The boyfriend of supermodel Kelsey Merritt sustained a head injury while surfing in Siargao. It was a reminder that the popular water sport is not without its risks, which the local health system has been called to recognize and provide support for.
Olympic gold medalist swimmer Conor Dwyer shared on Instagram that he underwent eight stitches after surfing at Stimpy’s, one of the island’s most famous surfing spots.
Stimpy’s is considered an “expert” level surfing spot because it can create “ferocious” waves that could break into extremely shallow water—resulting in bodily injuries if novices are not careful with their surfboards.
Dwyer shared his experiences in a series of Instagram Stories.
In order to get proper medical treatment, he and Merritt had to board a boat to reach a clinic since the municipality they were in, General Luna, had no hospitals.
Instead, it had a rural health unit and a private clinic which attends to various medical needs of tourists suffering from different accidents.
Surfers suffering from severe injuries would have to be taken to the Siargao District Hospital located on the main island. It is about 20 minutes away from General Luna’s tourist area.
The island previously witnessed a surfing-related injury when the son of broadcast journalist Karen Davila suffered wounds on his chest and arms after a surfing lesson.
Dangers of surfing
Surfing may not be a contact sport but it is still considered one of the most dangerous hobbies since one wrong move could result in drowning, even for professionals.
General surgeon Stephen de Santis, a surfer himself, said in an interview that the most common injuries are “lacerations (cuts), facial fractures and joint dislocations.”
He himself even suffered a facial fracture from surfing years ago.
“Lacerations and fractures may be a result of getting hit with your own board, especially the fin, either on a solo wipe-out or a collision with another surfer or rocks,” De Santis said.
“Never underestimate the force of two 180 lb (pounds) people on boards moving around 20 mph (miles per hour) colliding with each other,” he added.
He shared that joint dislocations are the likeliest injury in such scenarios.
A blunt force trauma to the face—either from the water’s current, the surfboard or the rocks—can lead to broken orbital bones and injured eyes as well.
Meanwhile, blunt force trauma to the ears can damage the eardrums.
“Usually a ruptured eardrum will heal, but it needs medical attention and medicine. A common ear problem suffered by surfers is called exostosis. Chronic exposure to cold water can cause the growth of bony lumps in the ear canal, which can affect hearing,” De Santis said.
The surgeon added that spinal injuries can also happen, which is the most dangerous among them since it can lead to paralysis or the permanent loss of mobility.
“Wiping out on the board and coming down extremely hard (especially onto rock, reef, or sand) on your back, head, or your butt can cause areas of the spinal cord to actually burst,” he said.
“I’ve seen plenty of paralysis cases related to surfing, including higher neck injuries which can cause complete quadriplegia. There’s no getting better from this,” De Santis continued.