Stab Magazine | A Surfer’s Ear Horror Story And A Means Of Preventing It Happening To You

A Surfer’s Ear Horror Story And A Means Of Preventing It Happening To You

Creatures Of Leisure/Ear Lab’s SurfEars 3 may save your life.

Words by Stab

A lifetime of playing in the water left me with ruined ears by the time I was in my mid-twenties. Hearing loss, chronic infections, water trapped in my ear canals at all times “Huh? What? WHAT? Can you say that again? One more time?”

No big deal. Just the price you pay to play. There was no avoiding Surfers’ Ear, it was just part of the deal. Something you accepted until it grew bad enough to justify paying a doctor to chop off your ear and grind away the excess bone growth caused by exposure to all that cold water and wind.

That day came a few years later, and by 29 I’d had both ears drilled. No more infections, I could hear again!

I didn’t know that the damage had already been done. Chronic ear infections had led to the development of a cholesteatoma, a non-cancerous tumor behind the eardrum. It lurked and festered in its hidden nook until, early one morning, I awoke with a fever and the side of my head swollen to grotesque proportions. 

I knew it was serious when the radiologist called in a dozen doctors to see my MRI. They were fascinated by what they saw.

“You didn’t know anything was wrong?”

“Nope. Other than looking like a freak I feel fine, more or less. What’s going on?”

“You have mastoiditis. It’s going to require surgery. You’ve been freediving and surfing all this time?”

“Yes. I don’t understand what’s going on. Is it serious? Am I going to die?”

“You might.” 

Rory, seeming pleased to still have a pulse.

The cholesteatoma caused an infection that had been eating away at my skull for years. It was pure luck that it had popped outwards, rather than in, leaving me with a massive bag of pus hanging off my head rather than poisoning my brain and killing me. 

I was on a plane to a specialist in California the next day. My ear was lopped off, again, skull ground down and scraped clean of infection. My ossicles, those tiny magic bones that allow you to hear, were removed and I was left profoundly deaf in my left ear.

It was another two years before I was fully recovered. Multiple follow-up surgeries ensued. My ossicles were replaced with a titanium prosthesis so I could hear again. My eardrum was reinforced with scavenged cartilage so it could withstand the pressure of freediving. It was constant pain and frustration and boredom and weight gain.

It all could have been avoided with some fucking earplugs.

Preventive care isn’t cool. No one looks rad wearing a helmet or with earplugs dangling from their head holes. Those of us who grew up in the 80s, before concussions were bad for you, have likely had our brains changed by the numerous times we woke up in an unfamiliar place after bouncing our skulls off the pavement. The severity varies for each individual, but there will always be a non-insignificant number of unlucky souls who pay a higher price than everyone else.

Ear infections don’t seem serious. Pop in some drops, wait a bit, and you’re fine. 

But you could always be among the unlucky, like me and Gary Busey, and end up profoundly changed for the worse. Learn from our mistakes. An ounce of prevention is truly worth a pound of cure.

Ear plugs have come a long way from the hunks of wax I refused to jam in my ear. They’re more comfortable, don’t affect your hearing as much, and stay in a hell of a lot better. Good plugs don’t come cheap, but they’re worth every penny. And they’re far cheaper than maxing out your insurance co-pay on multiple consecutive years.

Rory appropriately captioned this high resolution JPEG “Gross Stuff”.

And now, a solution. Introducing SurfEars 3.0 by Creatures Of Leisure/Ear Labs.

The thing that really stinks about the blue tack and wax method is their deafening effect. 

Plug them up often enough and you’ll get used to it, but lineup conversation and ability to hear old mate on the inside trying to call you off will be severely impeded. Not ideal if you’re tip-toeing at a new zone.

Creatures Of Leisure and Ear Labs have an answer: Plugs that allow sound to pass through without leaking a drop. They call them Surf Ears and they recently sent a handful of their third iterations to StabHQ for test driving.

Now, to add blue tooth connectivity…

Pulling the rubber spaghetti strings from their squishy, magnetically enclosed, storage cocoon, it was apparent that Creatures and Ear Labs have done their R&D homework. The buds are ergonomically designed, almost alien-like, with a pronounced horn that wedges into your lobe to hold them in place during duckdives and wipeouts. Should you cop an unusually heavy beating, the neck-wrapping pull strings will have you covered.

Also contained within the pouch was two spare sets of plugs, in different sizes, one smaller, one larger. When it comes to ear plugging, one-size-fits-all is not a thing.

