mat riding and pain

probably not what you’re thinking …

I’m mainly directing this question to the “shorter term” mat riders [ie: people who have just started riding surf mats in the last few months / years [?] , after many many years of riding surfboards. ]

Do you get strong shoulder and neck pain , after a few go outs on your mat ?

do you sit on your mat between waves , to get a higher up view of approaching waves ?

how wide are your mat/s , compared to your boards ?

I ask , because I am off work for at least three days [probably more] with intense shoulder , neck , and chest pain at present.

[Having never had one ] at one stage last night I wondered if I was perhaps having a heart attack , the pain in the chest area was so severe . I couldn’t breath properly .

After an E.C.G. this morning at the docco’s , and a blood pressure test , he [thankfully!] informed me it wasn’t heart , but rather chest , pain .

so , back to mat riding …

my mat is 30" wide , and nearly 6" thick , inflated . It is 53 1/2" long [4’ 5 1/2"]

my fingertip to armpit measurement is 27"

Ian [‘sandgroper’] made the interesting comment / observation that on a mat , I seem to be paddling from the elbows down . [makes sense to me , as the rest of my arm is covered by the mat !]

By comparison …

on , for instance , my widest surfboard [the ‘bushfire fish’] , at the area where my arm is in the water , the width of the board there is 17" [and that’s my widest board !] , and the rail [a blocky one , my others are THINNER !] is only just 2" thick . The bushfire fish is 5’8" long [68" , ie: 14 1/2" longer than my mat]

the pain in my chest is still severe as I type this . [yes I am now on painkillers]

I don’t want to do further damage , IF this is mat-related .

Has anyone here experienced a similar scenario, riding their mats ?

[it should be noted …this was riding the Redback ‘Bali model’ mat , which is the same width throughout its whole length . ]

I suppose , short of riding a much narrower [? and longer?] mat for a few weeks , it is a hard thing to pinpoint precisely what has caused this excruciating pain . ‘Cleanlines’ and ‘Dale’ , I now have new found empathy for you both …I pray for a complete pain-free recovery to you , and no relapses .

 I would be interested to hear people's feedback on this whole issue ['mats and pain'], if there have been others experiencing similar problems with their bodies , after switching to mats . 

Of course , I’m also aware that long-term damage [already done through years of surfing]

… for example …compacted vertebrae, hyperextending the neck , C5 / C6 damage , L5 / S1 damage …all could be exacerbated by the wider mat , ? the shorter length, the extra buoyancy , things such as that …



if possible , and if it’s not too much trouble …can you please include dimensions of the mats that YOU are all riding [width [at paddling area?] , length, inflated thickness ] , as well as your armpit to fingertip measurement , as a common ground thing ? cheers , that would be MOST appreciated ! Your age and fitness level [?previous injuries?] might also be useful …

Sounds like your body is adjusting to a new movement, something you haven’t done for a while.

I’m suffering today from “Wideus Boarditis” from a 5km paddle on a very wide board yesterday, funny how the adrenaline rush overpowers pain receptors.

My advice to you Chipper is to fold the board in half lengthways and make it 15" or only blow up the middle 2 chambers… ;-))

I’m no doctor, but have a long-time surfer friend who has just had surgery to deal with a disc in his neck. Your case sounds similar: you’ve overextended, beyond your level of strength and flexibility, and given all the cumulative prior damage, your time has come to realize there are limits. The pain is telling you this.

I got a neck xray a couple years ago and the doc noted uneven spacing of the vertebrae in my neck. He noted it was the result of, well, just what you’d expect in someone who has been surfing for 50 years or so. I later found out that at my age, this condition is actually pretty common and by no means restricted to surfers. I sometimes get back pain; it can last for weeks. The last 3-week episode came on from JUST WALKING ALONG DOWN THE STREET. ZAP. Shit, what did I do to deserve that? Nothing specific, but all taken together, it was not unlikely that it would happen to me.

So whatcha gonna do? Take it easy for as long as it takes to recover, and then some; take all the pain pills you need; do a lot of stretching, gentle at first, and not so much to limber up just before a go-out, but as general practice to a) search to and explore your limits, b) hopefully, expand them and c) limber up before a go-out.

thanks Charlie !

…confirms pretty much what I have always done .

