Monday, May 22, 2023


Do you get cold water vertigo? 

Do you paddle in windy conditions?

Do your ears get plugged up after rolling or swimming?

Do you get ear wax build-up and/or ear infections?

Do you value your hearing?

If you answered YES to any of the above questions, you should consider wearing earplugs when paddling.

I am not a doctor and you should consult your doctor for health advice.  I am sharing my personal experience with "surfer's ear," and how I have found ear plugs to be helpful in preventing cold water vertigo and improving comfort on and in the water.

Early in my paddling career, I went in for a physical and the first thing the doctor commented was on my surfer's ear.  HUH? She explained to me that I had bone growths in my ear canal and that the condition is often called surfer's ear. With a bit more research, I discovered that surfer's ear is common in kayakers as well as surfers.  Cold water is not the only culprit.  Wind is also a significant factor.  

After my appointment, I realized that in the past year I had been experiencing more wax buildup and instances of water being trapped in my ears (even after showering).  I asked around the kayak community and found that many in the whitewater kayak world knew about surfer's ear, many experienced it, and many had started wearing earplugs.  In the sea kayak community, I was surprised that only those that were avid surfers knew about surfers ear.  Today, I am still surprised not to see more paddlers wearing earplugs.

One of the biggest issues is that some ear plugs impede hearing.  The trick, I found is to find plugs that fit and also allow you to hear.  All ears are shaped differently so it takes a bit of shopping and trial and error.  Many paddlers like Doc's Pro Plugs.  I have never been able to get them to fit properly.  I found that they were great at blocking the wind but trapped water in my ear when I rolled.

Mack's Ear Seals have become my go to earplugs.  I find that they keep the water out and allow me to hear.  I also like that they are relatively inexpensive and easily accessible - you can often buy them at your local drug store and even some grocery stores carry them.  I find the strings pop off easily unless you glue them to the plugs with aqua seal.  In recent years, I have ditched the strings and just use the plugs.

If I am not rolling but am paddling in cold or windy conditions, I lightly put the earplugs in my ears.  It is amazing how much warmer and more comfortable I am on windy days with the wind not whistling through my ears.  If I am going to be surfing, rolling or swimming, I insert the plugs further into my ears.

I also discovered that wearing ear plugs helps prevent cold water vertigo which is caused by cold water in the ear canal and on the ear drum.

Have you used earplugs for paddling? If you have any success stories to share, please share them in the comments.


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