I received a small, nondescript package this morning, post-marked from Sweden. The sender Magnus, who residing in said northern climes has agreed to send me a pair of SurfEars earplugs to review right here in this fine journal. We share some pleasantries over email, I tell him that I love cold-water surf adventures. He duly informs me that so does he - how we revelled in our common ground.
Magnus explains that his small Swedish company developed SurfEars to deliver improved well-being to the surfing population around the world. I feel a pang of sheepish guilt about my contribution to the common good of surfing world - a few snappy sentences in surf magazines ain’t exactly a Scandinavian health product ‘Designed for Water Athletes’.
I allow myself to indulge in a rare, fleeting feeling of smugness, seldom felt as a UK surfer, that my surf won’t be as unpleasantly cold as Magnus’ that day in the cold Baltic. In hindsight I’m fairly certain that singular dark thought, resulted in the wheels of my karmic fortune coming unstuck in the endless duck-dives of this mornings surf (test?) session.
Having grown up surfing the blustery, wild Cornish coast I have become well-versed in the troublesome condition of Surfers Ear, the bony exostosis of the inner ear canal that suffers many a surfer outside of the tropics. A number of my dads surfing friends having undergone the dreaded op that supposedly clears one of this nasty affliction (with chisels and drills) - until it strikes again.
I will spare you further grizzly details, but if you are so inclined this excellent NHS article details the causes and operative treatments for Surfers Ear. Today I’m more concerned with prevention - the best cure, as our mothers would say.
The SurfEars product is designed to keep water out (insulating the ear canal in the process) and let sound in. On a whole, the purpose made surf earplugs on the marketplace, along with the raft of home-made plugs (Blue-Tac/Molded Silicone) all do a fairly good job of keeping water out. Moldable, custom fitted or bodged together - if they fit, they will work.
What truly differentiates SurfEars from its competitors is their ability to allow sound in. This helps to reduces any associated loss of balance and in turn keeps us gloriously connected to the surf environment - the melodic, guttural groans of men and women engaging in the selfish aquatic dance we call surfing.
They do this by way of a thin impermeable membrane and clever internal design which amplifies any sound through the plug to the business end of the ear. This feature is by far and away the USP of the SurfEars plugs. I felt like my hearing was reduced by about 20% from usual when testing these plugs in the water - loud enough to hold a standard conversation without a second thought. This is in an entirely different league to traditional silicone or home-made tack plugs, which make idle lineup chit-chat a distant memory and at worst, place me into a deeply introspective, surf terminator trance - mutely attacking surf locales up and down the frigid waters of the North Atlantic. ‘I want your waves, your wetsuit….’ Full Schwarzenegger mode.
A lot of thought has gone into making SurfEars the best designed ear-plugs that money can buy. I like to imagine that a lot of Scandinavian ‘Fika’ (coffee) time and perhaps more relevantly, years of Baltic duck dives by Magnus et al have cumulated in this latest mark II of the original SurfEars product.
That’s not to say things are all perfect; the neat packaging hides an array of interchangeable plug sizes, a leash, case and curiously named ‘wings’ which help to keep the plugs secure. Highly user adaptable, yes - bit fiddly and awkward to sort out in a car park, also. Anyone familiar with flat-pack furniture will recognise the Ikea vibes, get it right first time and you win.
The SurfEars product is however a well thought-out, endlessly user adjustable and complete ear plug. If you are planning on a lifetime of surfing outside of the tropics it really is worth taking some preventative measures against Surfers Ear - ask any surfer who has suffered at the hands of the condition.
Importantly, SurfEars lives up to its core claim of keeping water out and letting sound in. SurfEars knows it’s place in the marketplace, right at the top of the chain, which is well reflected in the retail price of £40. Having used the majority of ear plugs at points during my surfing life, I found that all (even the humble blob of blu-tac) work well at reducing water ingress and insulating the ear. Ultimately your earplug decision hinges on the value you place on being able to hear effectively in the lineup.