Been kayaking a long time? In the cooler waters of the UK and northern Europe? If you have, you may have growth in your inner ear that is closing your ear canal, and will affect your hearing long-term.

When the ear is exposed to water and cold wind over a period of time the ear canal can narrow due to bone growth. The only solution to the problem is surgery. Many kayakers are now aware of “surfers ear” and have started to wear neoprene skullcaps to protect the ears, however surfers have found that wearing skullcaps doesn’t always prevent surfers ear.

For some time now surfers in the US and Australia have been using earplugs for protection for sometime and in particular the Doc’s Pro Plug range. These currently retail in the UK for around £13, which is a little bit different from the 50p kind you can pick up from any chemist or drug store.

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The advantage of Doc’s Pro Plugs over the basic silicon blobs is that you can hear the cheers (and jeers) of your comrades when you’re pulling out of the eddy and into the hole. That’s right, no more nodding “Uh-huh” and smiling to other paddlers talking to you, hoping they won’t catch on that you can’t really hear them. In addition, any standard plug that creates a tight seal are trapping a potentially dangerous pocket of air in the ear. This pocket of air could do serious damage in a nasty wipe-out or power flip. Doc’s Pro Plugs have a tiny vent that allows air, but not water, to pass safely through. These are the “vented” range that should be selected by folks intending to use them on the water. The plugs are designed to float and come in a range of colours; Red, Pink, blue and clear. They are also available leashed together so that they can be threaded through your helmet straps to prevent loss.

Retailers who stock Doc’s Pro Plugs should also have a fitting kit that will allow you to try them for size before you buy since the plugs come a variety of sizes. A few kayaking shops in the UK are beginning to stock them but your best bet is probably contacting your nearest surfing shop.

Living in the NE of the UK has meant that most of my paddling time is spent in relatively cold water no matter what time of year it is. And I have had concerns over the development of surfers ear. I currently have a set of clear pro plugs fastened to my Sweet Strutter helmet and have found them easy and comfortable to use. My hearing hasn’t really been affected by wearing them whilst my inner ear has remained dry despite rolling over in various stoppers. I have found that they do tend to work there way out after a while. As a mass produced system it will never really achieve a perfect fit for everyone, but as a cheap and better solution than he bog standard ear plug solution they are definitely worth looking at.

Alternatives include custom silicone ear plugs that can be made by the NHS via your GP making a referral to the local hospital. A number of private companies such as Surf Plugs also offer this service.