OT- surfing with no ACL

Aloha knee injury fans,

So the wife and I made the terrible mistake of moving inland. To compensate for the lack of surf this winter I did a bunch of snowboarding up until massive knee injury. I ended up tearing my ACL doing something stupid- yeah I know.

So here’s my question- does anybody out there surf with no ACL? How about ACL reconstruction, has anyone in Swayslandia gone down that route? I just had my first session since the blowout and while I could surf, things didn’t feel all that right, especially when I didn’t stick a duckdive…


you should be fine surfing w/o an ACL. I have had a reconstruction on both knees. Don’t let your kids grow up to be soccer players! The ACL stabalizes the knee where it pivots top to bottom. Your problem will be walking in sand (divots) or doing the rock dance. If you have insurance and can afford whatever your cost is do it. You will be happy you did. If you wait you will further damage the joint and end up with arthiritis. That will effect your surfing as you don’t bend/flex as well as you’d like. Think barrels and pig dogging. The out of the water time can be up to 8 months. A brace alone does not do too much unless it is specifically for the ACL. And that brace is very bulky. Did you tear it (have some left; some stability) or is it gone? Both mine were blown to bits.


edit from Marco’s quote; “I have more than two acquaintances who’ve had their replacement fail to take and had to have it re-done.”---->

both mine are fine, the first one was like ten years ago or more, the second one 3 years ago maybe. Both were taken from my patella tendon.

I blew out my ACL 5 years ago. MRI says 80-90% tear. Its my back foot too. My Doc gave me two options, replace or brace. I have more than two acquaintances who’ve had their replacement fail to take and had to have it re-done. My Ortho said I’d be out of the water minimum 5 Months. :frowning: So I opted for a brace. After I got fitted for the brace (custom Carbon Fiber/Titanium job) the insurance said they wouldn’t cover it. !?! WTF they’ll cover the $75,000 surgery but not a $5,000 brace? I talked to a physical therapist and she said to do as much strength training on that leg as possible and I should be able to manage, as long as I don’t take up hockey or professional soccer. So long story… In the last three years I’ve only dislocated it twice surfing. Once ducking a sneaker set at Sunset Cliffs, I got nailed by the lip and went back over the falls on about a 9’ face. Second time I got all tweaked up cross-stepping and it just popped out. No warning. Hurts like hell for a few days after, but I keep my mind off the knee by continually breaking ribs. :slight_smile: I may get it replaced some day but for now I’m going to just try and work through it.

Get it done. I was without for ~12 years following a skateboarding injury –

I didn’t understand what had happened and what the degradation to my knee cartilage would do to my athletics and my lifestyle (and thus my psyche) ultimately.

I later got it done–I was off the knee for mmm, 2 months.

I would have had it done IMMEDIATELY if I could turn back the clock (and if I’d had insurance at that time).

Totally blown out. No ACL left. The rock dance was really bad, and yeah the missed duck dive f’d me up. It’s my front foot, so once on a wave I really didn’t have any problems, but it sounds like scalpel here I come. I’m going to meet with the surgeon March 16th. What about allograft versus patellar tendon? Any opinions there?

I ruined my left knee about 7 years ago - total ACL, total MCL, split meniscus, cracked femur. With a surf trip to Hawaii scheduled for 8 weeks later.

I ordered a ‘functional multiple instabilities’ brace online from DonJoy, it was about $300. I surfed with it, it was fine. I had ACL replacement surgery about a month later, 3 months post-injury. They wouldn’t do it any sooner, as the femur head had to be totally healed so they could drill & screw into it.

I hit the rehab hard & fast and was surfing & playing lacrosse again (in a brace) 6 months post-op. About 2 years post-op, no more brace needed. Yes, the brace dinged the hell out of the left rails of all my boards, but worth it.

Interestingly, I also was fitted for a custom, molded-leg, carbon fiber/titanium brace after surgery. My insurance co. paid for it ($3800 I think at the time). The DonJoy brace is better! It fits better, is lighter, the hinges are smoother, and it never rusted from saltwater exposure (unlike some of the washers & fittings on the expensive one). Its a tiny bit bulkier, but not problematically so - its the one I wore much more than the custom one.

My reconstruction was patellar tendon rather than allograft, cadaver donation, or hamstring tendon. Patellar tendon reconstructions can be more painful and produce more scar tissue - both mainly from the harvest site rather than the repair. But once healed, and if you really do your rehab well, they produce the tightest, most ‘normal’ feel afterwards. The other ones get results more quickly and with less rehab effort required, but end up with a looser repair and are more likely to fail again under severe strain.

