Can surfing kill you?

Can Surfing Kill You

Yes, you can die while surfing. It’s rare, but in big and powerful surf, it’s always a risk.

From the risk of drowning to hitting the reef hard let’s find out what you’re risking when you paddle out.


The most common death people would think of that happens in water is drowning.

You may think this is unlikely because surfers should know how to swim before they attempt something riskier, but you can’t swim if you collide with something that knocks you unconscious.

A surfer could be turned upside down and have their board come down on top of them. Another way a drowning could happen is if the surfer is weighed down which could prevent them from swimming to the surface.

That is why it’s best to go surfing with at least one other person who could assist you in bringing you to the surface if required.

Can a wave kill you?

Yes, while waves look amazing, they are still dangerous. Waves can do more than knock the wind out of a surfer.

Some waves have been responsible for surfers leaving the beach with broken bones and, in some extreme cases, loss of life.

As waves break the lip or top of the wave can be carrying tons of water. Getting trapped in the impact zone as the lip detonates onto the water below can feel like being hit by a car and continues as you’re tumbled around mercilessly underwater.

Add this to the risk of hitting a potential rock or coral bottom at a reef break wave, and the chances of injury or loss of life go up considerably.

Depending on the oceanography sharp rocks and coral can be a major risk for head injuries, concussions while surfing is incredibly serious and can quickly lead to a fatality if the injured surfer isn’t seen and rescued promptly.

This highlights the necessity for some respect when it comes to large powerful waves that

Other Surfers

Other surfers could also unintentionally cause another problem by not having enough experience, causing more experienced surfers to lose their balance or mess up in some other way.

Inexperienced surfers will often end up back-paddling you without realizing causing potential collisions.

Even the best surfers in the world can still make a mistake or have a day where things are not going their way through no fault of their own.


Just like people can’t control other people, nobody can control the strength of a current and which way the current will be flowing.

This is a danger that swimmers have to deal with as well.

If a surfer gets caught in a strong enough current, the surfer could end up being swept out to sea.


Surfboards, particularly high-performance shortboards, are a hazard because of how pointed the nose of the board is.

If you happen to wipe out, you still want to keep your surfboard under as much control as possible but you don’t want to be in front of your surfboard either.

Getting hit by a board can lead to concussions and, in the worst-case scenario, drowning.

Animals that can kill you while surfing

Sometimes it’s the other ocean inhabitants that you’re surfing with that can pose a serious risk to life.

When you surf in the water, you are never alone; we share the ocean with a myriad of animals just below the surface of the water.

Everybody thinks of coming into contact with a shark while surfing, however, sharks are not the only animal that could pose a lethal threat to surfers.

Other animals that can pose a risk to surfers include:

  • Stingrays
  • Jellyfish
  • Urchins
  • Sea Snakes
  • Salt Water Crocodiles

Want to know more about surfers and their interactions with the ocean’s predators? Head over to our guide on surfing and sharks to find out more about this apex predator and how it interacts with surfers and other water users.

Notable Surfer Deaths

Tragedy has struck some key members of surfing iconic history.

Below are some of the most notable names we’ve lost to surfing.

Dickie Cross

Cross came from Hawaii and knew how to sail, surf, and race on paddleboards. He sailed to Molokai from Waikiki on a canoe he built.

A few days before Christmas in 1943, he and a friend wanted to surf on the biggest waves he could find.

Sunset Beach is where both guys started paddling but the current pushed them over to Waimea which was about two and a half miles from where they started.

Cross and his friend thought they could make it to safety from Waimea. The body of Dickie’s friend did wash up on shore. Unfortunately, the body of Dickie was never recovered.

Joaquin Miro Quesada

Joaquin came from Peru, and he was a surfer that had a lot of influence. He climbed Pico Alto and won multiple surfing titles at the national level.

Quesada was surfing Pipeline when he hit the reef headfirst and became the first-ever surfer to die at Pipeline.

Mark Foo

Mark Foo was a professional surfer from Singapore during the 70s and 80s. Foo eventually became a regular surfer at Waimea Bay on the Northern side of Oahu.

A couple of days before Christmas in 1994, Mark Foo was on a surf trip to Mavericks in California and drowned.

Two people taking pictures saw the moment Mark Foo died. Surfers who were surfing near the same area said the strap around Foo’s leg got caught near the bottom and prevented Foo from getting to the surface.

Donnie Solomon

Donnie was from Ventura, California, and is known for surfing. He also encouraged surfers to receive training in CPR, first aid, and lifeguard training.

Two days before Christmas in 1995, Donnie missed a wave at Waimea Bay.

Donnie was trying to fix his position, the lip of a giant wave connected with Donnie, and Donnie ended up drowning.

Todd Chesser

Todd lived in Hawaii since the age of three, after being born in Florida. Todd did excel at competitive surfing and was one of the best surfers in the United States but he wanted to go after bigger waves.

Todd was surfing for a couple of hours at Oahu’s Alligator Rock but Todd was taken out by a 25-foot wave. When he didn’t come up, two other surfers tried to rescue him and resuscitate him but they didn’t reach him in time.

All of the above were strong watermen and are a testament to the respect the ocean must be given.


So, can surfing kill you?

Yes, as you’ve read above, there are some rare occasions when people lose their lives in pursuit of this amazing sport, but for the most part, surfing is a safe activity.

Always treat the ocean with respect, and if you’re just learning to surf, make sure to check the local lifeguard policies and stay out of the sea when the waves get too big.