Winter 2014

Riding the Wave

Our expert on surfing injuries

By Bruce Morgan

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Andrew Nathanson, '90. Photo: John Soares

He was a kid growing up in Newton, Massachusetts, with nary a breaking wave in sight. But one summer when he was 17 or 18, he came across a discarded surfboard during a summer vacation on Cape Cod. That lit the spark. Thirty-some years later, Andrew Nathanson, ’90, carries a reputation among surfers as a physician who both surfs avidly and has made himself into something of an expert on the physical maladies that go with the sport.

Nathanson is co-author of Surf Survival: The Surfer’s Health Handbook, published in 2011. He appears regularly at surfing conferences around the world as an easy-going and authoritative medical voice. For his regular job, he is a clinical professor of emergency medicine at the Alpert Medical School at Brown University.

Despite its reputation, surfing is safer than soccer for the average person, Nathanson contends. Even with big waves, it’s about equal to college football in its risk level. The most common surfing injuries by far, he says, are lacerations that come from being whacked by your own surfboard.

Our guy lives in Bristol, Rhode Island, and gets out on the water around Little Compton four or five times a month in all weather. New England surfing has boomed over the past few decades. Wetsuits have improved, for one thing. Now, says Nathanson, “if we get good waves in February, there’ll be 30 or 40 guys out there on the water.” Luckily, the doctor has managed to stay ahead of the crowds by venturing farther and farther afield, to Mexico, Costa Rica, Peru . . .

Oh, and Hawaii, too. “My wife, Cheryl, is Hawaiian, so we go there every so often. That was strategic on my part,” he says with a laugh. Bruce Morgan

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