Sometimes , like you say , it can just be brought on by something normal like a walk [the back pain , that is ] . A mate of mine “put his back out” with sneezing once . True story .

Hicksy , unfortunately my mat can only be blown up all 4 chambers at once …

but as you say , the body adjusting to new movements and new width of vehicles part is true. And I get in the water perhaps a bit more frequently than you , I’m guessing , too ! … a three hour session on thursday , two surfs saturday , two on sunday .

sometimes I need to rest , I guess …



Ben- what is your height? Weight?

IMHO… a fully inflated surf mat of that type… 30" wide x nearly 6" thick, 53 1/2" long would be more appropriate for a rider at least 6’ ft. tall x 200+ lbs.

It’s better to develop strong paddling skills w legs/ swimfins, not to rely on arms much, except maybe 3 or 4 hard digs just before dropping in. I’d avoid higher inflations, too.

I’m happy to hear it wasn’t your heart :slight_smile:


hi Dale !

thanks for replying !

I’m presently 5’10 and 70kgs [154lbs]

maybe I better kick more and paddle less then , by the sounds of it .



“I’m happy to hear it wasn’t your heart”

thanks Dale … me , too ! [severe chest pain is bad enough , eh?]


For your height/weight a surf mat of similar shape (measured at full inflation), would often be closer to 42" long x 20" wide x 5" thick. How wide are your shoulders?

At lower inflations on an appropriate size mat, the rider is usually in a low, relaxed posture, with spine almost straight, not upright and hyperextended. The more evenly balanced, low profile contact between rider and mat, the better.

Also remember a surf mat’s length and width tend to increase at lower inflations, while thickness in rear 1/3 decreases along inside rail. The size, shape and number of chambers… spacing, height and ventilation of internal structure… choice of materials… corner templates, etc. all influence bouyancy, weight,

speed, response and control.

Traditional rubber and canvas mat, late 1970’s


Do you get strong shoulder and neck pain , after a few go outs on your mat ?

do you sit on your mat between waves , to get a higher up view of approaching waves ?

how wide are your mat/s , compared to your boards ?

Mats don’t compare to any hard surfcraft…and I suspect therein may be the seed of your discomfort. If you have years of experience with other surfcraft you are bound to have a lot of ingrained “systemic memory”…you can push up on a surfboard or bodyboard…you can slide around to reposition yourself at will…you can grab rails and push down on the tail to duck dive…you can simply sit up on a conventional standup board…all things so common to the general waveriding experience that they are taken for granted. It’s like walking up or down steps…your brain is trained to know what to expect. But if you take a step and miss…you don’t just stumble or fall, your whole body can go out of whack.

This seems to be a huge part of the “unlearning process” experienced mat riders speak of. More often than not in my experience the mat seems to take care of itself once on the wave. Getting to that point seems to be the challenge for me. My struggles have been with getting myself decently positioned on my Neumatic, what with that incredible non-skid coating. Trying to re-mount or change position in deep water is an aerobic and isometric exercise…you bet I feel it in my upper body after a session. I can’t imagine the wear and tear on the body and mat in trying to sit on it…no value added in that in my opinion (perhaps not the case for water photographers, although I’m not sure babysitting a camera and a mat in the surf is the easiest way to do things).

Find the most powerful fins with a tolerable comfort level and forget about arm paddling. Get positioned on the mat and forget about it, too…pretend it’s just an inflatable air bladder that nature gave you to help ride waves with…rocket-fueled bodysurfing…heal up and have fun!

I think the chest pain could be a separate problem from the awkward paddling. Deep chest bruising is more common in bodyboarders, but I’ve known some skinny surfers that got it paddling a shortboard. As I understand it the bruising is deep in the tissues where the ligaments hold the ribs together. I’ve known at least two people that thought it was a heart problem, and went to the hospital. So I knew what it was when it first happened to me. If it only hurts when you breathe in and out, then it’s probably just boogie breast. It can happen from bouncing on the deck of your board, and/or the force of the waves falling on you repeatedly. In your case I’d say it’s the falling water. I wonder if a mat rider makes things worse by wrapping his arms around the mat and tensing his back in a whitewater situation. Maybe over inflation of the lungs at the wrong time?? The human back can be pretty quirky. I once hurt myself using a carpet shampoo machine. I only used one hand whenever I pulled the machine backward. That left me a free hand to deal with the power cord. I woke up the next day with a narrow band of numbness around my chest. Sort of like boogie breast, but not as painful. Plus I hadn’t been in the water for a week. I told the chiropractor about the carpet machine and he fixed me up in one treatment. If you must go in the water, then stand-up surf for several days. Turtle under, don’t duck dive the bigger waves. Don’t let the bigger waves slam down on your back.

