The Surfer’s Guide to Surfer’s Ear

The Surfer’s Guide to Surfer’s Ear

It’s epic being a surfer, but it’s not without its drawbacks. Sunburn, sack rash, sand in every orifice. If there’s one sneaky malady that really takes the cake though, it’s ear troubles. There is of course the dreaded Surfer’s Ear - the bone growth in our audio canals from cold and wind exposure that surgeons have named after us. But, there’s also frequent infections, trapped water, and excess wax buildup. One problem often makes the other worse. If you’ve ever jiggled your finger in your ear like you’re trying to set an evil spirit free, this article is for you. We look at what causes these dramas in the first place, how you can fix them and how you can prevent a drill in the head one day.


We’ll start with the biggest ear enemy first. One because it’s the most serious, but also because bone growth in your canals can contribute to trapping water and frequent infections. Surfer’s Ear (or exostosis) is what happens when your ears are exposed to cold air and water over a long period of time. Little bone humps start to grow as a natural defense to protect your eardrum from arctic blasts. If you look at medical pictures, they kind of look like demented butt cheeks. But, it’s more helpful to think of them like stalactites and stalagmites in a cave. Early on, if you have stalagmites growing from the bottom of your ear cave, it can block the natural flow of water in and out of the canal. Water goes in fine, but little pools then get trapped behind the lumps, causing a moist environment for bacteria to grow. That leads to infections and infections lead to your ear canal swelling even more. That leads to a blocked feeling where you can’t hear feck all either. As Surfer’s Ear progresses, these blockages and infections get more and more frequent, keeping you out of the water and getting to the point where you need a surgical fix.

There are a few ways to help prevent this from happening.

Ear Plugs

Yup. You’ve seen old boys (and Connor Coffin) wearing these in the surf. Connor is one of the smart ones. It’s usually only after surgery that most people resort to plugs. That’s because they can mess with your equilibrium and also block sound which makes the social side of surfing pretty shit. Enter SurfEars - specially-developed plugs that keep water out but let sound in. The best of both worlds. Definitely worth checking out for prevention of Surfer’s Ear, but also a way to help prevent infections and trapped water too. Click here to check them out!

Wetsuit Hoods

It’s good to remember that Surfer’s Ear is caused by the cold, so anything that keeps your ears warmer in the water helps prevent it. Even if you’re not wearing earplugs, having a neoprene hood on will help. The extra bonus is keeping toasty and making chilly duckdives easier. Most surf brands out there have great options to choose from.

A post-surf beanie

Not as many people do this regularly, but there’s some evidence to show that keeping your ears warm after a surf can also help offset surfer’s ear. It makes sense too. If your lobes are colder for longer, there will be more reason for the body to trigger a reaction. So, keep a beanie in the car for any time you get out and are feeling the chill.


Also known as Swimmer’s Ear. Not as cool sounding as Surfer’s Ear but extra annoying. As mentioned above, bone growth in your canal can make this issue worse. Even if you don’t have exostosis though, water can still get trapped. Earplugs are an option here, but there’s also another great way to dry things if you don’t want to plug up - Drop In Ear Dryer. Click here to check it out!



Specially formulated for surfers, Drop In Ear Dryer is a ear drop solution that essentially mixes with water to speed up evaporation. The process dries out ear canals and also leaves a thin residue inside that helps inhibit bacterial growth. So, a way to not only dry out your ears but stop those pesky infections too. Click here to check it out!


Having fully blocked ears is one of the most annoying experiences surfer's face. It throws out your balance and puts you on edge. It also tends to lead to more infections too. With or without bone growth, wax buildup is often a major cause of blocked ears. While some wax in your ear is healthy and necessary, too much sucks. Some people swear by ear candling to clean house, but it’s really time consuming and doesn’t always work. Drop In come to the rescue again here with their Ear Cleanser. Click here to check it out!



You can use Drop In Ear Cleanser to help clean a major wax blockage or for regular upkeep if you’re an especially waxy human (most surfers are). All you need to do is drip in a few drops and leave in for 2-3 minutes. You’ll hear a crackle and pop sound which is the solution reaction with dirt and wax to break things up. Once done, carefully remove any excess with a cotton ball. Simple. Just don’t go sticking a q-tip deep in your ear canal. That can lead to even bigger issues. Click here to check it out!

So there you go...

Ear maintenance for surfers. Put it into the routine along with suncream and application of paw paw gel on your chafe zones, and you’ll have most of the big issues covered.

Now, if we could just do something about sand…

We should also add the obvious caveat that we’re not medical professionals and the above should therefore be treated as non-FDA/WHO/CDC approved opinion.

If in doubt, go and see your GP.

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