While much has been done in malaria research, it still kills hundreds of thousands of people. In 2017 there was an estimated 219 million cases of the disease, and 435 000 deaths from the mosquito borne illness.
Speak to any surfer or traveller who has survived a bout of the killer disease and you’ll quickly come to understand the dangers of the disease, the importance of knowledge regarding the disease, and the preventative methods and prophylactics utilised in fighting this killer.
Malaria is a parasite; a protozoa that resides in human blood cells after being transmitted by the female Anopheles mosquito. After a mosquito pierces into human skin, it salivates under the skin as a way of preparing for a facile blood feed. It is with that spit that the mosquito transmits the malaria virus into the human system. The malaria parasite (called sporozoites) enters the bloodstream and settles in the liver. At that time no symptoms appear, but the malaria parasite multiplies.
Following its stay in the liver, the parasite enters another phase of its life cycle, the merozotes, which circulate in the bloodstream, penetrating and destroying red blood cells and reproducing again. The majority of symptoms are caused by the massive release of merozoites into the bloodstream, the anaemia caused by the destruction of the red blood cells, and the problems caused by large amounts of free haemoglobin entering circulation after the red blood cells rupture. After you contract malaria it takes a minimum of six days, and up to several weeks, before symptoms appear. Symptoms are a little baffling.
It was 1997 and I was spending the night in Singapore’s Changi Airport – feral ravelling, no money left etc – when I started to feel a bit of a cold coming onboard. I was about a week out of G-Land where I had taken my medication religiously and protected myself from the mosquitoes with coils and cream and long-sleeved clothing. Before I knew it I started feeling really poorly and I was boarding for a long haul to Heathrow. I felt too nauseous to drink myself to sleep, and I had eaten my last sleeping pill a long time ago. But I had my CD Walkman (that long ago). I cranked the new Nine Inch Nails album, and before I knew it I needed to vomit in the plane.
The air hostess, sensing that I was going to seed pretty quickly, organised me a row at the back of the plane to sleep on. I lay there, cradling my stomach and moaning in agony and sweating under a thin little travel blanket.
It was about my sixth time in Indo. When I went the first time, many years ago, I took Lariam as the anti-malarial medication. Rough nights, but I never contracted the disease. Even after camping for sixteen days on an island in the Mentawais in the early 90’s, an area that is rife with the disease. The next time I was in malaria territory was in 1998 in Mozambique. I tried the combination of Daramal and Paludrine. On the second day of administration I experienced chronic side effects, like severe headaches, nausea, diarrhoea and fatigue. I stopped this medication when the toilet paper supply started getting really low.
This time I had gone back onto Lariam. For some reason, the nightmares weren’t nearly as prevalent as the last time.
As mentioned earlier, malaria attacks the blood cells and breaks them down. At the very least, malaria brings on a high temperature as the body tries to kill the invaders. At worst, malaria kills by prohibiting the supply of healthy, oxygen-rich blood to the organs. Malaria can cause collapsed lungs, or liver, kidney or heart failure. Worst of all, malaria can cause a loss of oxygen to the brain, which brings on terrible convulsions and death. The disease thrives in enervated or malnourished people; which makes it specifically lethal in Third World territories.
I had the classic flu-like symptoms. When I presented myself at Charing Cross hospital they immediately put me in bed and stuck a saline drip in one arm and a glucose drip in the other. They analysed my blood, urine and stool.
The malaria belt extends around the world from the equator to 40 degrees north latitude, 45 degrees south latitude, and up to 2500 metres elevation. Take a look at a map … that’s a whole lot of the world’s best surf spots. Surfers are most likely to contract the disease in virtually every tropical place they travel, with the exceptions of Hawaii, Tahiti and Fiji – they are malaria free. Other surf spots such as G-Land, Nias, Mentawais, Mozambique, Madagascar, the Philippines and even Puerto Escondido are heavy risk areas for malaria, and surfers travelling in these areas without knowledge and protection are taking their lives in their own hands.
The medication I was given back then was pyrimethamine-sulfadoxine (Fansidar) single dose, combined with a two-week dose of Quinine. The Quinine was a bit of a bummer. The side effects for me were quite debilitating. Quinine, obtained from the bark of the cinchona tree, is the earliest antimalarial drug, but is no longer used that much because of the frequently occurring side effects. I suffered nausea, headaches, loss of hearing and blurred vision, a group of symptoms known as cinchonism. I heard ringing in my ears, started hearing voices, thought I was finally going mad. Had to keep the radio on for 24 hours a day. Had severe insomnia. Got about four hours sleep a night, if I was lucky, but hey, I made it.
