Surfing and Rib Pain + Why Not to Worry


Rib pain from paddling on a surfboard is normal and happens to all surfers when they go surfing for the first time or after a break from surfing. It is normal and not something to worry about, as I’ll explain below.

Causes of Rib Pain from Surfing

Paddling on a surfboard needs you to have your back arched and head up, meaning that your ribs are in contact with the deck of the surfboard the entire time you are paddling.

This is a new sensation for most and results in a light bruised feeling in the ribs after a surf, but this happens frequently and is completely normal.

It happens to novice surfers and to surfers who have not been in the water in a while since your ribs don’t have a chance to get used to this feeling or sensation unless you are paddling on your board often.

I know that I have this pain every time after going about a month without surfing and surfing in thinner summer surf gear.

surfer with red torso from surfing
Me with rub on my torso after my first ever surf in Australia, way back in January 2003 (yikes!)

As you can see from the photo above, I had a red rash from sufing in shorts with a rash vest for the first time when I went to Australia in January 2003. This resulted in a mild rib pain but I was back in the water the next day and all was fine.

If you surf in warm water, you will be wearing thinner items of clothing on your torso and are much more likely to experience a mild bruising or rib pain after your surf.

What to Do About Rib Pain from Surfing?

However, I can say from experience, that this goes away within about 24 hours and, if you can get back out in the surf the next day or two, you shouldn’t feel the same pain in your ribs.

This is because your body adapts quickly to the source of the pain and the bruising or pain won’t be an issue again.

To reduce rib pain, try using a soft-top surfboard as this will make it a lot easier on your ribs. Soft-top surfboards I recommend from Amazon are:

  1. Kona Surf Co.’s Malibu Soft Surfboard
  2. South Bay Board Co’s Guppy Soft Surfboard
  3. WaveStorm Soft Surfboard

Note that if surfing in cold water, you will be wearing a thicker wetsuit so rib pain is much less likely then, although it can still happen if you spend a long time out of the surf.

In short, rib pain from surfing happens after a while without surfing but goes away quickly and is not something to worry about. If you get out in the surf the next day it should be fine. Also try a soft-top surfboard because they are much easier to use.

See also my post on the best beginner surfboard brands for more tips!

Steve Beale

Hey there! I'm Steve and run Surf Learner, sharing all the tips I've gained from my 20+ years of surfing to help you learn that much faster. I've traveled and surfed all over the world and love sharing what I've learned along the way. It's great to have you!

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