What are the best earplugs for surfing?
I grew up going to lots of loud hardcore punk shows that at best left my ears ringing and at worst brought a stabbing pain that seemed to pierce my eardrums. It wasn’t too long before I realized I needed to wear earplugs. I got so conscientious that if I forgot my earplugs at a show — or even a nightclub with a loud sound system — I’d stuff whatever I could find into my audial canals; napkins, toilet paper, used bubble gum… (no, not really). After I started playing in bands myself I depended on earplugs even more. I became pretty knowledgeable about the different kinds of standard models available: cheap foam, gooey wax, more expensive varieties for musicians and even rubbery US Army issue plugs that were air and sound-tight.
Now, the difference between earplugs for surfing and earplugs for keeping things quiet is pretty crucial. One keeps water out, while the other dampens loud noises. On the other hand they both block your ears and the better they are, the more selective they are about letting things through, such as cold, water, noise, air, etc. In both cases you want your ears to breathe a bit and in both cases you want to hear at least to some extent. For musicians, tinnitus is no joke. It can ruin careers and seriously affect quality of life. Same goes for surfer’s ear, or exostosis, a condition in which repeated exposure to cold air and water causes excessive and abnormal bone growth in the ear canal. It can even lead to blocked ear canals and infection.
Exostosis is a hazard of cold, wet, windy activities. So if you’re someone who surfs in the winter or in cold waters at any time of year, surfer’s ear should be a concern. Basically, if you need to wear a wetsuit, you should worry about surfer’s ear. You’re also at a greater risk of developing the condition if you are in your mid 30’s to late 40s, though anyone who surfs in cold conditions or spends a time in cold, wet, windy weather is vulnerable. The main problems associated with exostosis are increased ear infections, hearing loss and difficulty cleaning the ears. For more on the condition, read this extensive article on Magic Seaweed.
Besides earplugs, the use of hoods and swim caps are ways of preventing surfer’s ear. Here, however, we’re going to focus on earplugs.
Part of the reason I differentiated earlier between earplugs for surfing and those for other purposes is so you don’t just pop down to the nearest pharmacy and buy standard spongy or waxy earplugs for dampening sound (or even swimming earplugs) and use them for surfing. They might be cheaper, but they won’t do the job you’re looking for. Good surfing earplugs are distinguished by their ability to let sound through while keeping wind and water out. As a surfer you need to be aware of noise and communication — in dangerous conditions it can even mean the difference between life and death.
In terms of surfing there are still cheap and expensive options, depending on how concerned you are and how much you can — or want to — shell out. Here are a few examples:
- The best earplugs for surfing may come from companies like Surfplugs, which require an audiologist to make an ear impression and then a fitting process before they can complete your order. Surfplugs start at £79.99 (€102/$128).
- EQ Seals are a simpler option and go for around half that price (minus the audiologist visit as well). EQ Seals also feature a breathable, “hearable” membrane. Read about them in Surfer Today.
- Surfears claim to cause “close to zero acoustic loss” and do look pretty high-tech. They were also designed in my old hometown of Malmö, Sweden and go for €44.90 plus €6 world-wide shipping.
As you can see from listings on the Ear Plug Store, earplugs for surfing can run the gamut in terms of price. I suggest you do some research, ask friends, check out online forums on the topic (like this one) and then try some out. Since surfer’s ear develops over time, I don’t imagine there is much harm in experimenting with less expensive options in terms of the risk of developing the condition. That said, I wouldn’t recommend hampering your hearing when you’re out on the waves. Get some plugs that let a good degree of sound in. Check out Magic Seaweed’s store for more options. Good luck!
Lead image of former Rip Curl CEO Dave Lawn wearing earplugs for surfing by Dave Young (Flickr CC)