Next time prevention will be paramount. A mosquito net everywhere I go. Loads of mosquito coils to be burning all the time. Long sleeve cotton shirts and pants. Anti- mosquitos spray and something to rub on your body.. But I’m definitely going back to a malaria area in the near future, so I suppose that means I consider the mission worth it. So if you’re about to launch on that dream trip to Centro America just remember not to slack off with the anti- mosquitos protection. If you do slack off, at the least it could mean an early and uncomfortable end to your surf trip, at worst it could mean your life.
Manly, Australia – Due to popular demand, the Calm As… First Aid Kits For Surfers have been revamped, and the new-look kits are already available for sale here https://bettersurf.com.au/
The Calm As… First Aid Kits For Surfers came about as a collaboration between a number of Doctors with one thing in common – they all surfed. In fact they were all members of the Surfing Doctors – a close-knit group of like-minded individuals who have filtered out of various specialties and areas of medicine to combine the love of two totally different passions; the surfing sport and lifestyle, and a lifelong career in medicine.
Every year the Surfing Doctors gather in Grajagan to discuss various medical and surfing topics in their Annual Conference. Conference topics vary, but the conversations remain around medical procedures, emergency surgery, eye injuries and fin chops, as well as the latest surfboard technology and the best equipment needed to take on the fabled waves of Grajagan
It was while in the jungle that Dr Jon Cohen from Australia, along with the help of Dr Phil Chapman from South Africa, came up with the concept of Calm As… surfers medical kits that are specific for surfers when traveling into remote areas, and who might experience surfing or travel injuries.
The first edition of the Calm As.. First Aid Kits For Surfers were an immediate success, and as more information and knowledge came through from end-users, so Dr Cohen tweaked and updated the kit into this current iteration.
“We knew what most surfers would need in a medical emergency while in the jungle or off the beaten track, but we needed some more information as to the quantities of the gear they would get through when using the kit,” said Dr Cohen. “As a result we have increased the quantities of certain gear, including the basics like bandaids and alcohol wipes, as well as including some heavy duty gloves and reorganizing the layout of the kit for more intuitive use.”
“It’s been fun just slightly modifying the contents so that the kits fit a wider variety of needs than originally intended,” continued Dr Cohen. “We found that a lot of surfers were keen to have a kit sitting in their cars or utes after getting back from overseas for those unexpected accidents when kicking around home, or on mini road trips.”
“The ongoing support of Calm As… has been encouraging, and surfers have been quick on the uptake,” said Dr Cohen. “Those surfers who have dealt with medical emergencies before will feel comfortable with the contents of the kits, and those ones who find themselves in an emergency situation for the first time should be comfortable with the contents and the straight-forward instructions that come with it.”
The crew at Calm As… will be giving away a few of the kits online via their social media channels some time in the future, so check them out on Facebook and find them on Instagram on @bettersurfoz
Austinmer, New South Wales – Dr Jon Cohen, representing Calm As… and Surfing Doctors has been invited to the Big Wave Risk Assessment Group (BWRAG) for their Level 1 and 2 Summit at Austinmer on 27-28 April 2019. The summit is hosted by Australian surfers Dan Ross and Zeb Walsh,and will be led by BWRAG instructor former Big Wave World Champion Greg Long.
Dr Cohen is a long-term member of Surfing Doctors and is the founder of Calm As… first aid kits for surfers, which has started rolling out across Australia, and that came to the attention of the people at BWRAG, along with the Surfing Doctors presence.
Dr Cohen’s talk will consist of:
1) Top to toe – the first 5 minutes of any surf emergency (20 mins). Introduction to a trauma survey with introduction to:
– Minor head injury and concussion basics
– Spinal injury basics
– Chest and abdominal injuries
– Pelvic Fractures
– Long bone fractures and sprains – initial management
– Minor cuts to the face and limbs
2) Worst case scenario – how to save a life in a shark attack situation (15 mins)
3) Snake bite – basic principals of first aid (5 mins)
4) Shoulder relocation – how to identify and fix it in the jungle or bush (10 mins)
5) Q & A (10 mins)
“The guys from the Big Wave Risk Assessment group are definitely at the forefront of water safety, and it’s really cool that I got invited down to the Austinmer Summit to share some of my experiences in the surf medicine and emergency medicine fields with their participants,” said Dr Cohen. “Apart from being excited with the chance to share some of my experiences, I’m super excited to be able to learn from those guys about what they do in the water rescue, water safety and big wave fields.”
