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Surf Rash 101: How to Prevent + Heal a Rash From Surfing
Learning how to surf? Get ready to deal with one of surfing's greatest annoyances: “The Surf Rash”.
The constant rubbing of wet, salty skin against your surfboard and the fabric of your surf gear creates a gnarly friction, and thus, a painful red rash against our inner thighs, stomachs, and chest. And truth be told?
It’s just part of the game!
You’ll quickly realize that a rash from surfing is quite the reasonable trade off for an insanely fun session in the water, and at the end of the day, you’ll never entirely avoid surf rash. However, there’s always steps you can take to avoid surfers rash, and also to help heal it more quickly.
Here’s how to avoid the post-surf-surf-rash complaints!
How to Prevent Surf Rash
Surf rash hurts. And once you’ve got it, it becomes more painful with every surf. During instances like surf trips or a long run of swell where you have plans to be in the water for more than one day, do everything you can to prevent surf rash before it happens. Or else, that third or fourth session might become impossible due to the agony of bleeding red bumps on the belly!
Here’s some simple steps you can take to prevent surf rash before you drop in.
1. Surf More!
Wait, what? I thought surfing more would make my surf rash worse? In the short term, yes. But when you’re talking about the long game, quite the opposite. as the more you surf, the more your skin becomes used to the friction.
Like building calluses on the hand, the more exposure to surf rash we place ourselves in, the more the body learns to prevent it down the road.
There will always be more surf rash during the early stages of surfing, and it’ll also hurt way worse. So this might be some harsh advice, but deal with it now and eventually you won’t have to as badly!
Experienced surfers who spend lots of time in the water, and who have seasoned skin, don’t get surf rash as bad as fresh skin new to board friction. So surf more and get surf rash less.
Sounds good to me, right?
2. Or Maybe Don’t Surf as Much…
On the opposite end of surfing as much as you can, you've got to be honest with yourself when you reach a point of ‘too far gone’. If your surf rash is extremely painful when that salty water hits the skin and you lay on the board, to a point where surfing is less fun, then maybe take a break.
Let the muscles heal, and give your skin some time to heal and callus over.
3. They’re Called “Rash Guards” for a Reason!
Who woulda known. Something called a ‘rash guard’ meant to guard against rash?
But for real, there’s no better protection against surf rash than wearing a rash guard every time you surf, even if that means dealing with some farmer's tan.
Plus, rash guards double as sun protection for kids and adults, and they keep you a bit warmer against the wind, so you’re getting a lot out of throwing one on the back.
4. Friction Guard
Using a friction guard to prevent surf rash makes total sense. After all, board rash is caused by friction. These often look like sticks or cream that you rub against the skin. In doing so, it lubricates the area to prevent this dreaded friction and therefore prevent rash.
And in using friction guards in my experience, they’ve absolutely helped ward off surf rash. The thing is, though, is that they come with one down side. The lubrication and slippery skin can make your surfboard a bit more slippery.
My advice is to focus the friction guard on only the areas that receive surf rash the worst, to not overdo it, and to wear a rash guard with your friction guard. Make sure to wax your surfboard really well, and you won’t notice any extra slippage while enjoying a far less painful session.
A Few More Notes on Friction Guard!
Not all friction guards are made the same. Some are actually damaging to neoprene (what your wetsuits are made from!), and also to our beloved ocean. And by some, I mean those made of petroleum jellies.
With that, aim to purchase an eco-friendly friction guard that isn’t made from petroleum jellies. These products, such as Body Glide, aren’t as greasy, they don’t damage wetties, and they’re safe for our seven seas.
5. Wetties for the Win
Speaking of wetsuits, if you happen to live in a chillier climate that requires a wetsuit to keep you warm, then you’re actually receiving simultaneous surf rash protection! The thickness of wetsuits will hugely prevent surfers' rash while keeping you warm, as the thick rubber layer eliminates friction between the board and skin.
Yes, after a few consistent sessions you will still feel some rash kick in, but wetsuits definitely extend this timeline.
If it’s not cold enough for a wetsuit, you can still benefit from the surf rash protection of neoprene. There’s thin wetsuit leggings and thin 0.5-1mm wetsuit toppers (a step up from rash guards in terms of thickness/protection), that won’t overheat you while still offering killer surf rash protection.
How to Heal Board Rash Quickly
With surf rash being an inevitable part of the surfing experience, how can you heal it quickly to get back in the water for the next run of swell? Just like any other skin lesion/wound, there’s steps you can take.
1. Aloe Vera
Aloe isn’t just great for sunburns, but it’s a huge asset in providing cooling relief from your surf rash while helping to heal these small wounds more quickly by increasing and altering the composition of collagen.
2. Don’t Surf
We went over this. Sometimes you’ve just got to give it a break. Don’t surf for awhile and let that surf rash heal. The next time you paddle out, you’ll already notice your skin has strengthened and isn’t affected so badly.
3. Baby Diaper Rash Cream
Can you tell I'm a surf mom? This family secret has helped heal our surf rashes since my first-born started walking barefoot on this Earth & sand. Offering gentle but effective healing, baby diaper rash cream may as well market itself as surf rash cream, too!!
4. Medical Ointments
I always suggest using medical ointments for surf rash. Wash the rash with castile soap to keep it clean, and apply an antibacterial ointment to the afflicted area. Preventing infection is critical, and this will also help to speed up the healing process!
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Live rad, stay salty.
- Ash, Dev & The Salty Shreds Fam.