Surfing Safety 101

Lipcon, Marguiles, Alsina & Winkleman, P.A

Surfing safety, maritime lawyerThe winter swells are picking up on many surf beaches across the country and surfers are taking advantage of the waves—even up north. Surfing can be a fun way to experience the water and beach, but as any maritime accident lawyer at LMAW can tell you, it also presents unique dangers.

Unfortunately, strong surf can often be lead to a greater number of accidents. And while surf lore might make the uninitiated think that sharks are the biggest danger out on the water, the reality is that shark attacks constitute a negligible number of the surfing accidents that occur every year. More likely contributors are collisions between surfers and swimmers, and hard falls onto reefs and sandbars. Falls and collisions can lead to injuries ranging from lacerations to broken bones to paralysis and death. Being aware of your surroundings and surfing within your abilities can help prevent tragedy.

In many locations across the country, surfers have to check more than just the weather report. Some beaches are closed to surfing at certain times of year to protect swimmers and some beaches even require surfers to use a leash. Failure to observe these rules will not just merit reprimanding by the life guard, but might also result in legal repercussions.

So, what can surfers do to make the water safe for everyone? For one, before hitting the waves, check the local laws in your area. Some beaches restrict surfing to certain areas. In many cases, a quick visit to the lifeguard hut will get you the answers you need. Myrtle Beach, Florida, for instance, prohibits the use of surfboards in certain areas from May 1 through Labor Day, between the hours of 10 AM and 5 PM. Other areas might have laws to keep surfers out of the way of swimmers and vice versa. After all, there’s no better way to ruin your day than to hit a drifting tourist. Worse, you could be held responsible for any injuries you cause to unsuspecting victims in the water.

Another common sense safety tip is to use a surf leash. This protects you and everyone around you. And, on some beaches, wearing a leash is the law. A stray surfboard can not only hit fellow surfers, but can also hit unsuspecting swimmers closer to shore. Surfboards can be dangerous projectiles. In November, 2014, a surfer in New South Wales suffered a fatal surfing accident when his surfboard’s fin cut his femoral artery. He bled to death as a result. Your leash allows you to get a hold of your board before it becomes a danger to you and others in the water.

Another form of surfing that has become popular with more experienced riders is tow-in surfing, in which a surfer is towed into a wave by a person using a personal watercraft or jet ski. Surfers who use this method and the people towing them should be aware of boating safety laws and regulations. Many beaches don’t allow jet skis within a certain distance from the shore, in order to protect swimmers. Fortunately, many tow-in surfing locations are places where it would be unsafe to swim in the first place. Even so, tow-in surfing adds additional variables to consider, including adherence to maritime law.

Protecting oneself and others in the water is paramount whether you’re a beginner or experienced surfer. Failure to do so can lead to injuries and unpleasant legal issues.