Sometimes things go wrong in paradise that are totally out of your control.
It was my second feral trip over to the Mentawais within a month. After figuring out the public ferry system, the route to HT’s, the people to use to hire a boat and the place to stay in the village, our first trip had been insane. Six weeks of perfect HT’s barrels with no one around. Being of no fixed abode at the time (1996), I had no reason to rush anywhere, and Indonesia was the only place that my savings had any value. It was time to head back to Hussein and hang out again at the perfection that was Hollow Trees.
The second time around the public ferry was a daytime run, which had both positives and negatives, as opposed to the somewhat harrowing first night time public ferry escapade. This time we could hang out on deck, move freely around the ferry, and do some people watching of the locals and visitors on the boat.
It soon became clear that there were local people on the ferry, returning home, and there were non-locals, with unknown reasons for traveling to the Mentawais back in 1996. They dressed differently, with the non-local crew wearing garish flower shirts from the markets of Padang. There were no business opportunities, and there was no reason for them to be traveling on the ferries, unless they had an eye on our western gear. We decided to watch our valuables closely.
At one stage we alighted onto a little island that had a small port. All of our gear was offloaded and we were told to wait for the next ferry. It felt in the high 30’s, and it was a cloudless day. Our boards started going soft in the sun, so we walked with them down to the water’s edge to cool them off. In the distance we could see a perfect right reeling around the edge of an atoll. We decided not to paddle.
We reached HT’s that afternoon, and headed to the village and to Hussein, the village elder who had so graciously hosted a few friends and I a few weeks earlier. He welcomed me back with open arms, and showed us the same rooms in his hut on the beach.
It was late in the season now, and there was no swell. When a glimmer of swell hope arrived, it would be dashed by the seasonal onshore winds, arriving late morning. It was humid, it rained a lot, and there were no waves. Despite being a fairly jovial and stoked bunch, we did start wearing on each other. We had very little food with us, and Hussein and his family seemed to hardly eat.
We sent a boat to the village and asked him to bring us back a pile of beers and some Ardath cigarettes, hoping that some fun times on land would possibly accelerate the arrival of swell. It never happened.
The village back in 1996 was always deathly quiet. The people would retreat into their little houses if they saw you coming. They seemed nervous, as well as shy. The young girls would go off in the morning to find copra husks, and they would smile shyly at you as they walked past in their bare feet, with bamboo cages on their backs to store the husks. The family mamas were the least shy, and would stay around their entrances to their huts as the swept the dust away, and would greet you with the normal ‘apar kabar’ greeting and a smile.
After a few days off, we finally had some swell and we all hit it. It was still small and running along the shelf, but there were barrels to be had, as they are every single time HT’s ever breaks. It’s a perfect wave and some of the rides out there are surreal, and you feel you just need to glide, to skim across the water to the channel without so much as a single turn. There were times that I would ride a wave and when asked what it was like on return to the lineup, I would not be able to remember a thing.
We were considering leaving the island and heading down to Bali for some parties and civilization, when our host Hussein came in one day and through my vague understanding of Indonesia, told us that there was a girl in the village who had malaria. ‘”Nyamuk,” was the word for mosquito, and back in the 90’s scores of Mentawaiian people died from their bites. It was for this very reason that Dr Dave Jenkins founded SurfAid http://www.surfaid.org/ in the Mentawais in 1999, three years later.
This girl was young, and she was pregnant, and she was going to die soon. We were visibly horrified, and offered Hussein our entire supply of Larium, to save the girl’s life. To my knowledge at the time, you could take three doses at once, and despite some quite radical side-affects, have a chance at eradicating the disease in the system. He thanked us, and consulted with a village group. They decided that she couldn’t have it due to the fact that she was pregnant. We were aghast.
The side effects of Larium during pregnancy were at that stage deemed ok, surmountable, but this was a human life, and he firmly said that she could not take the medicine. He seemed sure of himself, but did seem to be staring at us for way too long a time.
It was at that moment that I, for one, felt the jolting reality of a clash of knowledge over fear, of medicine over tradition, of the fear of meddling. They did not understand malaria medicine in any way. We did not understand Mentawaiian culture in any way.
It was a horrific, frustrating time, knowing what we knew about malaria and medicine, but there was nothing we could do. The house we were staying in became cold, as if an evil spirit had come to visit, and a storm outside was brewing.
