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.
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?”
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
5 More People Just Qualified For The 2022 CT
The Haleiwa Challenger sees 8/12 spots sealed for next season.
Surfing Can Put You In A Flow State Which Optimizes Your Entire Life, Or Perhaps Not
Stab's resident neuroscientist unpacks 'flow' for us.
And The Winners Of Snapt4’s Best Barrel And Monster Maneuver Are…
$10k for you, and you!
Pete Mel: “I Was Always Poking The Bear — I Just Wanted Attention”
Jump on the pod with surfing's (secretly) most interesting man.
The Eurozone Crisis
Why isn’t such a wave-rich continent producing more World Tour surfers?
That’s A Nice Reef Break You’ve Got There, Would Be A Shame If I Parked My Big Fucken Boat On It
Why a torched port expansion in the Canary Islands threatens waves, marine life, and surf…
We’d Take This 3-Board Timmy Patterson Quiver Anywhere In The World (But Especially Indo)
Testing the Synthetic '84, Stoke-Ed, and Step-Up models in the Ments.
You’ll Want To Watch The Trailer For Peter Hamblin’s New Film, ‘Sweet Adventure’
Then the whole thing at the London Surf Film Festival (free tickets available inside).
Watch: Everything & All — The Peter Mel Story
An unflinchingly honest account of one of surfing's most familiar, but little known, characters.
Halfway Through Haleiwa, What’s The Qualification Picture Look Like?
And how did a surfer who lost move up the leaderboard?
A Photo Essay You’ll Peruse From Cover To Cover After A Christmas Ham And Too Many Chardonnays
Treat yourself or a friend to vol. 2 of ‘Craig’ by John Respondek.
Breaking: The Eddie Will Go (Assuming There’s Waves)
Iconic Waimea event given the green light by organizers for winter 2021/22.
Watch: Jaleesa Vincent Is A Strong Contender For SSOTY
‘Eerie’ is a funky lil’ surf edit from the MVP of Stab Highway.
Surfers Can (Help) Change The World
Four surf-based activists explain why, and how, surfers can get politically involved.