When it comes to surfing Raglan osteopathy student Debbie Remnant stands by the old adage that prevention is better than cure.

So she’s “excited” to have already more than 900 of the 1500 responses she needs by June to complete her online survey of surfers’ injuries which – when analysed – will contribute to the development of injury prevention protocols for osteopaths and physiotherapists, surf coaches, yoga and pilates instructors internationally.

“They will be able to utilise this information in dealing with surfers as opposed to non-surfers,” Debbie says of the first-of-its-kind Kiwi study she’s leading as part of her master’s thesis at Auckland’s Unitec.

Debbie, 35, is well suited to undertaking such surfing-specific research, having lived in Raglan and worked at Whale Bay’s surfing school as both a surf and more recently a yoga instructor on-and-off for several years.

She says she knows many otherwise fit and healthy people from the surfing community who are carrying serious or chronic injuries. “Injuries are prevalent among my surfing friends and anecdotally it seems that serious preventable surfing injuries are on the rise.

“When I’m in Raglan and especially since I started osteopathy (after first doing a sports studies diploma) the topic will come up often … I’ve got friends in their late 20s and early 30s, some competitive surfers and others recreational surfers, who are having shoulder and hip operations due to surfing-related injuries.”

She’s keen now to pinpoint through analysis of the data she’s gathered since December exactly what these injuries are and how they happened. A shoulder problem, for instance, might be the result of a body position or posture peculiar to surfers. “And prevention is better than cure,” she insists.

The survey asks about traumatic and gradual overuse injuries and the circumstances around how those injuries presented.

A traumatic injury might occur when a surfer is riding the face of a wave, duck-diving or getting in or out of the water, Debbie explains, while a gradual overuse injury could be the result of continuous paddling and develop over time.

Different injury patterns are already emerging, she adds, based on demographics such as gender – close to 200 females have completed the survey – and whether participants are new or advanced surfers.

Debbie says the project’s a “real passion” and hopes it might result in new measures to prevent chronic injuries.

She points out that while statistics tell us almost as many Kiwis surf as play rugby, surprisingly little is known about injuries that come with riding waves. And the fact that surfers do not participate in their sport the way others play theirs – no coach, no training, often no warm-ups or warm-downs – could well contribute to some injuries.

“Most surfers I know want to surf until they’re at least 80,” says Debbie. And that’s motivation enough to research what she believes are preventable injuries.

*Surfers can complete the survey at surfinginjury.co.nz, via the Surfing Injuries NZ Facebook page or at swellmap.co.nz.

Edith Symes