Slowly, during the night, the longboats started arriving, right outside our hut. Rows of people, with traditional headgear would pile out and head for the house where the dying girl lay, two houses down from us. One of our crew asked permission to go into the house and take photographs. The request was somberly denied. More people arrived, and there were lanterns, there were burning torches, and we could hear the people crunching outside our room as they walked on by.
At about midnight a massive squall hit the village, with banshee winds and heavy rainfall. We could hear things flying around outside, and bashing against the walls of our hut, being carried through the air by the vicious winds. It was as black as hell outside, and we lay on our beds, wide-awake, and staring, waiting for the night to pass.
The next morning was still. The longboats and the visitors had all gone. The girl had passed away during the night, and they had taken her body with them. There was no sign of any damage outside from the squall. It was sunny and still, with small waves on the reef.
The mood had changed however. Suddenly the Mentawais was no longer a little playground for a few carefree surfers to hang out, drink a few beers, and lay around waiting for the next swell to arrive. It was a place where someone had died when she could quite possibly have been saved, and it was a place where everything seemed to have shifted a few levels of weirdness, where the value of life seemed to have lurched away from it’s lofty position above all else.
This island had overnight become a place where shamans with strange hats could arrive at the dead of night and take away the still warm body of a young and pregnant dead girl. If you though too long about it, it became more and more horrific.
Our host seemed a great man, and it seemed he sensed our uneasiness. He understood that maybe we had been unwittingly included in something that was not our place to be involved in, and I think he felt partially responsible. He had tried his best to make our trip comfortable, but it had gone a huge step away from this direction.
He facilitated a boat. His son accompanied us to the ticket seller in the next village, and we were gone, leaving our western boardies, sunglasses, t-shirts and dollars as our thanks.
Grajagan or G-land is one of the sickest waves in the world. It’s fairly remarkable for swell consistency and for offshore winds, but the rest of the variables are sometimes not as agreeable. Swell direction can be a problem, as can the tide. Crowds can be outrageous at times, and the obligatory selfish Brazilian pack sometimes arrive and can run rampant all over the wave and the camps. But sometimes you luck on and get it uncrowded and good, and it’s like no wave on earth.
We’re back in the jungle and it’s weird in here. As much as man tries to push it back, so the jungle forces its way forward. It’s a hopeless battle, like trying to stop a shifting sand dune. It’s relentless and remorseless and eventually you just know that nature is going to win. The jungle densely closes over the footpaths, trees fall over all the time, get caught up in branches and are left hanging.
Monkeys crash through the jungle and then sit and watch you patiently. They watch from their domain, their kingdom, as you nervously scan the ground in front of you for snakes and scorpions, keep your eyes open for jungle badgers. Wild pig sightings are rare, as are those of the black puma. Mosquitoes are rampant, and malaria lurks. Rats gnaw at your losman all night, wanting to eat your soap. Sea-snakes, stonefish and dugongs await you in the water. In this part of the world, eastern Java, nature reigns supreme.
The wave has been re-discovered, and new sections have come to light in extreme tides and swell directions. In-between the well-known sections like Kongs, Moneytrees, Launch Pads and Speedies there’s now The Fang, The Ledge and Quiksilvers. Not forgetting Chickens and Twenty-Twenties. But still the coral remains ever present. Shallow and sharp, it beckons at every bottom turn, it smiles at you every time you slip behind the falling lip of a barrelling wave. It grabs for soft bare feet and clutches for office hands stroking in shallow water. A reef cut is bad news in the tropics. The infection that inevitably results can be treated and despite being cleaned, never seems to actually heal until you get out of the humidity. The jungle humidity hangs on you like a warm, wet blanket. Any body movement results in a break-out of sweat.
There are other dangers on land. Western dangers brought over with Boyum and Lopez and all the others who dreamed of a surfing monastery in the jungle all those years ago. A monastery dedicated to the appreciation of one of the finest waves in the world. These dangers are the foibles of being a human. The modern addictions. Civilised cravings, like beer, whiskey, cigarettes, painkillers and sleeping pills.
When the surf is flat the beer flows. Along with the beer comes the obligatory cigarettes, left over from ‘social smoking’ habits in the cities and nightclubs. Clove cigarettes, indigenous to this land, are smooth tasting and leave a sweet memory on the lips. They are artificially soft on the throat, which hides the carcinogens roaring through and sticking onto your clean lung tissue. The sun slips down early on the equator and it is pitch-black by six o’clock. So black that you can’t see your hand as you pee into the jungle. Sometimes you see a pair of unmoving, unblinking eyes staring back at you. Paranoia here is known as the jungle jitters, and invariably leads to the sleeping tablets, the doormen at the club of bad dreams.
