Earplug Guide For Surfing and Kitesurfing

Earplug Guide For Surfing and Kitesurfing

Ear Protection for surfing or kitesurfing is not sexy, or cool. But it's necessary! More professional athletes as well as weekend warriors are starting to realize the cost of not protecting your ears while on the water.

What is Surfers Ear

Surfers ear, also known as exostosis, is a condition that affects the ear canal of surfers and other individuals who spend a significant amount of time in cold water. The condition occurs when the bone around the ear canal starts to grow, narrowing the canal and making it difficult for water to drain out.

The cold water and strong winds associated with surfing can cause the ear canal to become inflamed, leading to the growth of bony protrusions called exostoses. These growths can eventually block the ear canal entirely, making it difficult for surfers to hear and increasing the risk of ear infections.

Symptoms of surfers ear include pain, itching, and ringing in the ears, as well as a feeling of fullness or pressure in the ears. In some cases, individuals with the condition may also experience hearing loss.

The condition can be treated with ear plugs or custom-made ear molds, which are designed to keep water out of the ears and reduce the risk of inflammation. In more severe cases, surgery may be required to remove the bony growths and restore normal function to the ear canal.

Prevention of surfers ear is possible by using ear plugs or a hood when surfing or engaging in other activities in cold water, avoiding cold exposure or use a neoprene hood. This can help to keep water out of the ears and reduce the risk of inflammation.

It is important to note that surfers' ears are not limited to just surfers, but also can affect swimmers, windsurfers, kayakers, sailors and other water sports enthusiasts who spend a significant amount of time in cold water.

Overall, surfer’s ear is a common condition among surfers and other individuals who spend a lot of time in cold water. By taking steps to protect their ears and seeking treatment as needed, individuals can help to prevent and manage this condition

Treatment of Surfers Ear

Unfortunately once you have surfers ear it's to late. The only way to treat surfer's ears definitively is to surgically remove the bony growths. The procedure is most commonly performed through the ear canal using very small chisels. Occasionally, a drill will be used to remove the growths. The drill is only used for the growths that are close to the ear drum. One can slow down further growth by using ear protection, but cannot reverse it. So it's better to prevent it in the first place. 

Statistics of Surfer's Ear

A recent study done at two surf events, Ireland and California, where 107 surfers of all ages were examined who had surfed for a minimum of five years – from pro surfers, to weekend warriors. As many as 75.7% of the participants had some degree of surfer’s ear in at least one ear. 74 of the participants had surfed for more than 10 years, and for them the corresponding number was 84%. That’s Half of them! had the highest grade of closure in at least one ear, meaning two thirds or more of the ear canal is closed.

In 2016, a similar study was made by Dr. Vini Simas and the Water Base Research Unit at Bond University with a small group of WSL Championship Tour surfers. Simas and his team found that all 14 surfers who took part in their study had developed surfer’s ear in at least one ear, and all except one in both ears.  Again, the highest grade of closure was observed for 50 % of the participants.

Kiters Ear.. most research is done of surfings, but it would be a no brainer to say that kitesurfers and wingsurfers are at a way higher risk of surfers ear due to the fact that it is a wind sport and thus every session they are exposing their ears to constand wind which is the main cause of exostosis.

Types of Earplugs for surfer and kiteboarders

To protect your ears while surfing or kiting, it's important to invest in a quality pair of surfers ear protection. In this guide, we'll go over some of the key factors to consider when shopping for surfers ear protection, so you can make an informed decision and keep your ears safe.

