News & Features — 16 June 2013 at 4:34 pm

European Association of Surfing Doctors

Luke Summers / Adventure Medic Editor

“I’m going to the best conference” started a colleague of mine one day at work. As he shared with me the finer points of the anaesthetic meeting he would be attending in London, I listened politely, all the time loading the programme of the European Association of Surfing Doctors conference on to the nearest screen.

I watched the pride on his face slowly dissipate to a more subdued shade as first he noted the location, and then the allocated surf time, and then the BBQ/drinks all scheduled as part of my upcoming event.

“That’s a joke, not a conference” he laughed as a parting shot. A sentiment shared with most of my workmates, and to be honest also myself when I first noticed that advert for the event on the Expedition Medicine website. Not that I was going to miss out on it.

Sagres and The European Association of Surfing Doctors

The founding conference of the European Association of Surfing Doctors? It barely sounded plausible. Could there really be a market for this? Was this just an excuse for a holiday or was there something more to surfing medicine? I asked Ingvar Berg, the president and co-founder of the EASD what he thought when others laughed at the idea of a surfing medicine conference.

“Its one of the really important reasons for doing it, it is a lot of fun but at the same time we’re there, you know? We’ve had a really good conference with lots of great speakers and we’ve managed to get accreditation with the European Council for Accreditation and also with the Wilderness Medicine Association. I like people laughing at it  but that’s how it should be – to have fun but also be educated, and I think you remember more if you’re enjoying yourself.”

Set in the sleepy town of Sagres in the south of Portugal, the conference was in a surfing mecca with aspects facing west and south to soak up any incoming swell that arose in the Atlantic.

Although this was only the first of such meetings I was soon to find out about that surfing medicine was not new. The opening BBQ was appropriately held on the decking of a beach bar, complete with views of the sunset and breaks on which the last riders of the day were making the most of the reliable swell at Amado beach.

It was there I first met Bill Jones and learned of some of surfing medicine’s roots. Bill was the big VIP of the conference, a member of the surfing medical association (SMA) based in the states. Not a doctor by trade but a Vietnam medic who having spent time teaching and as a health educator, has gone on to be an active and leading member of the SMA, which was founded in 1986.

Heralding from Monta Rey, his surfing credentials were certainly not in doubt – 54 years and counting. The SMA started off with a meeting in Fiji and has gone on to arrange many trips around the world, combining expedition surfing with providing medical care to the local population.

They have set up two local clinics in Fiji along with training local heath care providers and ‘barefoot doctors’ as well as running public health innitiatives such as anti-smoking campaigns and teeth brushing education. On top of this they have helped in other locations such as the Mentawais and Mexico. They have also been responsible for developments in the areas of ‘surf medicine’ from surfers ear surgery to treating coral wounds (hydrogen peroxide, it turns out).

The Line-Up

So what do surfing doctors need to confer on then? The conference has been founded on what Ingvar likes to refer to as the ‘4 pillars’ of the EASD. First off, research into surfing illness and injury. Second, education to teach and share knowledge.Third, to use surfing medicine to promote the health of the local populations that are encountered at remote surf locations. Finally, to create a network of on-site doctors around the world at surf spots to help surfers and locals alike.

In keeping with the ‘education’ pillar day one kicked off the educational programme with a day of lectures regarding injury and illness in surfing. Well, a half day, couldn’t miss that afternoon surf session… As well as the expected orthopaedic element to the day there was input from a tropical medcine expert on illness in remote surf spots and how to cope with stinging beasts in the sea.

Wilderness medicine also reared its head along with some excellent advice and discussion from a physiotherapist on injury prevention. A trauma case study presentation was given in association with, an organisation already providing medical care at G-lands surfspot in java.

Even our drinking didn’t go to waste – that night our bar-tab raised funds for partners Surfaid, a charity that has already had demonstrated success with its Disaster Preparedness Programme in the South Pacific.

On Day Two, the Surfrider Foundation spoke of the environmental impact of humans that they try to combat, to save beaches and waves around Europe and the world. We then got stuck into the preventable diseases associated with surfing: the skin cancers, the Surfer’s Ear and the Surfer’s Eye.  All very informative and useful but somehow left with the feeling that surfing was going to make me a blind, deaf cancer patient before long. Perhaps the most fascinating, though maybe the least relevant, was a talk given on the neurobiology and psychology of surfing/extreme sports.

The Round Up

Ingvar himself rounded up the conference with a vision of the future for the EUSD. He plans to create a network of doctors, get a journal started and engage in original research. The conferences will continue and work will start on further initiatives for local health projects.  He told me later that he was even hoping to get a Surfing Medicine Fellowship established.

So after all that was I converted? Was this a worthwhile exercise? All the ‘pillars’ of the EUSD are certainly not new. The SMA, SurfingDoctors and Surfaid between them already have most of them covered.

However, bringing everything together was truly unique, and the conference was a great platform to promote what is defiantly a relevant and emerging branch of medicine. With over 2 million people who surf, there is a population with specific health needs that can benefit from this. Perhaps more importantly, there are the local health initiatives that offer heathcare in remote surf spots.

Bill Jones was “awe struck” by how the five board members had managed to organise such a quality event in such a short space of time. The motivation and drive these guys have are palpable and I get the feeling that not even deafness and blindness from days on the waves will slow them down.

What’s more, if they get their network of doctors up and running, just think of all the jobs there will be for adventure medics like us. We like this.