The only thing that can keep you away from all of these civilised dangers is the surf. The physical and mental distraction of solid, grunting waves reeling down the point.
Our first days floated by on a wave of malaria medication. The waves were small, we were tired, jet-lagged and still finding our groove with the people and the environment. Time has little meaning on the edge of reality, and my watch had stopped working. Our heart rates slowed down and our bowel movements sped up. The jungle diet passes through you fairly quickly.
Along with all the exercise we were getting we actually started feeling good after a while, so we doused this feeling with beer. We played pool and we drank a few beers every night. We saw a couple of jungle creatures. Then the swell jumped to 12 foot overnight and went out of control. We watched, languidly, from the shade of a tiny tree on the water’s edge as the jungle exhaled heated offshore breath out to sea. Some guys tried to surf, but the wash was impossible. Mission not accomplished.
Two sleeping tablets later and it was miraculously morning again, and it was pumping! Six to eight-foot and round! A fierce rip left over from the previous days massive swell a constant reminder and irritation as we hooked into perfection. One real wave at Speed Reef is all you need to wash away the stink of the city, to cleanse your soul. Just one of these waves is a fair trade for the last six months spent stressing about someone else’s business.
It’s a serious wave, and your body reacts accordingly. Adrenal glands start squirting crazily, heart rates quicken and endorphins move around and hit receptors. Lucidity roughly pushes jungle sluggishness aside as giant sets loom on the bommie and threaten to break outside and wash everyone over the reef. One mammoth set catches us, and boards and safety concerns are flung aside as we swim deep! Breathless, with eyes popping, we regain our position in the lineup with just a little more care.
After the session the mood of the camp changes dramatically. There are excited faces. Some people are talking about the big set, or about someone’s sick backhand barrel. People are examining their boards; getting bigger boards ready just in case. We head straight for the bar.
For the rest of our nine days the waves pump. Ranging from four to eight feet, they never let up. We would wake up in the morning, go through the breakfast/ablution motions, and get ready for the late morning’s trade winds to kick in. They kick in everyday. It’s just a matter of when. We surf until we are chafed, sunburned, arms weak and sore from paddling. Still the waves pour through.
Our trip has been characterised by an afternoon low tide, so the late mornings are spent furiously getting as many waves as possible as the trades puff. As the tide drains out over the afternoon hours we chill and watch, sipping on our beers. Some guys surf through the low tides and the harsh afternoon glare of the dropping sun. It’s not as good but it’s so uncrowded. One of the best waves in the world and about five guys surfing it.
We’ve emptied the beer fridge every night, but we’ve surfed every day, so it’s a fair trade. The jungle has a mollifying spirit that envelops you and seems to make all these outrageous waves and occurrences seem normal and commonplace.
Our last day and the waves are still going off, and we’re back out there. We surf until we can’t surf anymore. Until we are sated. Until we know that we could go, if necessary, for a few weeks without another surf. Or so we believe.
Phillip Chapman grew up in Cape Town, and was schooled at Pinelands High. He had a successful competitive surfing career, and dominated events held in solid surf. His standout performances always came when the waves were serious. Favourite spots included Kalk Bay, Outer Kom, big Dunes and Sea Point’s infamous [Off The Wall].
His studies saw him become Dr Chapman, currently Staff Specialist in Emergency Medicine at the Bunbury Regional Hospital in Western Australia, and the man behind Surfing Doctors.
The Surfing Doctors describe themselves as:
“… a close-knit group of like-minded individuals who have filtered out of various specialties and areas of medicine to combine the love of two totally different passions; the surfing sport and lifestyle, and a lifelong career in medicine.”
Their ethos reads “To head out to remote areas and act as caregivers to a host of different people including the setting up of long-term projects with the local population, and looking after the guests and staff where we are based.”
In short, they get to travel to amazing surf locations round the world, snag a few set waves and look after surfers who smash themselves up on the reef. Not a bad way to pass the time.
“At this stage we operate from G-Land mostly, “ explains Dr Chapman, “but we get gigs at Tavarua, Maccas, and a few other low-key spots like the Solomons. We have set up the main infirmary at G-Land, so that’s really our base.”
Dr Chapman has spent his time on the road however, more than most of the doctors on the Surfing Doctors roster. “I’ve done this gig in Java, Sumatra, Fiji, Australia and South Africa.”