My recommendation would be to ‘pre-hab’ as much as possible with lunges, bodyweight squats, ankle weights (for floor exercises, not walking or running) and resistance bands to strengthen all the muscles which will support your reconstructed knee. If you have the time & dedication to follow-through, get the patellar tendon reconstruction. And skip the fancy brace and get a DonJoy. Post-op, get a good stand for your bike, and a tv and watch surf videos in your garage while you ride every day. Don’t be tempted to ride outside - the risk of falling is seriously not worth it. I was on the bike, in the garage literally every single day for 6 months - I marked my calendar. That’s what it takes. Then lots of weights, heavy & light, and I took up Tai Chi too because the balancing, holding, & twisting are very good to get you ready to surf again.

7 years later, nothing is a problem. A little soreness sometimes, especially after a run. I’m a Crossfitter now and can even do the balistic movements & oly lifts without concern for the knee. And still play lacrosse. Compared to those, surfing is light duty. :smiley: Good luck!

vg advice from benny! - I destroyed both acls one 20+ years ago, the other a few years back. The old one was two years out of the water, lots of rehab, and a CTI brace for about 5 years, but afterwards, no complaints. Same guy did my other one, and yes I had actually surfed acl-less for a couple years prior, but huge difference for me after the repair, I don’t favor it anymore, am more confident, and happier. My .02: avoid allographs at all costs, my cousin was an olympic athlete, had one, and went through an ugly rejection scenario…, The allograph is popular with sports medicine guys, as the idea is to get you “back on the field” asap. big mistake!!, IMHO, as most of us need to look down the line as surfers (ha, ha), at a lifetime career having fun in the water. Go with the conservative, slower recovery, and enjoy a strong knee late into life (and hopefully no total replacement either!)

some side notes:

  • I had the patellar tendons adjusted at the same time as my repairs - a bonus no more knee-cap poping out!

  • I stretch now!

  • for re-hab, I used a boogie board fin on my good leg, no fin on the baddie, and paddled for a coupl hours (DON’T ride a wave!!)

good luck adk!

Hey Benny

Do you know if they make that kind of brace for elbows?

This torn tendon shite in my elbow is driving me crazy!

I have a friggin cast on and I can still feel it hurting even in the cast.

I don’t want to wait another 6-8 months to surf…but I also don’t want to completely blow my elbow out.

Any thought are completely welcome!


Never looked into it for elbows… I’d say two things:

Google is your friend

DonJoy is a good company.

If you can make those 2 match up, you’ll probably get a good result… good luck!

Yeah EP…but how about ELBOWS! LOL

I’ve torn my ACL early this year and got it fixed (hamstring tendon) at april 8th this year. Yesterday I asked my doctor if I would be able to surf in august and he said fine if I wore a brace. Does a brace really help that much? Because the last I wanna do is repeat the revalidation I’ve already done and still have to do. I got a post-op brace (custom fitted) but that one won’t be water proof I bet, so I’d have to buy a new one. If it’s really worth it I’ll buy one because I plan to go back to Ju Jitsu (where I tore my ACL) and snowboarding by the end of this year. Can anybody propose a brace that would do well for snowboarding, martial arts and surfing all together? The DonJoy FourcePoint seems interesting just from looking at their site, but I’m looking for somebody with experience if possible.

However I’m reading stuff like “The out of the water time can be up to 8 months.” does that count for beginners aswell? It’d be my first time surfing. Also I don’t have my own board so I’d be renting one, will they complain when they see me wear a brace? Because I read it can damage the board.

Or do you guys recommend me to sit this one out since I only had surgery in april, so august would be too soon to surf? Even for a beginner?

Thanks in advance.

Hi! I tore my ACL a few months ago. For work reasons I’ll only be able to have the surgery on July, perhaps not even then. I saw many thing about DonJoy ACL braces, but do they really keep you knee in place even with a full ACL tear?

I want to go back at surfing, my injury is on my back foot. I tried to surf and my knee was popping out every time I bent it. Do you thing there’s any brace out there that would stop it from happening until I can have my knee fixed?


