Any cold-water surfers travelling to warmer waters need to be ready for one of surfing’s most painful and annoying ailments.
Surfer’s nipple is essentially nipple chafing. It happens when you paddle for a prolonged period on a surfboard without a layer of protection between your chest and the surfboard deck.
This leads to sore, sensitive nips that make your next surf a very uncomfortable experience.
But fear not. We’ve got you covered with our simple treatment and prevention guide.
What Is Surfer’s Nipple?
Surfing nipple chafe is a specific (and painful) kind of surf rash that affects the nipples.
You can get surf rash all over, but it’s primarily the neck, groin and back of the knees.
But the sensitivity of your nipples makes this a whole new kind of pain.
Indicators you’ve got a case of surfer’s nipple include:
- Red irritated nipples.
- Rough, scabbed skin around and on your nipples after surfing.
- Nasty cases may break the skin and cause bleeding in the nipple tissue.
Even if it’s mild, you’ll still experience discomfort while paddling, and it’s distracting when you’re trying to catch waves.
In very nasty examples, friction can break the nipple’s skin and cause nasty cuts that need further medical treatment.
What Causes Surfer’s Nipple
Surfer’s nipple is caused by friction and rubbing between your nipple and another surface like wax, traction pads or a t-shirt.
It’s pretty minor compared to other more severe pain caused by surfing, but it still stings.
It’s important to note that surfers who are used to surfing with a wetsuit will suffer more severely from nipple rash.
Your nipples, like other skin on your body, will become resistant to rubbing and rash over time, so persistence is key, even if it is painful.
Some of the most common suspects for nipple rash include:
Traction pads are a great way to avoid wax melting in your car.
But the raised areas that act as grip can aggravate your skin as you paddle out for your surf.
An excessive wax covering on your surfboard’s deck can lead to serious waxy bumps.
Fresh wax jobs tend to be nicer on the nipples, so keep your wax to a minimum.
Sand embedded in your wax job
If you surf beach breaks a lot, you’ve probably got sand in your wax.
As waves draw off the ocean floor and head towards shallower water, they’ll pick up some of the sand lying below.
This sand mixes with the water to create a brownish liquid packed full of granules of sand.
As you surf, granules will get ground into your wax as you paddle.
This turns your wax job into sandpaper in no time, rashing your nipples, chest and thighs.
Unfortunately, the only way to avoid this is to remove your wax and start again.
Check out our short read on other uses for surf wax for ways to reuse and recycle your old wax.
Believe it or not, wearing a t-shirt can make your nipple rash worse.
When your skin gets wet, it softens, and even the material of a t-shirt can be abrasive and cause discomfort.
Foamies & soft tops
Foamies and soft top surfboards are great for beginners and make surfing safer and arguably more fun.
But the deck of foam boards is very different from shiny, smooth fibreglass PU surfboards.
Foam surfboards have tiny little holes and depressions in the rubber material that make the board deck abrasive.
This is great for learning to surf because your feet will naturally grip the board’s surface even without wax.
Your nipples, on the other hand, suffer from a grippy abrasive surface and foam and soft top surfboards can bring an early end to many surf sessions due to surfer’s nipple.
Treatment For Surfer’s Nipple
Never fear if you’re reading this and it’s already too late.
There is a range of suitable treatments that will provide the quick relief you want.
If your surfer’s nipple isn’t very severe, you can use some moisturizer to soothe the nipple area.
Try to use moisturizers with natural ingredients to avoid any stinging.
Several creams for sore, rashed skins are available at your local pharmacy.
If you’re unsure, ask a staff member for advice; they should be able to recommend an appropriate brand and product to treat your surfer’s nipple.
My personal favourite because it costs very little and it’s 100% natural.
If you have an Aloe Vera plant, snip the end of one leaf and squeeze some of the gel onto your sore nipples.
It may sting a little, but Aloe Vera’s soothing and healing properties will alleviate the pain and speed up healing.
If you can’t get your hands on a real Aloe plant, then you can use an Aloe Vera gel readily available in most stores.
How to prevent surfer’s nipple From Happening
Taking away the barrier between board and nipple (your wetsuit) can be a liberating experience, and you can avoid the pain of a surfer’s nipple with our simple prevention steps.
It may look a little strange while you vigorously spread Vaseline across your nipples pre-surf, but the benefits are worth it.
Layering your nipples with Vaseline puts a layer of lubricant between your nipple and your board or t-shirt.
This layer will stop the abrasion you experience, and while it can feel a little strange, it’s much better than the pain you experience without.
Waterproof bandages across your nipples are an interesting look, but those little bits of fabric act as perfect protection for your nipples.
I grab the relatively cheap Band-Aid ones on Amazon.
Secure your bandages and gently pull and zip up your wetsuit to help hold them in place.
Just a heads up, it may hurt a little to rip them off afterwards, especially if you’re sporting some nipple hair.
Rash vests are a bit eighties, but they do help with surfer’s nipple.
Unlike t-shirts, rash vests are made of material that, even when wet, still provides a smooth, slippery surface that won’t damage your skin.
Avoid cheap rash suits because they rarely do the job. I personally use this one, but any good rashie will do.
Silicone Nipple Shield
These silicone covers might be the perfect surfer’s nipple cure.
They’re reusable, can be trimmed to size, and will last up to five years of good use.
These may not be the coolest look, but tucked under a t-shirt or rash vest, no one will even know!
Frequently Asked Questions
We answer some of your most pressing questions about nip rash.
Why do my nipples hurt after swimming in saltwater?
The same issues surfers face with sand, salt and friction can also affect sea swimmers, especially if you’re wearing a wetsuit.
How do you stop nipple chafing while you’re swimming in the ocean?
Use waterproof bandages to tape up your nipples and apply Vaseline around any affected areas to reduce friction rash.
When it comes to surfer’s nipple, prevention is always better than treatment, and with our simple steps, you should be able to avoid the pain of a nipple chafing altogether.
Check out our other short reads below for expert advice and tips on surfing better, smarter and happier.