It’s not all roses though, as their job is dealing with radical situations, and at times severe trauma. His worst situation was a full blown near death pelvic split at G-land. An inexperienced surfer panicked, turned his back to a set wave, and got smashed, with the wave splitting him in half, pretty much. Dr Chapman was on duty, and the surfer survived, barely. ”We had some near drowning situations recently as well,” said Dr Chapman. “One made it and one didn’t.”
Medicine and surfing.
There are good times as well for the Surfing Doctors. “The best part of the job is that we can combine two passions, of medicine and surfing, as well as meeting cool crew,” reckons Dr Chapman. “Then we get to share waves with them and even a few drinks afterwards.”
Still, most surf destinations do not have a resident Surfing Doctor on call. Surfers need to take control of their health and safety while traveling. This is especially important when heading for the more remote surf destinations that are becoming more and more popular. Surfers these days tend to shy further and further away from the crowds. “It is essential that you have adequate medical insurance,” reckon Dr Chapman.
This needs to include medevac cover, so that you can get a helicopter out to pick you up where possible. Better than bouncing through the jungle for days with possible broken bones. “It is also essential that you have a decent medical kit. I also reckon that traveling surfers should take a BLS course – Basic Life Support. This gives you skills you can use when you least expect it.”
It’s great to have a Surfing Doctor on call when you’re surfing and charging some thick Indonesian barrels. It’s just as important to be able to look after yourself as well.
Better Surf Marketplace was launched in 2018 to help get innovative products into the hands of the surfers and ocean users that need them most. Far from a typical surf store, the featured products are all geared towards making the ocean a more enjoyable and safer place for surfers and ocean lovers.
Dr. Jon Cohen founded Better Surf Marketplace, with the assistance and advice from Dr Phillip Chapman.
The early years.
I was born in a super-flat industrial area of Canada on the border with Detroit City. Lots of rivers and lakes, but thousands of km from the ocean. Surfing was always my favourite part of “California Games”. I loved those carving 360s.
Introduction to surfing.
I did a month long elective course in Hawaii on Medical Ethnobotany in 2003 – the course was all about how native people have used plants as medicines over the millennia. Went straight to Waikiki from the airport, threw my backpack in a locker and hired what looked like a standard surfboard to me. Looking back, it was probably a 9’6, wooden log. I went paddling for the horizon where I thought I saw some people getting waves (it was dead flat near shore). With absolutely no concept of ocean distances, when I was maybe 200m from the beach I’d started out from, this deep sea turtle popped its head up a few meters from me. It stared straight at me, looked one way, then the other, and then disappeared, seemingly oblivious to the impact he’d had on me. As I made my way back to shore, checking out the lush green Hawaiian backdrop, bloody and half shaved off nipples and all, I was hooked before I even got a wave.
I did a combo of Biology, Anthropology and Pharmacology at McGill University in Montreal with the hopes of developing medical treatments from traditional medicines in conjunction with native populations in the Amazon.I was totally shit at botany, and realised I’d probably be more useful getting a medical degree and joining a team to do the research / projects somewhere down the track. After a year surfing in Europe (SW France and Canaries), I started studying medicine at the University of Queensland in Brisbane.
The surfing world.
I’ve been surfing for about 15 years now. I feel that surfing does so much for me that I try and just love whichever wave I’ve got access to. The more different waves I surf, the more I miss ones I’ve loved in the past, but it still really comes down to just feeling lucky to get what I can get, when I can get it.
I love pitchy beachies the most – 3-5 foot, lefts and rights, shifting peaks up and down the beach. Always thins the crowd, everyone’s getting waves, flirting with barrels, getting smashed, and smiling like hell. Places like South Straddie, Anglet (France), Oaxaca (Mexico) and a lesser known 4wd access only spot up the coast in WA are probably the best beachies I’ve ever been lucky enough to paddle into.
I love the thrill of heavier waves, but not too heavy for mortals like myself. We get these waves up and down the coast in WA, and the long peelers we get on the East Coast. Everywhere from Noosa down to Crescent Head gets insane on its day.
I’m usually riding a 5’5 Vampirate quad funboard, a 5’9 swallow tail performance shorty, or a 6’1 Ghost as my step up. Needed my 7’0 Luke Studer in G-Land this year, and wished that 7’0 was an 8’6 or so in Jan when I had a free week to just hang and surf in Margs.
The traveling world.
