The European Association of Surfing Doctors wishes you and yours a very Merry Christmas and Happy New Year!


Gastrointestinal symptoms in surfer populations (during the Christmas season!)

Don't swim immediately after eating. Picture Credit: Irish Water Safety.

Don’t swim immediately after eating. Picture Credit: Irish Water Safety.

OK, it’s that time of year again and Christmas is creeping up on us fast. Before you know it, you’ll be loosening the top button – Homer Simpson style – after a festive turkey feast!

For those of us graced with waves this Christmas, we may be tempted into the water despite the seasonal chill. It seems quite intuitive; indeed, prudent public-information notices, such as that shown here by Irish Water Safety, remind us not to enter the water immediately after eating. But when the surf is pumping … well, you know, it can be difficult to sit on the beach.

I recently came out of the water to be greeted by the not-so-pleasant retching of an overzealous grommet. When I approached him, asking if he was all right. He replied:

“I was starving, wolfed down my lunch before getting in … wicked heartburn!”

Long story cut short, he lived. But the episode brought to mind a distant Friday Facebook Fact (FFF) about a study looking at Gastrointestinal (GI) symptoms in surfer populations.

Paddling (Prone) at Conference 2014

Paddling (Prone) at Conference 2014

Back in 2009, that’s exactly what Norisue et al. examined. Their study compared the prevalence (i.e. how common an occurrence) of GastroEsophageal Reflux Disease (GERD) in surfers versus non-surfers who participate in other sports.

How did they do that?

Their hypothesis was based the fact that paddling in the prone position, i.e. lying on your stomach, on hard surfboard surfaces leads to raised pressure within the abdomen and hence GERD. The authors used a modified version of a validated questionnaire survey called the Gastrointestinal Symptom Rating Scale and obtained their data from 185 surfers and 178 non-surfer athletes on the Hawaiian Island of Oahu. They also collected information on risk factors (things that increase your likelihood of developing a given condition) for GERD, type of surfboard ridden, frequency of surfing, and duration of surfing experience.

What did they find out?

The prevalence of GERD was significantly higher in shortboard riders than in non-surfers with an odds ratio of 4.6 (28% versus 7%, P<0.001) after adjustment for demographic variables using the multivariate regression model. GERD was more prevalent in shortboarders than longboarders (28% and 12%, respectively). Furthermore, the more frequently you surfed, and the longer your surfing history, GERD increased significantly (P<0.001).

The bottom line …

Norisue and his colleagues concluded that surfing, especially shortboard riding, is strongly associated with gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD).


Norisue Y, Onopa J, Kaneshiro M, Tokuda Y. Surfing as a Risk Factor for Gastroesophageal Reflux Disease. Clin J Sport Med 2009;19:388–393.

Thumb Nail Image Credit: John Severson.

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