How’d they hold up in the brine?

First session there was leakage, averted by replacing with the larger buds. Second session the gooey plugs functioned as intended, they remained water-tight and while hearing was expectedly hampered, there was far more clarity than the tacking option. Perhaps twice as much. It still felt like surfing through an underwater camera housing, just not quite as bad.

3.0 20544
Different sizes for different ear holes.

They never popped out, so the dorky strings (the brave can detach them) were never relied on, mind you there was nothing over three feet in the mix.

Final thoughts; far better than filling your ears with goop. Worthy of experimentation at the very least. If you’re in the water on the reg and are feeling a little squeamish after Rory’s recount, then grab a pair, find the size that plugs you up best, and give them a run. 

While protecting those auditory canals is your primary focus, hearing comes second. Having both is ideal.

Endorsed by the clear-eared Sir Conner Coffin.

We’ll hand the mic to Creatures Of Leisure for the tech deets.

Introducing the brand new SurfEars 3.0, the worlds only earplug that helps your ears without affecting your hearing. Designed to let sound in while keeping water out, utilizing unique acoustic mesh specifically developed to block out water, cold air, dirt and bacteria and elements that are known to create common issues like ear inflammation or bone growth in the ear canal known as surfers ear. 

Created by surfers and engineers from Sweden, SurfEars 3.0 has undergone some excellent improvements to enhance overall fit, design, and functionality. 

-Premium Case & Minimal Eco Packaging
-Improved Leash & Color Coding
-Softer Tips With Improved Water Seal
-Reinforced Mesh & Stronger Adhesive
-Double Curved Wing & Tilted Core For Perfect Fit
-Wider Size Range

Head this way to explore a little further.


Comments are a Stab Premium feature. Gotta join to talk shop.

Already a member? Sign In

Want to join? Sign Up


Most Recent

Latin Americans Have an Undeniable Affinity for the Tube

Directional ambidexterity can be quite fun.

Apr 13, 2021

Did We Just See The Best Performance Since John John At Margaret River In 2017?

What the data says about Newcastle.

Apr 12, 2021

Stab Podcast: Will Italo’s Airs Be Relevant in 10 Years?

Let's discuss, on Stab CUSP.

Apr 12, 2021

Micky Clarke Moves With Disciplined Aggression

Emo Micky finds an outlet on CH 11 TV.

Apr 11, 2021

Click or Miss: Is Vlogging Harder Than It Looks?

Click or Miss Vol 23.

Apr 11, 2021

The End Of The Dark Ages On Reunion Island

After fifteen years of chaos, shark attacks, and surf bans, a recently-launched project looks to…

Apr 11, 2021

A Tasteful Waltz With Unpredictable Backwash

Mason Ho and Sheldon Paison put their dancing shoes on.

Apr 11, 2021

Weekend Misc: How Do You Know When to End Your Session?

An argument for ending on a high note.

Apr 10, 2021

Former Supreme Head Brendon Babenzien Leans Into Surf

Click to see 'Noah's' line + their latest Vans Vault collab.

Apr 10, 2021

Italo Ferreira And Carissa Moore Are The Champions

Medina's claim, though.

Apr 10, 2021

The WSL Reveals New Events For The 2021 Season

Including an event in Mexico for the first time in 15 years.

Apr 10, 2021

Stab Podcast: “There Hadn’t Been A Shark Attack In 15 Years.”

Kirra at its best, upcoming Stab projects, and witnessing a shark attack.

Apr 10, 2021

Is There Anything Better Than A Solid Beach Break?

Joao Chumbino, Samuel Pupo, and Mateus Herdy explore sand bottomed greatness.

Apr 9, 2021

This Was A 10

Carissa Moore’s internet-disrupting air and other highlights from Day 4 in Newcastle.

Apr 9, 2021

Shane Dorian On Dealing With Injuries, Stepping Back From Jaws, And The Future Of Surfing

"Ever since I got really into big waves, I always planned on not being into…

Apr 9, 2021

Ain’t That Swell Wreaks Havoc On Newcastle

Ryan Callinan's risotto will solve 99.99% of the world's problems.

Apr 8, 2021

Morgan Cibilic Just Surprised Everyone

Including, but not limited to, John John Florence. Notes from Day 3 in Newcastle.

Apr 8, 2021

Mick Fanning On The Best Kirra Ever (?) And That Mitch Parkinson Drop In

"I wouldn’t hear the end of it if I said it was the 'Best Kirra…

Apr 8, 2021