  1. Fit and Comfit: Believe it or not, but not all ears are the same, different sizes and shapes make choosing the right watersport ear protection tricky. And people have surfs all have different opinions about which ones are the best. One of the most important things to look for when shopping for kitesurf ear protection is a good fit. If the earplugs are too loose, they won't be able to effectively block out water and wind, putting your ears at risk. And if they too tight, it will ruin your session. Look for earplugs that are designed to fit snugly in your ear canal. 
  2. Material: The material of the earplugs is also an important consideration. Look for earplugs made from soft, hypoallergenic materials that won't irritate your skin or cause discomfort. Also, consider earplugs that are reusable, and easy to clean.
  3. Hearing: If you are surfing or kiting you want to be aware of your surroundings and be able to hear signals such as waves, other people, talking shit etc. that is why it's important to look for earplugs that will reduce noise, but not completely block it out. Some of the more basic earplugs and as well as using bluetack or moldable wax earplugs will block out pretty much all sounds, and you feel like you're underwater, it can also affect your balance. However the newer surfing designed earplug brands have new technology and features like micro mesh to keep the water out but the sound in.
  4. Durability: Kitesurfing, surfing and winging can be rough on gear not to mention sand, so it's important to look for earplugs that are built to last. Look for earplugs made from durable materials and with a robust design that can withstand the rigors of surfing. The casing is also very important, because of surf earplugs' delicate features and soft materials, they tend to break while transporting in a bag or car, and get lost easily. 
  5. Brand reputation: Lastly, do your research and look for a reputable brand known for producing high-quality surfers ear protection designed for surfing or kitesurfing, compared to a swimming brand like speedo earplugs, which are great but arent designed for letting sound in. It will give you a sense of security and satisfaction that you are getting a good product and often come with warranties or replacement parts. 
  6. Attachment or cord: swimming ear plugs usually don't come with an option to attach them to a cord or around your neck. This is crucial when it comes to doing watersports with ear plugs. Most kiteboarders who use ear protection, would have lost a pair or 2, whether they fall out during a session, or you take one out to talk to a friend in the car park, or leave them on the roof of your car or put them in your pocket. You want a pair that has a soft elastic around the neck, so when you aren't using them, you can leave them hanging around your neck. 

Choosing the Right Surfing Ear Protection.

There are several types of ear protection available for surfers, kitesurfers and windsurfing to prevent surfer's ear and protect your ears from wipeouts, and the harsh elements, These include:

  1. Custom-fit earplugs: These are earplugs that are molded to the shape of your ear canal. They can be made of silicone or other materials and provide a tight seal that keeps water and wind out of the ear canal. They are reusable and can last for years, but they can be relatively expensive to purchase.
  2. Pre-molded earplugs: Reusable earplugs that are pre-shaped and can be inserted directly into the ear canal. They can be made of foam, silicone or other materials, but they still provide a tight seal to keep water and wind out of the ear canal.
  3. Flanged Earplugs: They are designed to fit snugly into the ear canal and the flanges at the end help keep the plug in place. They can be made of silicone or foam
  4. Earbands / headbands: These are headbands with built-in ear protection that cover the ears to keep water and wind out. They can be worn over the earplugs for additional protection. They are usually made of neoprene (wetsuit material) or other waterproof materials but make you look like a bit of a kook.
  5. Foam earplugs: These are disposable earplugs (like the ones you use for sleeping) that can be rolled between your fingers and inserted into the ear canal. They expand to fill the ear canal and provide a tight seal that keeps water and wind out. They are relatively inexpensive, but are difficult to insert and aren't made for water use, if you remove them or adjust them, in the water they become waterlogged like a wet sponge.
  6. Wax / Putty earplugs: They are made of soft wax and are typically used by swimmers. They can be molded to fit the shape of your ear canal, provide a tight seal, and are reusable. But they can be a bit messy to handle and may require some maintenance, such as cleaning and reshaping after use. Although they are probably the most effective in keeping the water out, they also keep all the sound out, and you pretty much don’t have any hearing once they are in. It feels like you are underwater. The lack of hearing can make you feel unbalanced and disorientated. They are a terrible combination with sand, and if they come into contact with sand or you drop them on the beach, you have to throw them away. 
  7. Wetsuit Hood: some hardcore surfers who surf cold, gnarly conditions will opt for a full wetsuit hood. But these are the same guys who choose not to be seen or spoken to in the water. And they won't hear you even if you try ;)

Ultimately, the key to choosing the right surfers ear protection is to consider your own needs and preferences, and to take the time to find a product that fits well, is made of high-quality materials, and is durable enough to withstand the rigors of surfing or kiteboarding. Keep your ears safe while you enjoy the waves or wind with a good pair of surfers ear protection.