Ok I’m 19 years old and a freshman in college. I tore my acl and meniscus playing intramural soccer here at school on the beach. Tore it in september, had surgery in november. It is now May 17 today, and the doctor says I can surf by June and I will not be wearing a brace. I don’t really have any questions, just telling my story. I feel like my knee isn’t ready for it, but I guess I have to trust my therapist and doctor if they say it is. I plan on surfing little 2-4 ft waves asap. Anybody have any input on this? 

I sell orthopedic implants for a living and see the effects of patients that wait too long; its rarely ever good.  If you can afford the procedure, do it ASAP.  Proper rehab is as important as getting the procedure done in the 1st place.  Try to get referrals from people who have had this done and experienced good results from the Dr, his staff, the type of implant he typically uses, and the rehab clinic that he refers his post-ops to.  I have friends who have had both auto and allog implants who are back surfing at their pre-injury levels if not higher.  Good luck!

I’d get it fixed.  An acl is not like your appendix.  You do need it.  Do your research and find the guy that does acl’s all day long and has a good rep.   It does matter who does the surgery.  There’s no guarantees, of course.  Mike

Your ACL keeps the 2 ends of your bones from rubbing over each other in a forwards and backwards motion (your MCL covers the side to side). It likely the uneasy or loose feeling you got when you had your first session back was due partly to lack of muscle condition (not having exercised for a while) and the lack of a ligament preventing movement.

Many people can go on to lead relatively problem free lifestyles even without an ACL but it depends upon the types of activities you want to be able to do and the level of intensity you wish to perform them. If you sit at a desk all day and you dont have high expectations of heavy wave riding or high performance manouvres, you might choose to avoid the surgery and maintain capability by working on the supporting muscles and wearing some sort of support. If you have a fairly active lifestyle and you dont want to compromise on your sporting activities then the surgery would be a good idea if this is a solution available to you. The lack of an ACL will lead to increased wear on your meniscus (cartilage) which can lead to tearing and arthritus later on in life, the operation provides a long term solution which reduces these symptoms.

If you have not had significant surgery before the ACL reconstruction will not be a walk in the park, it is quite a painful operation that has a long rehabilitation period. The reason for this is that in most cases they graft (medical term for whacking a staple into it) a tendon in to replace a ligament, so its not a like for like replacement (not a first at least). Your body (being the cleaver thing it is) realises that there are tendon fibres where there should be ligament fibres and proceeds to regenerate and reorganise these fibres until you are left with a ligament again (clever stuff!). Unfortunately this regeneration takes 12-14 months and you will be advised during this period not to put any serious strain on the ligament during this period (exercise ok but twisting activities are usually of the table).

Although relatively young i have spent a lot of time under the knife and know it can be a frustrating to have a 12 month rehab period layed out infront of you but try to look at the bigger picture and long term goals. (P.s my profile photo is an X-ray of my knee last october and if you look close you can see the staples)

Good Luck

Okay so I guess at this point I can share my follow up story. I decided to get the ACL fixed (patellar tendon graft) about 9 months after blowing it out. Surfing without my ACL was really hard. Getting thrashed in turbulent water hurt. Surprisingly snow boarding wasn’t that bad, but clearly a terrible idea.


Now about 20 months past my surgery my reconstructed knee feels great. Strong, stable, and in some ways more sure than my other (non-opperated-on knee). In some ways its worse for wear-- cold days when I’m inactive I can definitely “feel the trauma” of the surgery in the form of achiness. Surfing is no problem, even without a brace. I’ve surfed in bigger surf too (e.g. north shore), without any instability issues. So as far as surfing, I’m stoked on my ACL reconstruction.


Now they do say that 40% of ACL reconstructions end up in knee replacement, but I’ll have some solid years on this frankenbeast…


Hi ADK! Thanks for sharing your story. Two years after my injury and I STILL haven’t got my surgery. I know… no need to warn me. I’m well aware it’s a BAD idea to leave it like that. But my life had a turn for the worse and I just couldn’t afford it before, now I’m at a new job and things are just plain hectic for me to take a month of two off work. So when you don’t have a choice, the choice is easy. What I have been doing is: cycling! And I really started to like it. So much I even go to work a few days a week with my bike (9 miles each way) and that has helped a lot with my knee strenght and stability. Other than that, still trying to remain above the water in this economy, which haven’t helped my chance of being able to afford the surgery.

Thanks for sharing your stories here, guys!


sorry about yout injury acl tears sucks:(

I tore mine running 2 years ago and It still hurts to run. For a while I was surfing with a brace, you should try that just make sure you get a good one thats tight enough to actually keep you knee in line.

Hope that helps

feel better:)