Do Surfers Wear Life Jackets?

Do surfers wear life jackets?

You have seen those surfers riding the waves fearlessly, fighting nature at all costs, and gliding down the waves with grace.

How do they have the courage to do this? And even more interesting is how they survive this without life jackets.

The answer is quite simple; surfers do not tend to wear life jackets, even though surfing can be dangerous in some situations, and in some circumstances, surfers have to wear life jackets.

On the other hand, the stereotypical image of a surfer riding a gnarly wave with their hair blowing in the breeze just wouldn’t be the same with a bulky life jacket on.

So, what’s the final decision? Let’s dive in and explore the different scenarios where life jackets could be essential, and where they might just cramp a surfer’s style.

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Why Don’t Surfers Wear Life Jackets?

Most surfers don’t wear life jackets, at least not in the traditional sense. Surfers don’t typically wear bulky orange or yellow life jackets that resemble oversized vests.

It would be difficult, if not impossible, to maneuver and attempt any tricks while wearing one of these contraptions.

And as life jackets are meant for safety and security so that you won’t drown, there are other more convenient and comfortable options for surfers that provide an equivalent level of safety.

The most obvious options are your surfboard itself and the leash attached to it and hopefully, to your ankle.

These two alone provide enough buoyancy and safeness that a life jacket might not be necessary, although it could certainly make the experience more comfortable and secure in some cases.

If you’re wearing your wetsuit, it can also provide some buoyancy and inherent safety, which can help (or replace somewhat) in the absence of a life jacket.

Thanks to those above, which are sufficient enough, surfers choose not to wear life jackets. But what’s the big deal, why not wear a life jacket anyway for extra assurance?

Well, the drawbacks outweigh the benefits.

This is because life jackets are extremely bulky and uncomfortable. They can be restrictive when it comes to performing certain tricks or maneuvers in the water.

Life jackets can be restrictive and interfere with the surfer’s movement on the board and could hinder their ability to paddle, pop up, and ride the waves.

Specifically when surfers need to paddle as the life jacket can be overly restrictive when it comes to performing this motion.

Also, for some people, life jackets can be quite suffocating and hot in the summer, making them extra uncomfortable.

Another reason why surfers don’t wear life jackets is the loss of speed. The extra bulk and weight from a life jacket can slightly slow you down in the water and make it harder to catch waves.

And of course, some surfers opt not to wear life jackets simply because they don’t like the way they look.

They believe that wearing a bulky, brightly colored life jacket detracts from the surfer’s image of coolness and skill.

Important to mention that thinking about how you are perceived in the eyes of others should not be the main reason whether you wear a life jacket or not.

When Surfers Do Wear Life Jackets?

So surfers don’t wear life jackets usually, and we now know why. That being said, there are situations where a life jacket could be a lifesaver and actually crucial for surfing.

More specifically, it’s about whom — it’s kids. Children are often less experienced in the water and may not have the same strength and endurance as adults.

They may also be less aware of ocean hazards such as rip currents or changing tides. Wearing a life jacket can provide children with the needed extra buoyancy, allowing them to stay afloat more easily and conserve their energy.

Even if a child is accompanied by an adult or instructor, wearing a life jacket is essential. Furthermore, a life jacket can give parents peace of mind, knowing that their child is safer in the water.

Also, it’s recommended that parents or instructors stay in shallow water with the children and gently push them into waves, avoiding the issues of paddling on a surfboard with a life jacket.

By doing so, children can have a more comfortable and safer experience while learning to surf.

Another scenario where surfers might wear life jackets is when they ride big waves. Now, it’s not mandatory, and do big waves surfers really wear life jackets? Not quite.

You might be surprised to know instead of life jackets, big waves surfers choose to wear flotation vests packed with small carbon dioxide canisters.

In case of a wipeout, the surfer can activate the vest, which quickly shoots them to the surface, providing much-needed air.

While this safety gear is common in the big wave surfing community and competitions, it’s not frequently used until the waves get well overhead.

Yet, wearing a flotation vest can be a smart safety measure for surfers tackling large waves, and it’s advisable to use one to avoid potential hazards.

How to Choose the Right Life Jacket for Surfing?

As mentioned earlier, wearing a life jacket is not mandatory and most surfers choose not to wear one.

But if you do choose to wear one or if you’re part of the two groups we mentioned above, then you should know the differences between the life jackets in the market.

There are two main types of life jackets and PFDs (personal flotation devices) for surfers to choose from — auto-inflating and manually inflatable.

A manually inflatable life jacket requires the wearer to manually inflate it by pulling a cord or handle.

These life jackets typically come with a CO2 cartridge or another type of inflation mechanism that is activated when the cord is pulled.

Auto-inflatable life jackets are those for big wave surfers. They provide an immense force to lift the surfer to the surface quickly.

Final Thoughts

While it may seem like a no-brainer to wear a life jacket when hitting the waves, there are many reasons why surfers choose not to.

From limiting movement and hindering performance to simply not looking cool, there are plenty of factors at play.

However, it’s important to remember that safety should always come first, especially for children and when in big wave surfing.

So, while surfers may not need life jackets all the time, there are certainly moments when they should be donned to ensure a safe and enjoyable time on the water.

After all, you have to stay alive to be cool.