Kayaking is full of great moments. Nailing your first roll. Landing a boof off of a drop. Watching the sun set at a favorite rapid. There can also be painful episodes like swimming through shallow water over sandpaper-like rock or smacking yourself in the face with your paddle shaft.

One painful kayaking affliction you may be less aware of is exostosis. Also known as surfer’s ear, exostosis is the abnormal growth of bone within the earl canal. That’s right. A brand new bone. In your ear. It is most commonly caused by frequent exposure to cold wind and water. Kayakers who paddle in cold temperatures year after year can be at risk of developing this condition, especially if they don’t use earplugs.

Why does the bone form? Essentially the cold water and wind cause the body to grow bone to surround the ear and protect it from the harsh environmental conditions. If left untreated, water, earwax and other particles can get stuck in the ear and cause consistent ear infections, or even deafness. Think about the last time you went kayaking. How often did your ears get wet? For most paddlers, especially those surfing waves and running big water, water is constantly entering the ears.

Pretty terrifying. But it gets worse. Once your body has decided to grow new bone to protect the ear from your winter kayaking activities, it is irreversible and you will need surgery. There are two different ways to surgically treat exostosis. One is to make a small cut behind the ear and surgically removing the bone. The other is drilling inside the ear canal.

If you want to avoid your cold water kayaking habit leading to these unfortunate options, protect your ear canal by wearing earplugs and neoprene hoods. The good news? Exostosis usually occurs after prolonged exposure to cold water, so if you have been paddling winters for a year or two, it’s likely you don’t have new bone growth. Take precautions and protect your ears. With all the kayaking factors that are out of your control—strainers, sticky hydraulics and flippy boil seams—this is one you can be proactive about.

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