Surfing with a Stoma – 4 Tips to an Endless Summer
There are very few sports or activities that define someone like surfing. It’s an exclusive tribe, albeit a big one, with millions of people paddling out everyday. It can bond you to another when you cross paths, be it out in the water or in the corporate boardroom when it comes up in casual conversation. If you count yourself amongst this lot, you know that if something were to prevent you from riding waves ever again, a piece of you would cease to exist. Bluntly put, a surfer facing a stoma often goes into panic mode. All of a sudden sharks aren’t the concern.
No need to panic. Your endless summer is not in jeopardy.
Bethany Hamilton returned to world class competitive surfing after losing her arm to a 14-foot tiger shark when she was 14 years old. Any fit person with a stoma can still get tubed. All that it takes, is preparation.
4 Things You Need to do Before Surfing with an Ostomy
Suit Up Before Your Session
Your biggest concern is your ostomy pouch. You will need top-grade supplies that include drainable pouches and an extended wear flange. Also apply a protective liquid skin barrier for added insurance. A pouch system is not exactly located in the best place when it comes to laying down on a fiberglass board. This is where you need extra gear. For low-impact surfing a form-fitting support belt with keep your ostomy bag from shifting. For higher impact surfing you will need a more durable stoma guard to cover your pouch, which (the stoma guard) will be kept in place with a waterproof support belt. For those surfing in cooler climates, a wetsuit will help hold your system in place, but is not a substitute for a support belt (so combine where applicable).
Concerned about bodily functions while surfing? Why? Urinating in a wetsuit during a long session is not uncommon. Every surfer has done it. You now have a leg up with an ostomy pouch. That way the only thing you’ll be rinsing off is saltwater. That being said, it’s a good idea to watch what you eat beforehand, and save the breakfast burritos for post-surf dining.
Be Mindful of Water Quality Warnings
A stoma is an opening in your body that leads to your gut or trachea. Activity and friction (that can occur when surfing) can potentially cause tiny lesions in the skin (another call for a liquid skin barrier). Those lesions are gateways to micro-organisms commonly found in polluted seawater. Infection can occur. You don’t want that anywhere near your digestive system.
Surfers often monitor water quality conditions when traveling to unknown surf spots and thus, as someone living with an ostomy, you should adopt this practice too. This does not only apply to far-flung destinations. Any time that there is a significant rainstorm in your locale, go online and search for information on water quality at your local surf break. Rain can cause stormwater run-off that expels sewage water from pipes that empty out into the ocean. You will want to wait until the water quality warnings have been lifted before padding back out.
Ease Your Way Back into Those Waves
It doesn’t matter if you were surfing 8-foot Cloudbreak prior to your surgery, you need to ease back into it. Stick to mellow sandbars and breezy reef rollers before paddling out into anything of consequence. Get back into the water with a soft-top longboard (10 ft+) so that you can gauge your comfort level. Work out the kinks, shake-off the cobwebs, and be honest with yourself if you feel pain or significant functional discomfort. If you do, see your physician and/or physiotherapist about it. Even when your body (and mind) is ready, you will need to get accustomed to paddling and popping-up with your ostomy pouch and its support system in place. Consider stand-up paddling (SUP) to begin with. After a dozen (or so) sessions you will adjust and be ready to manage the waves you love to ride, whether it’s 2-foot Waikiki or overhead Fiji.
Seek Inspiration from Others in the Tribe
The interconnected world of surfing allows you to draw inspiration from others that have stories similar to yours. And they are more than willing to share. Physical challenges to getting in, and succeeding in, the water are worn as stamps of pride, and are not hidden. This is true of top-level surfers living with an ostomy too. High-profile figures such as Oli Adams have been vocal about their experiences while others are official ambassadors for Crohn’s and Colitis awareness, including Brittani Nicholl. There are numerous online forums where surfing with a stoma are discussed, all of which include inspirations to get people back on their boards. We hope to have accomplished the same, for you.
Photo credit: Brittani Nicholl Craig Capper – Surfin Snapps