To plug or not to plug…Surfer’s Ear explained.

Hey Sentinels!

Summer’s finally here and it’s time to hit the beach or your local pool!

This week I would like to share a story with you that also tells of a condition that most people who spend considerable time in the water may very easily acquire. One is more common than the other, but if left untreated, both can seriously undermine water activities for the long term.

I’m referring to Swimmers Ear, and its more insidious cousin, Surfer’s Ear.

In the following article, I am going share with you my first experience with Swimmer’s Ear and how I was able to cure it. I am also including a brief explanation by Dr. Michael O’ Leary, from the Alvarado Hospital in San Diego, California, and EddieP (no last name) a surfer who tells his actual experience with Surfer’s Ear.

These videos will show you how you get both, what they are, and how to prevent and treat both conditions once you acquire them. I hope you find them useful and informative.

Let’s dive right in!

Remembering an old friend…

The Mexican Pipeline. Zicatela Beach. Puerto Escondido.

In our culture, this legendary beach break located in the state of Oaxaca, Mexico, has become one of the best and heaviest beach breaks in the world.

I’ve had the fortune of experiencing the power of this break first hand in four past visits to Puerto. And I vividly remember the first time I went out.

My high school friends and I arranged a 10-day stay. It was an experience, to say the least. And I recall that the day when I finally set foot on Playa Zicatela.

It really wasn’t that big out.

Mexpipe looked very makeable that day, even fun. The sun was out and the deep green sets just kept coming, barreling into hollow bliss. I remember hearing the sound of pressure made by the foam-spit rushing out of some larger sets. After making my very inexperienced analysis of the break (I was only 16 at the time), I entered the water and began to make my way to the take-off zone.

This took nearly all my energy but I finally made it.

On my way, I had been lucky avoiding some of the larger sets, and that was a relief. Seeing your first cavernous barrel this close is something you never forget.

Now past the impact zone, I waited for my wave. A few other surfers were out too, mostly the local crew, sprinkled with a few ex-pat surfers, and one wide-eyed 16-year-old kid, about to enter the big leagues.

I looked back at the beach. I had traveled sideways at least 20 meters from where I had started. WTF??

A moment of reckoning…

One of the locals, I remember, suddenly began paddling, fast and effortless, away from me. I turned around and the biggest set I had ever seen was closing in on us all. Everyone started paddling furiously toward it. We all made it, including me, but only just.

The explosion behind me was like nothing I had ever experienced before. It was massive.

And for a moment I was more scared than I had ever been before.

I realized I was completely in over my head. I paddled for a long time, climbing sets that could’ve been The One…who knows. All I knew for the next 30 minutes is that I wanted to get on a wave that would take me out and in the process, not kill me.

Fortunately, all the paddling I did helped settle my nerves. I recall getting into the rhythm of the incoming sets and the lulls that followed. Confidence returned, however slowly, and I actually began enjoying myself. I even began looking for a good wave to ride.

And as if on queue, a nice set, not as big as the others I had been avoiding, began closing in on us. I positioned myself perfectly and began paddling with all the energy I had left.

And then it happened.

I was riding the wave, facing the bottom section directly in front of me. It may have been too big of a wave, but to me, it felt huge. It sounds cliché, but it really did happen so fast. Before I knew it, I had made successfully down the face of the wave.

All instincts at the highest level ever, I think, were there, at that moment, and this led to the bottom-turn of a lifetime, allowing me to place myself and my board right in the sweet spot of the wave, the lip slowly forming into a barrel that ended up being the most exciting and scariest of my life.

The wave closed out.

And for a moment I was deep in a crystal chamber. Everything from there went in slow-motion camera from then on. Again, so cliché, but so true! The chandelier collapsed and I was swallowed up by the wave.

Into the dark…

The impact and turbulence were beyond anything I could have ever imagined.

My surf leash ripped violently away from my right foot. All I thought at that instant is “Oh shit…my board!”.

The energy at Zicatela beach is hard to describe. It’s deceptive. Probably why so many people get seriously hurt or worse. I  felt it now,  in every bone of my body. I slammed against the sand bottom (not much comfort…it’s like concrete mixed with sandpaper).