Surfers Ear Protection FAQ

Should Surfers Wear Earplugs?

Wearing earplugs while surfing can be an effective way to prevent the development of surfer's ear, which is a condition where bony growths develop in the ear canal of individuals who spend a significant amount of time in cold and windy environments. Surfer's ear can cause hearing loss and discomfort, and once the bony growths have developed, they can continue to grow and eventually block the ear canal.

Earplugs can be worn to protect the ears from cold water, wind and waves. They also protect your eardrums from bursting in a big kiteboarding or foiling crash. These can be made of various materials such as foam, silicone and wax, which are all designed to prevent water from entering the ear canal. They can also help to reduce the amount of wind noise, making the surfers experience more comfortable.

What are the Symptoms of Surfers Ear?

Surfer's ear, also known as exostosis, is a condition that affects the ear canal, causing bony growths to develop along the inner canal. The symptoms of surfer's ear include:

  • Gradual hearing loss
  • Fullness or pressure in the ear
  • A feeling of water trapped in the ear
  • Water getting trapped in the ear during or after a surf session or swim
  • Ear infections (water gets trapped in the ear for a prolonged time and causes an ear infection (known as swimmer's ear).
  • Itchy or irritated ears
  • Dizziness or balance problems
  • Tinnitus or ringing in the ear
  • Pain or discomfort in the ear, especially when exposed to cold wind or water

In advanced cases, the bony growths can completely block the ear canal, making it difficult to hear and making the ear susceptible to infection. If you experience any of these symptoms, it's important to see an ear, nose, and throat (ENT) specialist or audiologist to have your ears checked and determine the best course of treatment.

How long does a surfer's ear take to develop?

Surfer's ear typically develops over time and may take years of exposure to cold and windy conditions before the bony growths become noticeable. However, the exact amount of time it takes for surfer's ear to develop can vary depending on the individual and the specific factors that contribute to its development such as genetics, age, and frequency and duration of exposure to cold and windy conditions. Basically if you kitesurfing or surfing regularly, and you aren't in a tropical climate, you are at high risk of getting surfers ear.

Which is the Best brand of Surfer Ear Protection

There are several reputable brands that make surf plugs, and the best one for you will depend on your individual needs and preferences. Some popular brands that make surfers ear protection include:

  • SurfEars: A brand that focus specifically on the surfer's ear protection, they offer a variety of earplugs and come with a selection of sizes, with features such as adjustable filters to allow for the perfect balance of sound. I would say that these are the most commonly used surf plugs for kiteboarders. https://surfears.com/ 
  • IARS Surfer Ear Protection: IARS is a customized ear protection for water sports enthusiasts that allows you to hear through and helps prevent ear canal exostosis (surfer`s ear) and other ear injuries. Individual ear protection for all water sport lovers to prevent #surfersear. Keeps water out and let sound in. IARS (Inner Aural Rescue System) https://www.iars.me/ 
  • Mack's Surf Plugs: A well-known brand in the earplugs market that offers a range of products specifically designed for surfers and other water sports enthusiasts. Their earplugs are made of soft, moldable silicone that can be customised for a comfortable, secure fit. 
  • Doc's Pro Surf Plugs: This brand offers a wide variety of earplugs designed specifically for water sports, including surfing. They have a patented flange design that helps to create a secure seal and reduce wind noise.   
  • Surf Into Yoga : this brand offers earplugs with special design with a ring so you won't lose them easily and comfortable fit.
  • Other Brands: Gooq Premium Surf Plugs, JBL Hydro Seal.

It is important to note that it is always recommended to try different options and select the one that fits you better, and also that keeps a good balance between hearing protection and sound reduction.

Ultimately, you should do your own research, read reviews, and even try different brands to find the best surfers ear protection for you. Look for a product that fits well, is made of high-quality materials, and is durable enough to withstand the rigors of surfing.

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