Surf’s up

Hospital discharge status

Hospital discharge status

The two words “surf’s up” may evoke various images or sounds, such as the 17th recorded album by the Beach Boys released in 1971 or perhaps the Academy Award-nominated best animated film of 2008 starring Cody Banks, an up and coming penguin surfer. For those individuals who inhabit or visit the coastal waters of the U.S., however, the phrase implies conditions are good for taking to the water on a surfboard.

Surfing is Hawaii’s gift to the world of sport. This activity dates backs several centuries and predates Captain Cook’s arrival into Kealakekua Bay, where he and his crew observed men standing on top of boards speeding toward the shoreline. People on five continents and numerous islands scattered throughout the world’s oceans now surf.*

Surfing is a demanding and complex sport. Scientific research into surfing waves and breaks dates back to the early 1970s. There are several different types of surfing, including longboarding, shortboarding, bodyboarding, and bodysurfing. Modern-day boards typically are made of fiberglass and range in size from six to 11 feet depending on the style of surfing for which they are used. A body board or “boogie board” is three feet long and made out of foam. Most of the scientific research has surrounded shortboarding, which involves the more aggressive riding style and faster, more powerful waves.† Waves such as these generate tremendous force that the surfer must harness to ride.

To examine the occurrence of surfing injuries in the National Trauma Data Bank® (NTDB) research dataset for 2010, admissions medical records were searched using the International Classification of Diseases, Ninth Revision, Clinical Modification (ICD-9-CM). Specifically searched was external cause of injury E code 910.2 (while engaged in other sport or recreational activity without diving equipment).

A total of 85 records that include surfboard injuries were uncovered, of which 72 records contained a hospital discharge status, including 54 patients discharged to home, 10 to acute care/rehab, and three sent to skilled nursing facilities; five died. (See figure.)

Patients with surfing injuries were 82.4 percent male, on average 29.2 years of age, had an average hospital length of stay of 5.3 days, an intensive care unit length of stay of 4.8 days, an average injury severity score of 11.9, and were on the ventilator for an average of 5.8 days.

Cruising on the ocean and riding its rhythmic waves can have a sedating effect until one approaches the shoreline where the waves start to break as they unleash a tremendous amount of power. Depending on your skill level, being armed with only a seven-foot piece of fiberglass strapped to your leg can result in significant injury. If trying this sport for the first time, respect the power of the wave, take lessons, and start out small. After all, the surf’s up, but you may not be as the wave breaks.

Throughout the year, we will be highlighting data through brief reports in the Bulletin. The NTDB Annual Report 2011 is available on the ACS website as a PDF file and as a PowerPoint presentation at In addition, information regarding how to obtain NTDB data for more detailed study is available on the website. If you are interested in submitting your trauma center’s data, contact Melanie L. Neal, Manager, NTDB, at

Statistical support for this article has been provided by Chrystal Price, data analyst, NTDB.

*Finney B, Houston J. Surfing: A History of the Ancient Hawaiian Sport. San Francisco, CA: Pomegranate Artbooks; 1996.

†Scarfe BE, Elwany MHS, Mead ST, Black KP. The Science of Surfing Waves and Surfing Breaks—A Review. UC San Diego: Scripps Institution of Oceanography. 2003.

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