It is a common sight. Most of us have witnessed it or experienced it at some stage. It mostly happens post surf in the carpark. You can be chatting to your pals when one of you unexplainably starts headbanging, as if listening to some form of Heavy Metal and doing the bizarre surfers dance. This elaborate display is usually performed whilst rattling a finger in the ear and violently bobbing ones tilted head. All this in the hope that you can drain the five millilitres of excess seawater trapped in the canal.
Exostosis (Greek language for ‘new bone’) aka ‘Surfer’s Ear’ is a real thing and it can happen to any one of us. It is not selective in its victims and can be super painful. Apparently, it affects one out of every three surfers and if left unchecked, can cause severe hearing loss and pain, resulting in not surfing at all.
Before we begin our earplug review, here are some basic highlights on the condition we surfers should all be aware of.
How it happens - It needs prolonged exposure to cold, wet and windy environments for this condition to occur. When wind evaporates water out of your ear canal, it causes an extremely low temperature in the surrounding skin and bone. The harsh battering of the ear canal encourages extra bone growth, which causes the canal to narrow. It’s not fully understood why this combination of circumstances stimulates the new bone, it is believed that the body naturally wants to protect the eardrum.
If left untreated, this growth will keep expanding until it blocks the canal completely. It isn’t life threatening as such and most people who suffer from ‘Surfers Ear’ can be completely symptom-free and can remain so. Especially if you start to spend less time in the water before the issues start.
Warning signs - There are a number of pointers that could indicate if you might have this condition. Firstly, if you think you suffer from it or if you are not a hundred per cent sure, then please do yourself a favour and book an appointment at the ear doctor, they know best. If you do not live in a surfy location, be sure to see a specialist as the affliction is still relatively(compared to more common conditions) poorly understood.
An indication you might have this affliction would be water trapped in your ear, even after doing the surfers dance. This can lead to some very painful infections. You might also notice constant ringing in the ear, which can be very uncomfortable and can cause excess shouting at your friends.
How to fix it - Please skip to the ‘prevention’ section if you get squeamish. Unfortunately at this stage surgery is the principal course of action. The procedure involves making a large incision in the back of the ear so it can be folded forward. This gives the surgeon access to the canal so they can shave off the excess bone with his wireless drill. Once unlocked, the ear is folded back and stitched back in its original place. Bam and the job is done.
Recovery - Best case scenario is six to eight weeks of no surfing, can you imagine that! Each case will be different and it is important to allow time for your ear to fully heal, especially where the incisions were made. If you go surfing too early, the new skin is prone to infections and can result in more time out of the surf.
Prevention - Earplugs are probably the best form of prevention and there are a number of options to choose from. Like waves, every ear is different in shape and size. Having chatted with many other earplug users, some plugs work for some people and some do not. For example, I've tried custom made ones and other popular brands that simply refuse to stay in my ears, yet these options have worked for other surfers.
For this article, we will focus on one brand of earplug. There are a number of different options on the market and it will come down to personal choice and how they fit. Instead of using the conventional earplug, some folks use silicone or Blu-tack to protect the ear. I’ve been told that Blu-tack is not a viable option. It's been reported that over time, little pieces fall into the ear canal and it is very difficult to remove. Let us take a look at a more reliable option.
Introducing - EQ Seals Earplugs
Surgeons and engineers teamed up to design this simple ear bung. They are made of flexible medical silicone and come in bright orange. What is cool about the EQ Seals is the breathable membrane at the core, which allows the circulation of air in the ear canal. This helps maintain efficient hearing and balance, both handy things when you go surfing. They believe that they will fit about 95% of users.
The EQ Seals have been tested over a period of 2 years in conditions from ankle high to overhead bombs. We have tested them in the cold waters of Scotland and Ireland to the warm shores of Sri Lanka and Australia. We've put the plugs through their paces and tested them in varies conditions.
- Easy to put in and remove quickly - EQ offers a black pokey thing to help insert the plug, which I have never had to use. For me, they fit perfectly and it never feels like they will fall out. I have had a few wipeouts over the years and they stay fast. What I really like about the fitting is they do not need to be measured to the ear or have to be worn at a specific angle. They can be slotted in without much fuss or concentration. I have scarring on my eardrums, so the rare occasions I have taken a plug out whilst out surfing, it is great to have the luxury of easily slipping them back into place when a wave suddenly appears.
Colour - They come in bright orange which means they are easy to spot if you drop them whilst getting suited up. I lost one in a forest carpark and two days later went back and found it instantly. This has also come in handy when I have dropped one in the water, easy to spot and grab.
Membrane - The so-called Sympatex® helps maintain your hearing senses and balance capacities, which are both fairly important in life and for surfing. It also avoids that weird sensation of hearing your own heart pumping blood around your veins.
The protective tube- The orange metal case with its key loop is a great little addition. It keeps the plugs protected and it is convenient to have them attached to your keys, board-bag or hanging from your rear-view mirror so you never forget them.
Cost - 40 euro on average, which is one of the cheapest surf earplugs we could find on the market. There is no price on the safety and health of your body. You have read the beginning of this article and we know the dangers of ‘surfers ear’. Plus, think about all the time you’ll spend sitting on the sideline watching others have fun surfing waves.
I am yet to find a real fault. The con that is about to be listed is not judged on the performance or function of the earplugs themselves, more on the added extra that comes with the EQ's.
- The ergonomic applicator - This is the black piece that is designed for fitting the plugs into your ear. I have never met anyone that uses it, it seems to be a bit of a waste. If they ditched this, maybe the price could come down a touch and there would be less useless plastic on this earth.
Conclusion - Surfers ear is no joke. It results in nothing good and it will be painful. It is expensive to repair and most importantly, you will not surf for ages. It is a no brainer and be warned, if you have suffered from it and then had it fixed, it can happen again. The best prevention is earplugs.
I have been wearing the EQ’s for more than two years. If I go surfing without them, I feel vulnerable and rather naked. During the time I have been using them, I have not lost one whilst surfing. They fit my ear perfectly and I know a lot of surfers that are really happy with this product. As you might have guessed, it is getting the thumbs up from us.
Some will argue that there is no need to wear them in warm temperatures, as ‘surfers ear’ is caused by cold conditions. I spent two months surfing the warm waters of Sri Lanka and did not suffer from ear infection during my trip. That can not be said for my teammates who did not wear ear protection and they were constantly being plagued by troubles. ‘The proof is in the pudding is in the eating’ as my mother would say.
I have tried other types of earplugs and found the most reliable for me are the EQ’s. The Surf Bunker head dictator, James, is a fan of the Surf Ear 2.0 and has written an article on the subject, click here for the full review.
In the past, I did try Blu-tak and silicone to protect my ears, but they would inevitably full out mid surf, especially the silicone versions. As soon as they get wet, good luck getting them to stay in place again. Both these methods block your ears completely, so you will find yourself either shouting at your friends or feeling weirded out by the sound of your own heart thumping away.
The idea of inserting a foreign object into one's ear might sound uncomfortable at the start, but honestly, once you’ve got into the habit, you’ll feel strange if you don’t wear them. If you want to carry on hearing things and surfing, it could well be time to consider protecting your ears.
Disclaimer: Under new rules which we think are quite cool, we have to actually tell you how these test items got to us at the Bunker. We purchased the product ourselves and we were not paid for this review. We have tried to be as honest as possible and EQ Seals have had no control over what we decided to write. Not one bit, no sir. We like to remain honest, true and untarnished. Thank you for reading.