Surviving wipeouts/whiplash

Wipeouts are a significant part of the surfing game and add to the spice, even though we normally “kick” ourselves for making the mistake that caused the wipeout. I always figured if I wasn’t getting hammered by the wave once in a while, I wasn’t surfing on the “edge”. I normally tried to set myself up so I had about a 50/50 chance of making the wave – even a slight mistake on a successful takeoff would usually mean I was going to get passed up by the wave. While I was always looking for fast hard-breaking waves, Pipeline (rights and lefts) was my #1 choice.

From the above, you can see that my “wipeout dues” were always well paid! But after a while I noticed something interesting – the most common wipeout I experienced was one in which I fell out of the “lip” and landed upside-down on my back. Then I noticed that my neck would hurt from the impact. Well of course, wipeouts aren’t supposed to feel good, but on the other hand, surviving them does feel good — you know you overcame a difficult situation. This went on for a number of years and I started wondering why my neck would hurt – it wasn’t really hitting anything except water. Then I realized what was causing my neck to hurt; when I landed on my back, I had an automatic reflex to keep my head up so it wouldn’t impact what I was landing on. I imagine most of you, if you fall on your back on a hard surface, reflexively hold your head forward to avoid bashing your head in the fall. Holding my head forward to avoid impact caused the neck vertebrae to take the impact (similar to whiplash, but a bit different).

Once I realized what was actually happening I was able to figure out what I could do to try to prevent this “whiplash”. I decided that instead of holding my head forward, I should push it back at the time of impact and push my head into the water. But it wasn’t quite that easy; I had to overcome the reflex, and I had to do it at the instant of impact. It took some concentration (no I didn’t practice wipeouts to learn this) I was going against a natural self-preservation reflex to do this. When I finally gained enough control over the reflex (the first few times, I forgot to do it) I pushed my head back as planned. I felt like I was going to bash my head – my thoughts were “Is my surfboard under my head? Am I going to shove my head into the reef?” These thoughts were very strong, a bit like taking a flying leap off a cliff. Well it worked! It was better than I expected; instead of a sore neck, my neck felt great, and I had correctly understood the problem and how to resolve it.

I offer the above for your consideration, if you make a habit of doing this, there could be times it could get you in trouble (for instance if you were to fall back from your skateboard, you would bash your head.) There have been a couple of times I hit nearly dry sand in the shorebreak with my butt (the water sucked out more than I had expected). If I had shoved my head back at those times, it would have been a mistake.

Bob

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