Surf Rash: How to Treat and Prevent

Most surfers dream of surfing warm, tropical waves. Not having to put on your soaking wet wetsuit at 6 am is truly the dream. But with warm water surfing, comes warm water responsibilities: surf rash. Those pesky red micro-abrasions are something every surfer should be aware of. The good news? Surf rash is not only totally treatable, but also preventable.

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What is Surf Rash?

Surf rash is an ailment that unfortunately, most surfers experience at some point or another. In short, it is a mild skin abrasion.

The way it happens, is saltwater softens your skin, leaving it extra sensitive. Then, repetitive rubbing motions cause little tears in the skin, giving the appearance of a red, bumpy rash.

Typically, this rash is caused by repetitive friction between your body and surfboard, wax, wetsuit, and/or stomp pad.

While usually just a mildly painful rash, if scratched, or left untreated, surf rash can quickly turn into a staph infection. Luckily, surf rash is preventable, and treatable! So fret not, and don’t let this pesky condition get in the way of your surfing.

surf rash

How to Prevent Surf Rash

While surf rash may not be entirely preventable, its effects can certainly be mitigated by following these steps.

  1. Skip the wax comb. In cold water surfing, a wax comb provides a little extra traction on your board. In warm water surfing, when you don’t have a couple mm of geoprene between yourself and the board, the extra traction that is so helpful in cold water will shred your skin. Seriously. I experienced this in Costa Rica, and it was not fun. Do yourself a favor, and while surfing in warm water, skip the wax comb!
  2. Wear a rash guard. Wearing a rash guard does exactly what you’d think…. it prevents surf rash! As an added benefit, a rash guard also protects you from the sun.
  3. Wear surf….leggings. That’s right, surf leggings. A rash guard only protects your upper body, what about your legs? The easiest solution is surf leggings. If you don’t have surf leggings that’s fine, any yoga/ workout leggings will do just fine!
  4. Toughen up. Literally. After about a week of consistent surfing, your skin will start to toughen up, and you will (hopefully) no longer get surf rash.

Treatments for surf rash

The best, end all be all, super secret treatment for surf rash is baby diaper rash cream. I know it might feel silly ordering diaper rash cream for a surf trip.

Unless you already have a baby, and then its a two for one!

But trust me, this stuff works wonders.

Plus, you really want to let your surf rash heal up, especially in tropical surf destinations. If you don’t let your surf rash heal in a tropical destination, it could turn into a staph infection, which you really don’t want.

It heals you right up in just a few hours. The best thing about it is it’s cheap, and available pretty much everywhere. On my most recent surf trip to Costa Rica, my legs got all scraped up, and all I had to do was walk into a Farmacia and ask for pañalito (baby diaper cream) and I was good to go.

surf rash
My legs covered in pañalito after hours of surfing in Tamarindo!

Aloe Vera gel also offers a nice pain relief from surf rash. It cools and soothes the stinging. It’s also great for sunburns! If you order some to bring on your surf trip, be sure to grab the travel size so you can fit it in your carry-on!

Once again, the best treatment is going to be to toughen up your skin through more and more hours in the water. I recently spent the last 4 months on a surf trip in Costa Rica, and the first 5 days were pretty tough, but after that, I didn’t have a single issue. It’s also great to ease into surfing without a wetsuit.

Wearing a rash guard for the first week saved my upper body, and toughened the skin at the same time. By the end of my first week, my skin had toughened up to the point of no longer needing a rash guard!

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