5 July, 2013 5 July, 2013

Dry-Docked: Taking Care Of Your Fresh New Reef Tattoos

It’s no secret that a large majority of the world’s best waves break over a coral reef racetrack. With sections of reef bearing names like ‘The Surgeons Table’ or ‘Shishkebabs’, it’s also a no-brainer that with their pleasure, comes pain.

Getting barrelled at places like these come hand-in-hand with the risk of acquiring a fresh new reef tattoo.


Still, there’s no stopping the hordes of Saffa surfers that travel to places like Indo after staring at another perfect tube in the latest Zag, and many will inevitably meet Mr Coral Head or Mrs Sea Urchin on their travels – which not only opens up some fresh wounds, but also leaves a small amount of animal protein and material in the cut. Left untreated, infection can quickly set in and bring a premature end to your barrel-fest.

So, to ensure that your dream Indo trip doesn’t turn into a nightmare, here’s a quick guide to caring for your reef cuts.


by: Phil Nel

The tropics are not a sterile environment, and leaving a wound untreated will lead to a painful experience, hospitalisation and even in severe cases, death. Often less severe wounds are treated by surfers themselves, but don’t underestimate the smallest of cuts. We’ve seen surfers leaving minor cuts untreated, with eventual joint pain, fevers and extended periods out of the water. Not so lekker if you only have two precious weeks to spend in Indo.

After qualifying as a doctor, fellow Boland local Nils von Delft and wife Andréa are currently living their life dream – travelling a full year around the world. Nils’ adventures also included a three-week shift as the surf camp doctor at G-Land Surf Camp with the Surfing Doctors Association.

Even small scratches can go from 'nothing much' to 'OMG' if left untreated.

Even small scratches can go from ‘nothing much’ to ‘OMG’ if not treated properly.

I recently caught up with Nils via Facebook, to get some more frontline tips on Indo wound care.

After the initial trauma, immediately clean the wound thoroughly for an extended time (minimum 10 min). Dead skin and foreign objects need to be carefully removed with sterile equipment.

“In G-land I again noticed the importance of immediately removing sea urchins lodged in the skin. Once the swelling and infection sets in, it becomes increasingly difficult to remove foreign objects.” warned Nils.

He recommends washing with shower water and following that up with ‘clean’ bottled water (tap water in Indo is not clean). It burns like hell, but it is important to get all the coral dust out. That brings us to the more painful second step.

Scrub the wound with a soft brush and bottled water diluted with anti-septic soap. Apply more diluted water with hydrogen peroxide. Dry the wound out, and apply an Anti-Bacterial ointment (like Bactroban). Close the wound with non-adhering dressing – this will keep the wounds covered on the streets.

“It’s important to also give the wound as much chance as possible to dry out in-between surfs and trips to town.” claims Nils. Keep a close eye on the wound, and if localised infection starts (redness, swelling, puss, or pain) or systemic infection (fever, swollen glands, fatigue, nausea, joint pain, headaches), then immediately seek medical advice.

When still surfing with open wounds (as most surfers do), it is important to stick to a routine of thoroughly washing the wound as per Step 1 after every surf.

Nils adds to this, “The solution to wound pollution is DILUTION” i.e. Lots and lots of washing out the wound with bottled water.”

Come prepared with a good medical kit that is well stocked. Surfingdoctors.com have a great first aid kit especially assembled for surfers. If you have more severe wounds, seek medical help – surfingdoctors.com are also able to assist you with info about your nearest medical point.


Coral wounds need to be nurtured at all times, and sticking to a simple cleaning routine will make your life a lot easier, as well as assure that you spend more time in the barrel, and less time on forced camera duty.

* Remember – try to avoid applying the Red Mercurochrome/Merthiolate/Chinese Medicine type liquids on your wounds. Research indicates that this might lead to mercury build-up in the body. Saying that, several surf doctors still believe in its value when used in moderation.


Last weekend Zag happened to bump into Travis Logie, who informed us that infection had already started to set well in just one day after acquiring his reef rash during his Round 3 heat at the Volcom Fiji Pro at Cloudbreak. A swift return to LA (his new base) ensured that it was properly treated – but did mean that he missed the Oakley Pro Bali.


1 Comment

  1. HP
    9 July, 2013 at 11:23 am · Reply

    What about lime???

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