I’m pretty much always on the go – my work as an emergency doctor keeps me on the move. I usually just take half time gigs as my main job, lump all the shifts together and then fill in at other hospitals in coastal towns around the traps. That plus getting back to Canada to visit my family, plus pretty frequent surf trips means I’m at “home” way less than I’m on the road.
While I love getting away and just parking at an amazing wave like G-Land, Nias or Puerto, I’m a huge fan of road trips, whether starting from home or starting from an overseas airport. North coast NSW, and south of Lima, Peru are probably my 2 favourite places to load up the car and go adventuring.
What is Better Surf Marketplace (BSM)?
I was living in the Southwest of WA for a couple of years. There are amazing waves all around there, really isolated spots where so frequently you get to live that dream of pulling up, having a look and seeing perfect, hollow waves in that head high to double overhead range – with next to no-one out. At first I was stoked, but then when I realised just how many of the spots I was surfing had seen fatal attacks in the past 10 years, or even just big shark sightings in the past few weeks or whatever, it started to play on my mind a bit.
There was this one day I remember clearly, running up to Inji point – a left-hand point that can wall up and offer fun rides for a couple of hundred meters on its day. It’s about a 15-min jog up the beach to get there from the car-park, and on the path there was this fit, middle aged surfer still dripping wet, standing there in the stiff offshore, looking super frustrated as he watched a perfect 5 foot set roll through unridden. I asked him “haya gon”, and he almost sheepishly admitted that he’d gotten a bit spooked by something he’d seen in the water. It’s a pretty sharky feeling spot, and generally breaks on pretty sharky feeling days. I was absolutely frothing that day so took my chances, hoping that someone fatter and tastier looking would paddle out and reduce my chances of becoming dinner, but it was far from a relaxing surf.
I was chilling in the Jacuzzi after the surf; full belly, unwinding and having a beer and the idea of a tourniquet you could use in the water came into my head. I had a basic design concept come to me pretty much straight away, and then sharks, hemorrhagic shock and tourniquets became a bit of an obsession for me over the next few months. Knowing fuck all about business, but having some savings to burn through, I cut down my doctoring hours, started researching existing products, business and design basics, and decided to have a go at getting my design patented and manufactured for people like me, WA crew that I know and care about, and old mate on the path that day.
By chatting with people about the project over the coming months, it became clear that there was a bit of a niche open for providing medical education to surfers / travellers. I’ve been with the Surfing Doctors for a couple of years now, but we’ve kinda been focused on up skilling medical professionals that surf, more than teaching your average punter about tips and tricks they can use to enjoy their surf trip more safely.
The BSM product line
The idea that started me on this path was “The SET” – The Surfer’s Emergency Tourniquet. I wanted to have a model that was in the $50 range so basically everyone could have the power to save their own life, or the life of someone they’re surfing with. I’ve also come up with a second design that’ll cost a bit more but might suit some people better. Now that we’ve got the patents filed, we’re focused on getting some working prototypes built, and doing small runs that me, some mates from Surfing Doctors and other surfing buds are going to try out and refine a couple of times. The three main things they each need to do to be better than anything else on the market is be unobtrusive, easy and quick to deploy, and be 100% reliable.
Because this has taken longer than I was hoping (who knew – inventing stuff and getting it manufactured takes longer than a couple months!), I wanted to make the best existing products available to surfers who want to be able to save a life in the case of shark attack.
These are the https://bettersurf.com.au/shop/tourniquets/swat-t/“>SWAT – a CE marked American military tourniquet that you can tuck into the chest zip of your wettie or a pocket of your boardies without pissing you off. It’s super easy to use and really cheap.
The other is a clever product by Omna. A surfing ex-military guy from the US invented it. It is an industry standard quality https://bettersurf.com.au/shop/tourniquets/legrope-tourniquet-omna-6/“>leg-rope that incorporates a fully functional tourniquet into the cuff part. As a surfer who travels around getting waves a fair bit, he’s got a great story about the day he came up with the invention, as I’m sure you’d imagine.
I’m currently working on getting a line of ultra high quality https://bettersurf.com.au/shop/first-aid-kits/remote-surf-travel-first-aid-kit/“>First Aid Kits designed for surfers, adventure sport travellers and people who go super remote in 4-wheel drives. We’ve got about 5 models that we’re really excited about. The main thing about these kits is that they’re stocked with products that are tried, tested and heavily curated by myself and a couple of other experienced emergency doctors. The second thing is that they’re coming in primo quality, custom designed bags that suit each of our intended users needs in terms of portability and extra storage sections.
