by Corky Carroll
Today I thought I would talk about a condition that seems to happen to just about every long-time surfer as he reaches a round and mature age, or in other words, gets old. I am going to call it “Surfers Back.” Hey, they got “Surfers Ear,” so it’s time to call it what it is and Surfers Back is the perfect name. Surfing and paddling a surfboard are hard on your back and after a lifetime of doing it pretty much every surfer will tell you that sooner or later it will start to give you problems. Many will find that it becomes harder and harder to pop up from a prone position to standing. Some just stop surfing. Others switch to different equipment such as stand up paddleboards, knee boards or boogie boards.
I am gonna use me as an example. I have surfed almost constantly for well over 60 years. The first time I hurt my back was when I was about 18 and I got rammed into the bottom sitting down at Pipeline. Doctor told me to just take it easy for a few weeks and it would be ok, they knew far less back then. So I did and it got better. Now and then it would ache a little bit after long surf days or when I was skiing a lot and in later years when I was teaching tennis and putting in long days on hard courts. But it was not causing me to not do anything. Then in 1997 I got impacted on a very big wave while surfing on the island of Kauai and it caused what the doctor diagnosed as a “swollen” disc. Treatment was for pain and the plan was to let it heal on its own. I also popped both of my hernias at the same time which required surgery. I was laid up for nine months and gained 45 lbs. After that my back was never quite the same, I could still do everything, but I had to be really careful not to lift anything heavy or twist wrong. Every few years I would do something dumb and would be out of the water a few weeks or so. Then about 4 years ago I tweaked it and it didn’t come back so well. This caused me to switch from standard boards to the SUP. I can’t go from laying down to standing up without getting on my knees first. The SUP allows me to get up from my knees and then I am standing so don’t have to deal with getting up all the time.
As time has gone on the pain has increased and finally this past summer it got difficult to surf, or even walk much. So, I went to see a back doctor that a friend recommended. This guy told me I needed a surgery that would more than likely end my surfing. Naturally I passed on that. It appears I have severe stenosis along with a couple of swollen discs, some spurs and something else I can’t spell. Everybody told me to get a second opinion. I knew of Doctor Warren Kramer in Newport Beach, but I wasn’t sure he did backs, I just knew that he was respected as one of the best in sports medicine. I called his office and found out that his brother, Sten, is the family back dude. I went in to get the second opinion, thankfully. Turns out he thinks I can be treated with meds and not surgery, a much better plan. It’s only been a few weeks but already I am moving better and in less pain. Finally optimistic that I will be able to keep surfing, standing up and walking, at least to some degree. Better than a wheel chair.
Getting to the point of this story, more than likely your back is gonna give you problems as you age if you surf all the time. Don’t just give in to it. See a good back doctor. Naturally I am recommending Dr. Sten Kramer and Kramer Orthopedics, he certainly changed my direction and quality of life. You can find ways to keep surfing if you really want to. I want to and so should you. Don’t BACK down.
Surfer's Back Article