How to deal with surf rash

Surf Rash Sucks. Here’s How to Deal With It. 

We’ve all been there. You’ve been waiting weeks for the swell to arrive, and you’re over the moon when you finally get to paddle out. Climbing out at the end of the session, however, brings an unwelcome surprise: a painful red rash is spreading over your chest, armpits, thighs, and maybe even your knees. 

Wetsuit Rash and Surf Rash are not the same thing, wetsuit rash is caused by the wetsuit rubbing against your skin. Whereas surf rash is normally caused by bare skin rubbing against your board. Surf rash is often seen in warmer climates where the surfer is just in boardshorts. Surf rash is more commonly seen with foam boards as the abrasion is higher.

A surf rash flares up when your skin is weakened by exposure to salt water over the course of a surf session, exacerbated by tiny, abrasive sea salts that rub against the skin. Over time, these salts have an abrasive effect on weakened skin, causing inflammation, pain, and sometimes even a superficial wound.

Here are three ways to deal with a surf rash and get back on your board.

Healing Ointment

A good healing ointment is as much of a surfing staple as a tin of zinc. Addressing irritated skin immediately after a surf session will rapidly set you on your path to healing, as surf rashes are rarely worse than shallow wounds that stand to heal over a day or two. Rinse off your rash with clean water, and apply a moisturising cream or ointment known for its wound healing properties. 

Aquaphor, Pawpaw ointment, Vaseline or even nappy rash are all good products to reach for when you’re ready to begin the healing process. Just be careful about applying ointment before getting in the water- any leaks onto your board will lead to a particularly slippery surf session! 

Vaseline Surf Rash Treatment

Aquaphor Surf Rash Cream

Surf Rash Cream

Let Surf Rash Heal Before Returning To the Water

This piece of advice is likely to be universally ignored, but it remains an excellent tip all the same. Keen surfers are likely to slap a layer of ointment over a surf rash overnight, and grin and bear the paddling pain in the following days. Not only does this slow down the healing process by letting a wound come into contact with salt water all over again, but it can actually worsen and deepen a shallow surf rash into something even more painful. 

It may hurt to watch your friends load their boards and leave you at home, but sitting out for a couple of days to let a surf rash heal is the fastest way to a full recovery.

Surf Rash Prevention is Key

For the most part, surf rashes are an unavoidable part of surfing. Small changes, like a change in surf attire, wax, or simply getting back in the water after a long break, can make a surfer even more vulnerable to surf rash. Ultimately, our bodies adapt to changing conditions rather quickly, and the areas of skin that rub against irritants do toughen up eventually.  Even so, there are a few ways to at least minimise, if not avoid, surf rash from the get go.

O'Neill Rash Guard

Wearing a proper rash guard when surfing in warm water is a good way to avoid chest, nipple and stomach rashes, and rash guard pants can help protect from knee rashes. Get a high-quality rash guard that fits snug against your skin, and you should notice a major difference.

Vaseline Surf Rash Treatment

Applying a layer of lubricating ointment around your known sensitive areas before a rash flares up is another great way to avoid chafing. When wearing a wetsuit, apply ointment around your neck, collar and armpit areas to start. This is particularly important when wearing a new wetsuit, or throwing one on after an extended period of time spent surfing in warmer water.

Surfing Wetsuit

When buying a new wetsuit, don’t skimp on quality. Make sure to buy a wetsuit with taped or blind seams, or else you will likely find that the seams become major spots of irritation for your skin. A good wetsuit can be the difference between your skin slowly toughening up, or becoming more and more sore with every session. Remember to get the most out of your wetsuit it’s important to dry your wetsuit out correctly.

If you’re struggling with a painful surf rash, try out these strategies to get the most out of your next session. If you have any tricks up your sleeve that we’ve missed here, leave them in the comments below!

Top Tip: Don’t try duct taping a piece of foam to yourself to cover your rash. More painful to pull it off.

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