Surfing is a very healthy lifestyle/ pretty good thing to do, but it can do some serious damage to your ears. When you surf you are at risk of ear infections (especially after heavy rains), swimmer's ear (Otitis external), perforations from impact/ water pressure and cold water surfers are especially prone to surfer's ear (exostosis). Basically exostosis is the body's response to repeated exposure to cold air and water, and the result is bone growth in the ear canal, which can lead to infection, hearing damage and lots of other nasty shit. Even grosser, to get rid of it, a doctor will drill your ears.
I am not a doctor (and I don't play one on TV) but I've had some ear issues, surf a lot, and have researched the subject a fair bit. The best ways to prevent surfer's ear is to wear a hood and other ear protection in cold water, and to dry the ears post surf, and maybe put on a warm hat. I personally have tried every surf/swim ear plug available on the market including, silicone putty, blue tack, mack's plugs, docs pro plugs and others. While the tack, and putty is cheap and comfortable, you can't hear a thing which makes surfing harder/worse. Mack's and Doc's are pretty good but they get lost very easily and hearing is not amazing.
I recently discovered SurfEars, which directly addresses all of these issues and I am very thankful that I have a product I can count on to protect my sweet beautiful ears when I surf. Basically the plugs have interchangeable ear buds to fit different size ears, and arms that hold the plug in place (also interchangeable in varying sizes), With a leash that can go around the neck or clip to wetsuit, you have to really try if you want to lose these. Also the plugs are covered by a hydrophobic mesh which repels water but still allows a considerable amount of sound to come through.
I would say my hearing was at 80% compared to surfing with no earplugs (other plugs I would hear at about 10-50%). I would highly recommend SurfEars to anyone who surfs, kites, windsurfs, boogie boards, sups, sails, goat boats, swims, skinny dips in general, but especially in cold water. Wearing any ear protection is better than nothing, you wouldn't play hockey or football without proper protection (unless you're a huge badass!) and surfing should be no different.
Words by Surf the Greats Instructor Elie Landesberg. Photographs by Mark Clinton.