We’re also selling https://bettersurf.com.au/shop/deterrents/shark-eyes-shark-deterrent/“>Shark Eyes – a cheap visual deterrent that could potentially decrease your chance of getting nipped by a shark. Deterrents are quite controversial, as it’s basically impossible to prove, or disprove, that they work. I chose Shark Eyes because they’re cheaper than other visual deterrents; way cheaper and simpler to install than electromagnetic deterrents, and rely on the highest level of scientific evidence that you can really hope for in a product like this – expert consensus. Shannon Worrell, a big wave charger, abalone diver and all around Waterman who’s grown up in the shark-rich waters of southwest WA invented them.
Better Surf Marketplace is really an evolving concept. It started as a place from which I could get these potentially life-saving products out to people as quickly and cheaply as possible.
I really wanted to make education a big component of the project, and so when it came time to talk to someone with an Instagram and Facebook account and see what happens in the world of social media, we went through a couple of the old names I’d brainstormed and passed on when Better Surf Marketplace was born!
I really just want this to be a way of getting reliable medical information that’s pertinent to surfers and adventure sport enthusiasts in an easily digestible, approachable and maybe even entertaining way. I want to help non-medical professionals access the types of things that myself, my nurse, paramedic and doctor buds bring with us when we go on overseas surf trips or 4WD strike missions up the beach, far from cell service let alone medical backup.
Down the track, I’d love to collaborate a bit more closely with Dr Phil Chapman, a good friend, awesome Emergency Doctor and founder of Surfing Doctors, on trying to formalise an education program for medics at surf camps, and maybe even start some sort of an accreditation system for surf camps to increase the level of medical competence surf travellers can expect when they fork out big bucks on their week in paradise.
When it comes to your average surfer’s travel mistakes, I think it’s just really hard to contain the froth. Whether it’s in the water, in the bush, or in town after the lights go down and the bass gets turned up – if you’ve only got a few weeks or months living the dream, and you want to just leave it all on the field. I mean, in some ways these are the moments that make the rest of life worth living. I guess just knowing your limits, whether it be in the water, hiking, on the piss, in ‘da club – just knowing that missing out on the next week of waves (or worse!) for that reo in the shallows, unmakeable barrel, waterfall jump or last line of festivities might not be worth it.
I think the main thing when it comes to surf trip advice comes down to planning and controlling the froth. Medical problems on a surf trip can be broken down into these main categories:
Pre-existing conditions – if you’re a diabetic, on blood thinners, have a dodgy knee – anything that could pose a problem to you while away from access to medicine and medical advice, just make sure you’ve got enough of your meds, supplies, etc., and importantly insurance and a medical summary for your treating docs in hospital in case things go really pear-shaped.
Local diseases you’ll be exposed to – Vaccines for Hep A / Typhoid, Yellow Fever, preventive meds and supplies for things like Malaria, Dengue, HIV (yes, condoms). Hopefully we will be able to provide some general advice in upcoming vids / posts, but really this is where seeing a GP in a good travel clinic before you go is really worthwhile. Know before you go.
Surf Carnage – a basic kit to sort out all of the common things like reef rash, urchin spines, fin chops, tweaked ankles and shoulders. If you’ve got a medical background it can be comforting to have a more comprehensive kit to deal with shit that properly hits the fan. Things like a tourniquet, knowing how to improvise a pelvic binder, or having some basic airway tools can be the difference between a mate’s life and death.
Para-surf carnage – sunburn, dehydration, next level alcohol or polysubstance intoxication, jock rot, gastro, or even a common flu – all of these can seriously fuck up you and your mates time in a remote setting.
If you can think about what you might need in those 4 broad categories, you should have most bases covered.
Sometimes shit goes down.
When there’s a medical emergency, distance is a very relative concept. We’re lucky in the Southwest of WA to have a couple of really good hospitals at Margs and in Busselton. The thing is, despite being pretty close to medical backup, neither hospital is capable of dealing with a lot of the really heavy stuff that you’re going to experience in the surf. At the end of the day, when we’re in remote areas doing potentially dangerous things, we need to be able to provide the first aid that’s going to give us enough time to make it to a big hospital where most of the life-saving operations and procedures like massive transfusion can take place.
I’ve been in the ED a few times waiting for the ambulance to bring in really sick people they’ve called ahead for, only to have them die en route. These deaths aren’t always preventable, but in those situations every link in the “chain of survival” is more important than the one that follows.