowned at Pipeline, and Aaron Gold, who was seconds from death after a bad fall at Cloudbreak), thinks it’s time we drop this “machismo bullshit” and start surfing waves of consequence with just a hair of logic — in the form of safety equipment.

Wearing a helmet and impact-vest ups your chances of remaining conscious after a nasty fall. If you do get knocked out, they also enhance your buoyancy, which makes rescue missions infinitely easier, thus increasing your chance of survival. The more protective gear we wear, in theory, the less likely we are to die surfing.

Screen Shot 2018 01 09 at 5.42.24 PM

TC is very cool and still very much alive. Photo: Tom Servais

Some would refute this logic by implying that safety gear provides a false sense of security, therefore encouraging people to surf waves outside of their comfort zone, which is dangerous to not only themselves, but also others around them. Though I would argue this concept applies more to big, deep-water breaks (Jaws, Mavs) than it does to technical, shallow breaks (Pipeline, Rockies). 

And what about the Cool Factor? It could be argued that the whole point of surfing is to look and feel like a bloody legend, and are protectionary accoutrements, in every aspect of life, not the epitome of lame? (See: pocket protectors, Zinka, condoms, etc.) In my eyes, this is the most common reason that surfers shy away from safety gear. It looks dorky and kills your street cred, making it less valuable than the extra living percentage it provides. 

It should be noted that other sports, like hockey, faced a similar dilemma in the 1900s. In that case, it took sanctions from the official sporting league (NHL) to require the use of helmets by all athletes. This, of course, because the athletes (ahem, men) were too stubborn to admit that a puck flying 100-mph toward their heads was worth overriding their perceived sense of masculinity. 

Screen Shot 2018 01 09 at 6.07.39 PM

On this day I witnessed Benny Serrano, the ex-Aussie boxing champ and thick-lip aficionado, take off on the wave of the morning. He proceeded to cartwheel down the face, get sucked over the falls, and pop up 10 seconds later with his Gath helmet nowhere to be found. Benny said he never hit the bottom, but the force of this wave stripped his silver brain box like a famished gorilla would a banana peel. I’m not sure if that applies here but it was a hell of a sight to see.   

However surfing is a mostly recreational sport, meaning the WSL or any other organization would have little control over this issue outside of the competitive arena — one which 99% of surfers never enter. Although it could be argued that a rule shift on their end might inspire a cultural change amongst the broader surfing community. 

When considering this quandary on a personal level, I find myself at an existential crossroads. I hold no lust for death, and I can admit that Micah’s proposal is very well-reasoned, but I also don’t want to wear a vest and helmet at slightly overhead Rockies or even Backdoor. Frankly, at any wave that I’d feel comfortable surfing, I’d feel uncomfortable sporting protective gear. Ego trumps logic once again.

But what about you, dear readers? Are you prepared to don the puffy-vest and hard-hat for the mere sake of existence, or are you, like me, irrationally vain? 


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