Guide to Surfer’s Ear

Guide to Surfer’s Ear


Coldwater surfers have a few more challenges than those fortunate enough to live close to the equator. Aside from the frigid water and chilly weather, there’s also a medical condition called Surfer’s Ear that can affect really anyone, but it's especially common among surfers in colder climates.

The good news is that it’s mostly preventable with the right equipment. We’ve created this guide to help surfers understand Surfer’s Ear so they can get the right gear and potentially avoid the hassle down the road.

*Disclaimer: This guide is meant to be a brief introduction to the topic. As you may have guessed, I didn’t go to Med school, so if you have any serious questions or concerns, we highly recommend reaching out to your Doctor or an ear specialist.

So... what exactly is Surfer’s Ear?

Surfer’s ear (Called exostosis in the medical world) is a progressive bone growth in the ear canal that develops over time. It’s caused by repeated, prolonged exposure to cold water and wind coming in contact with your ears.

The ear tries to manage this exposure by producing bone growth. The rate at which it develops varies from person to person and usually takes decades. However, once symptoms appear, they’ll slowly worsen. Eventually, you’ll need a surgical procedure to correct it, which is 0% fun and costs a chunk of change as well. Surfer’s Ear can cause irritation, pain, trap water in your ear, and even affects your hearing.

Is Surfer’s Ear the same as Swimmer’s Ear?

No, while the two are sometimes confused, Surfer’s ear is an actual physiological change to your ear as it develops bony growths in the ear canal. Swimmer’s Ear, on the other hand, is a bacterial infection caused by water getting stuck in the ear canal.

However, the two can be correlated since Surfer’s Ear leads to a tighter ear canal, increasing the chance of water becoming stuck in the ear canal and developing a swimmer’s ear.

How can you prevent Surfer’s Ear?

The best thing you can do for Surfer’s ear is to take preventative measures ahead of time before you notice any symptoms. Wearing ear protection is the #1 best way to keep your ears trouble-free for decades ahead. Earplugs have come a long way, so while you can go with something basic, there are more advanced options that can help your ears stay safe while allowing you to still easily hear.

That being said here are our recommendations for gear that will protect your ears for years to come:

Mack's Ear Plugs

Macks Pillow Soft Ear Plugs

These are probably the most simple and cost-effective way to protect your ears. Each set contains 2 pairs of silicone putty plugs that are easily molded to the shape of your ear. Mac’s plugs do an excellent job at protecting your ear canal and it could be argued that these actually form a tighter seal than any pair of earplugs since they can conform to the shape of your unique ear. For $2 a pair these are a no-brainer.

Shop Macks Pillow Soft Ear Plugs

Surf Ears 3.0

Surf Ears 3.0 Ear Plugs

Surf Ears are essentially the Cadillac of earplugs. While traditional earplugs are effective at keeping everything out of your ears, that unfortunately also includes sound. So sometimes someone yelling “go” or worse, “don’t go”, can get filtered out by having plugs in.

Surf Ears are a game-changer as they properly protect your ears from the elements while still letting sound in. The center core of each plug has an “acoustic mesh” with a hydrophobic (read water repellant) coating that helps you hear easily. Surf Ears are tethered together by a leash to make them harder to lose and come with a case, and 4 different seals for a custom-like fit.

Shop the Pro-Lite Smuggler Series of Bags

Doc's Pro Plugs

Doc's Proplugs Ear Plugs

Developed by Dr. Scott (Dad of Hotline Founder, Brenda Scott) in Santa Cruz back in the ‘70s, Pro Plugs has been a longtime shop favorite due to their custom-like fit. Pro Plugs come in 8 different sizes which accommodate pretty much any ear shape, from kids to adults. These plugs are a soft plastic that wear comfortably and are vented so you’re able to hear better in the water. While they may look low-tech compared to something like Surf Ears, these are the real deal and do a surprisingly good job at letting noise in and keeping water out.

Shop Doc's Pro Plugs


Wetsuit Hoods

Another excellent and easy way to prevent surfer’s ear is to wear a hood in cold waters. Hoods already come with the territory, so most coldwater surfer’s already own one, but for those on the fence, hoods are well worth it for a few reasons. Not only is your head the most sensitive part of your entire body to the cold but wearing a hood will also help prevent surfer’s ear. Hoods come in a few different shapes, those who want the bare minimum should check out something like a squid lid.

Shop Wetsuit Hoods

Mack's Dry-N-Clear

Mack’s Dry-N-Clear Drying Aid

Alright so this one is technically more for dealing with swimmer’s ear, but as we explained earlier, sometimes the two are interrelated. Basically, if you’ve ever had water stuck in your ear you know how annoying it is. Dry-N-Clear is ear drops that dry and clear your ears of water and work pretty much immediately.

Shop Mack’s Dry-N-Clear Drying Aid

Final Thoughts

All of the products mentioned above are good tools that can help keep your ears healthy and comfortable, which in the end equates to more time in the water! Surfer’s ear is a bummer but with proper care and prevention, you can reduce your chances of it ever becoming an issue.

If you have any questions feel free to give us a call at 1-888-546-6176, leave a comment below or shoot an email to