Surfing as a Sport in Times of COVID-19



Surfing is a sport practiced worldwide by an estimated 37 million surfers (McArthur et al, 2020). Surfing is an important form of cardiovascular exercise for all ages and it also has a valuable therapy for physical and mental problems. Think of rehabilitation after a stroke, depression, anxiety, and PTSD. Moreover, the risk of injury in surfing is relatively low, from 0.74 to 1.79 injuries per thousand surfing hours in amateur surfers and 0.13 to 13 per thousand surfing hours injuries in competitive surfers.

With the Olympic Games postponed due to COVID-19, the surfing sport has still made its debut as an Olympic sport. During the pandemic and the closure of the gyms, you saw an increase in the number of outdoor athletes and with it surfers. This also leads to an increase in sales of surfboards and accessories such as surf pads (pads de surf in French).

What the impact of COVID-19 is on surfers and what the recommendations are when resuming the sport, Eline Thijssen, a sports doctor in training, has researched and she tells you more.

How do I surf safely again after a COVID-19 infection?

Due to lockdowns, the postponement of competitions, and the closure of certain training facilities, surfers may experience a degree of deconditioning due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Coronavirus affects the heart and lungs

With a COVID-19 infection, some people may experience a long recovery period with obstacles in picking up sporting activities.

Mild disease course COVID/corona

After a mild course of illness with the effects of the coronavirus on the heart and lungs, the advice is not to make intensive exercise in the two weeks after the symptoms have disappeared. After these 14 days, the advice is to pick up surfing again by means of a gradual build-up period (Salman et al. 2021), especially because while surfing it is sometimes necessary to hold your breath at sometimes unpredictable moments.

Severe course of covid/corona

In case of a more serious course of illness, it is advisable to first schedule a check-up with a doctor before the start of heavy physical exertion. Also for surfers who have other underlying conditions in addition to the corona, it is advised to first visit a doctor before surfing in the water again. In addition, competitive surfers are also advised to first visit a doctor after a COVID-19 infection before surfing at the competition level again.

Decrease in physical condition

Also, deconditioning (muscles slackening and decrease physical condition) leads to a higher risk of injuries and dangerous situations in the water lead. This is not only dangerous for the individual but potentially also for other surfers or the rescue brigade.

Muscle atrophy

Due to neuromuscular (muscles and nerves) deconditioning as a result of temporarily not / less training, muscle atrophy can occur. Muscle atrophy has an impact on, among other things, conditional, coordination and muscle strength-related areas. The result is a higher risk of injury when surfing resumes after a less intensive period. This is something that you as an athlete and trainer must be aware of and on which you must adjust the training program. Here, too, the emphasis is on a gradual build-up period of the sport’s load.


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Mental health surfer

In addition to the physical impact, attention must also be paid to the mental health of the surfer. In addition to the period of being ill, periods of self-isolation, restrictions in training, and the cancellation of competitions can also affect the well-being of the (competitive) surfer. Also for patients who use surfing as a therapy for certain conditions, good support should be provided during this period.

Risks of surfing during COVID-19

While surfing, the risk of transmission of the coronavirus is relatively low as it is a sport without physical contact and the sport takes place outdoors. Surfers have to keep their distance in the water to keep the situation safe with surfboards, waves, and currents. The water itself would not play a significant role in the spread of the virus.

In the places where surfers come together from the water, the local rules apply, such as wearing mouth masks and keeping your distance.

Risks of COVID-19 on the health of a surfer

When a person has experienced a COVID-19 infection, it is important that the possible impact of the virus on physical health and recovery to surfing is taken into account. The SARS-CoV-2 virus can have effects on heart and lung tissue, among other things.

Fever? Don’t exercise

During the active phase of the virus infection, the virus can lead to myocarditis, inflammation of the heart muscle with inflammation, cell death, and impaired function of the heart muscle as a result. For this reason, it is not recommended to exercise during active infection and with fever.

When an athlete develops malaise symptoms after vaccination with an mRNA vaccine, physical activity will also have to be temporarily interrupted, because rare cases of myocarditis after mRNA vaccination have been reported (Hull et al., 2021).

COVID-19 and respiratory complaints

COVID-19 can cause respiratory symptoms not only during the infection but also in the recovery period afterward. Think, for example, of shortness of breath due to loss of muscle strength of the diaphragm, or an abnormal breathing pattern. Sometimes it is necessary that these people follow pulmonary rehabilitation to get rid of the complaints.

Surfing also carries a low risk of drowning. During the peak periods of the COVID-19 pandemic, an adapted approach to the resuscitation of an unknown person has been advised, whereby no mouth-to-mouth ventilation should be done without the use of an airway barrier because of the risk of infection. It is advised to follow the nationally applicable guidelines for this.