There had been an average of almost 1400 new claims between December 20 and January 31 over the past decade. Photo / Michael Cunningham
Nearly $14 million has been spent helping people injured in the Bay of Plenty over the past three summers recover.
Surfing was the leading cause of injuries in the region between December 2019/20 and February 2021/22 according to ACC figures, followed by swimming, fishing, and water-skiing.
Christmas gifts and wrapping caused a handful of injuries.
Over the decade, there was an average of almost 1400 new claims each year in the six weeks between December 20 and January 31 nationwide – the period that roughly aligned with the summer school holidays. Those injuries came at a cost of about $10.3 million, or $1.3m each year.
Data showed over the past three summers – 2019/20, 2020/21 and 2021/22 – there were 1283 surfing claims for injuries in the Bay of Plenty.
Surfing New Zealand chief executive Ben Kennings was not surprised.
“It’s the nature of the sport. You’re in the ocean, you have a hard board, it’s a very dynamic sport and you need to be physically fit to do it.
“You have to look at the numbers – we have 370,000 recreational surfers in New Zealand according to Sport NZ’s active survey, and upwards of 70,000 of those are surfing every week.
“When you look at numbers, those are going to suggest you have a lot of injuries by sheer percentages.”
Kennings, who has ridden arguably the world’s heaviest surf break, Teahupo’o in Tahiti, said it “would be interesting” to see if it experienced or beginner surfers were getting injured, but it could happen to anyone – in May 2020, he was injured while surfing alone after falling off an “innocuous” wave of about two to four feet in Whangamatā.
He said people sometimes overestimated their ability or didn’t properly prepare before getting into the water – that could be not looking at the forecast, understanding the tides, or perhaps surfing in crowds where the chance of being hit by another rider was higher.
Surfing NZ had a network of about 30 accredited surf schools where coaches had completed international qualifications, first-aid and water safety courses, which were great resources for beginners.
“It’s really important to hit one of those schools and get a lesson, which will increase the chances of getting up on a board and improving that learner’s curve and having fun.
“That’s why we surf, to have fun. And the quicker you learn to stand up, the right techniques and what to do when you’re learning, the quicker you’re going to have fun.”
The data showed there were 1588 sand-related injuries in the Bay of Plenty in the past decade.
ACC injury prevention leader James Whitaker said the uneven and unstable nature of sand could lead to increased muscle and ligament fatigue.
“Whether it’s some beach cricket or football or just throwing a ball or frisbee around, the beach is a great place to be, and we love that Kiwis get out there amongst nature,” he said.
“But we also know that exercising on the beach poses unique injury risks because of the extra strain soft surfaces like sand can put on our muscles and joints. If we are not used to exercising on these surfaces, we can increase our chance of getting injured.”
Research showed 90 per cent of all injuries were predictable and therefore preventable, and Whitaker said there were a few things people could do to look after themselves while playing on the beach.
This included spending time getting used to uneven surfaces by standing on gravel or running short distances on the sand to begin with, avoiding taking excessive strides, and not leaning too far forward on your feet.
“For people heading to the beach for some sun and recreation, be aware of muscle fatigue, check the ground below you for uneven surfaces and foot holes, and avoid overdoing it, because a lot of injuries can happen when we are tired and not concentrating,” Whitaker said.
“Be aware, also, that exercising barefoot will give you less support for your muscles and joints and can increase the chance of cuts from things like stones and seashells.”
Meanwhile, there were 10 drownings in the Bay of Plenty last year.
Water Safety NZ chief executive Daniel Gerrard said many incidents were preventable if people took the time to stop and assess the risks.
“To Pākehā males in powerboats, Māori men gathering kai underwater, Asian men fishing from rocks, Pasifika men fishing from boats… you guys are consistently over-represented in our drowning tragedies,” he said.
“Collectively, we all have to make better decisions around water.”
Hato Hone St John general manager of ambulance operations, Stu Cockburn, urged people to only call 111 in a life-threatening or limb-threatening emergency.
He said this year St John had experienced unprecedented demand and at the end of the year, plenty of injuries were avoidable. The service received more than 1000 calls on Christmas Day in 2021.
“The most common calls are for unconscious people, falls, traumatic injuries, and motor vehicle accidents. A third of all these calls are linked to alcohol and could be easily avoided.
“You don’t want New Year’s to be something you regret. It’s as simple as that. Make sure there’s plenty of food and non-alcoholic drinks, including water, available.
“Be careful on the roads heading to and from your destination and always have a sober driver. Look out for one another and ensure everyone has a safe way to get home.”