A rough analogy can be made to weight-lifting, e.g. the effects on our muscle groups when a weight machine is used vs. free weights. Simply laying on a mat and paddling it (esp. at lower inflations) involves more muscle groups, more balance, variations in range of motion and stabilizer muscles than on a solid prone craft.

15 months ago I got flogged mightily just paddling out and I hung onto my board, it was ripped away from me and dislocated my left shoulder at the same time.

The lubrication between my humerus and clavicle disappeared and now the two bones rub together 24/7.

Cant paddle at all,lift my hand over my head, shag, walk the dog or sleep more than an hour or so at a time.

I have to sleep in another room so my wife can get some sleep, and Im reduced to riding bodyboards.( Hence the inventing of foils.)

Did the physio,chemical therapy, but the pain continues to where the injury is my personality.

Arthroscopy next month.

Bottom line, see your doc ASAP like chippy did , and dont be surprised if it never restores to the original ,especially orthopaedics.

As the saying goes…none of us are getting any younger.



I got a neck xray a couple years ago and the doc noted uneven spacing of the vertebrae in my neck.

I was diagnosed with the same thing recently. I had constant pain in my neck for several months. My doctor gave my some pain killers, and said to try one of those foam pillows like shown below.

It totally worked. The pain went away completely. I still need to take it easy since you can’t heal a bulging disk, but at least I can sleep now.

One other thing. Don’t crack your neck! That’s really bad.


Did the physio,chemical therapy, but the pain continues to where the injury is my personality.

Arthroscopy next month.

Bottom line, see your doc ASAP like chippy did , and dont be surprised if it never restores to the original ,especially orthopaedics.

We’ve touched on some of this in other threads, probably semi-impossible to search down in the archives…

Do the medical thing but also spend the money to see and be evaluated by a good chiropractor who has sports medicine experience. My thing was a horribly pinched nerve in my neck and the MD pretty much washed her hands of me…I was on the same sleep routine although mine was limited to about 2 hours total a night. A friend who had been through it said to try the chiropractor, and I lucked out to find one who actually had Olympic Team support experience…first off he gave me a neck brace which I hadn’t thought of and neither did the MD, then took xrays which the MD didn’t do, and then educated me and treated me a lot for about 6 weeks I think it was. It worked completely although I’ve never felt completely comfortable with the extent of my recovery.

I was going to question the use of a bodyboard in your situation, but the more I think about it - all the pressure points that can work the help keep your shoulder fairly static- that may be a good option under your current circumstances.

Hey Chip- My 2 cents. Nels is right about arm paddling a mat. Don’t do it, It takes way too much energy and can definately cause the type of pain you describe. When I am kicking out I will rest my chin and upper body on the mat and let my legs do the work, your leg muscles are much stonger and kicking is more efficient anyway. Also you should avoid the temptation to surf non-stop for a long time. Take a break every hour or two and drink a lot of water to re-hydrate your self. That helps me any way.

yoga/stretching every for range of motion.i have bone spurs in my shoulders but have no problem paddling while on my mat(because 98% of it is kicking)perhaps keep your chin buried in the mat while paddling, not up like when on a surfboard.i will add my spurs cause me issues when standing up on my board.i have had one surgery to grind 'em down and have sustained a regimen of stretch , motion and strength to , so far, eleminate the need for further shoulder surgery…

Hi Matt , how did the arthroscopy go?

Pain management, time of recuperation, reduction of previous pain and mobility?

Can you remember how long the recovery took because I want to get back on my shortboard, if I can remember how to stand.


man, you should write a book about the stuff you see! for my shoulder, it honestly took 6 months before it felt normal and could surf…a lot of PT on wieghts and time spent in pool doing resistence movements.

Thanks for that Matt, I’m resigned to being a good patient and getting back in the water.