I now understood what other surfers meant when they said that wiping out in a large wave is like being inside a washing machine.

You are as far away from control as you can possibly be. Nature is now in control. You take the backseat on this one. If you fight it, you have a good chance of not making it out alive.

In the ensuing chaos and darkness, I recalled vaguely what I had read in some surfing magazine. Keep loose. Don’t fight it. When you touch bottom, push up as if your life depends on it. I did just that. And moments later, which seemed way, way too long, I resurfaced, breathing and filling my starved lungs with precious, beautiful air.

The whole experience sort of looked like this (but not this big…NEVER this big!):

As I regained my senses on the surface, all I recall was giving thanks that I had not being pounded by another wave again. As I swam back to the beach, I recall seeing my board, or at least the front end of it, floating about who knows how many meters in front of me.

The board had been cleanly snapped in two.

The rear of the board was later found, a few hundred yards down the beach.

Humbled…and wiser.

Rattled and exhausted, I finally reached the beach, sitting down on the sand, not caring about my broken board, which now lay useless, a few feet away from me, floating in and out of the water, as much, much smaller waves washed it in and out of the water. I sat there, breathing heavily, trying to catch my breath, with my head between my knees.

So this is what gnarly meant.

After a while I stood up, collecting my broken prize. I felt woozy and a sloshing sound in my left ear began to bother me. I tried getting it out but it was useless. Not giving it much thought, I made my way back to my hotel, sure it would get better with some rest.

As the afternoon progressed, the discomfort continued. I tried a couple of home remedies to get the water out of my ear. Nothing worked. Finally, I decided to ask one of the local crew how I could get rid of the water in my ear.

He mentioned something about Surfer’s Ear, but that it that wasn’t probably what I had since that condition is more frequent when surfing in cold water. No, what I had was Swimmer’s Ear. And that he had his fixed by blowing hot air into the ear with a hairdryer.

Thanking him, I went back to the hotel and asked for a hair dryer to the receptionist. I recall she looked at me funny. Remember I was only 16 at the time. But she eventually gave me the dryer.

I proceeded to my room and did what the local told me to do. A few minutes later, I no longer felt the ocean inside my ear.

It was amazing! Problem solved.

Swimmer’s Ear and Surfer’s Ear, cold and warm waters…

However, Surfer’s Ear was something that I had learned was much more serious and I was more grateful than ever for the warm waters of Mexico.

If you plan to spend a lot of your time in the water during this summer season, give yourself a few minutes to learn a bit about Swimmer’s Ear or, better yet, Surfer’s Ear. The later could very well ruin your summer fun.

Fortunately, there are simple ways to prevent this from happening.

Below is a video from Dr. Michael O’Leary, from the Alvarado Hospital in San Diego, who explains very clearly the difference between Swimmer’s Ear and Surfer’s Ear, and how to treat both.

Following Dr. Oleary’s explanation, you will find another video by Eddie, one of many surfers who has suffered from Surfer’s Ear and his journey to cure his condition. Please note that Eddie will share a couple of images from his experience which you may find a bit disturbing.

But it’s all for the greater good. Here are both videos:

Earplugs everyone! Earplugs!! That’s the ticket.  Check this article by You’ll find more great information about this condition. There are a couple of earplug reviews at the end of the article which may also prove useful.

Here are some of the better-known earplug brands:

Westone DefendEar
Tyr Silicone Molded Earplugs
Zoggs Aqua Plugs 

There is no reason why earplugs should be shunned or dismissed. Whatever your activity in the water, the fact remains that earplugs are the surest way to guarantee your ears’ health in the water during this summer and many other summers to come.

It’s all about prevention, as Dr. O’Leary and Eddie have recommended in their videos.

Be a responsible swimmer or surfer.

Take care of your body, especially your ears, over this summer season.

If you have found this post useful, please share your comments below. Also, if you know someone who could benefit from this information, please share it with him or her.

Thank you for reading!

Next week I will be talking a bit about nutrition and inflammation. Why we get it and what kind of food we should be eating to prevent this from happening.

Gotta look good at the beach! See you then!