Health Check: Safe surfing

By Barbara Morse Silva

Rhode Island is not called the Ocean State for nothing.

When surf's up, it's enticing to play in the waves. But for newbies and veterans alike, it's always a good time to brush up on some safety tips.

The waves were quite the draw for Andrew Nathanson, a Rhode Island Hospital emergency medicine doctor.

"Spent a lot of time on the Cape and the Islands when I was a kid and just seemed like a fun thing to do," Nathanson said.

Now it's a family affair, approached with a great deal of respect.

"This year, we saw somebody who fractured their neck. They weren't paying attention to what was going on. They didn't see a big wave coming behind them, and it slammed them sort of head first into the sand and they suffered a neck fracture," Nathanson said.

The lesson to be learned?

"Never turn your back to the waves," Nathanson said.

Nathanson is an expert on safe surfing. He co-authored "Surf Survival: the Surfer's Health Handbook."

He said the surfer's biggest adversary is the board itself.

"People have been knocked unconscious and drowned that way, got concussions, cuts from the fins and just getting hit in the head, the face or the eye," Nathanson said.

If you're a beginner, Nathanson recommends using a boogie board or surf board made out of a shock absorbent material.

And always, no matter what board you use, know what to do if you're caught in a rip current.

"Rip currents are relatively narrow. They're about 20 or 30 feet wide, and if you find yourself getting pulled out, all you have to do is go parallel to the shore and then come in where there is no rip current. The waves will carry you in," Nathanson said. "Don't try to paddle into shore against a rip current."

Another concern he's heard from fellow surfers is shark attacks. Nathanson said worldwide, there are only 30 shark attacks a year. None in Rhode Island, he says, ever.{}