I’ve Been Diagnosed with Exostosis

A couple of years ago before we left the United States I was diagnosed with Exostosis, better known as Surfer’s Ear.

Exostosis is abnormal bone growth within the ear canal. Irritation from cold wind and water exposure causes the bone surrounding the ear canal to develop lumps of new bony growth which constrict and eventually close the ear canal, causing loss of hearing.


What was that? Yeah, I didn’t hear anything either. Carry on.

The condition “Surfer’s Ear” is so named due to its prevalence among cold water surfers, but it is actually far more common with whitewater kayakers. Growing up on the frigid rivers of the Northwest while not wearing protective ear plugs all but guaranteed my current condition.

Most people diagnosis this problem when their ears are around 70-80% closed. At the time of my diagnosis 2 years ago I was told that my ears were at 95%. My mistake was thinking that I could ride the last 5%.
(Stevie, not one word from you… NOT ONE! We already know my list of weaknesses, and yes, denial is at the top of the list, right after stupidity).

A couple of weeks ago my right ear closed up for good. I started taking the steroid ear drops my last doctor had given me, but they didn’t help this time. After 10 days Stevie finally forced me to see the local ear doctor. He looked in my ear and the first thing he said was…

“Practica surf? No debe surfear. Tiene Exostosis”

Translation: Do you surf? You shouldn’t surf. You have Exostosis.

What was that? Could you speak into my good ear?  Oh, I don’t have a good ear?

He tried to blast a small hole with his “tool”, but that didn’t work. It did hurt though. So at least I got my money’s worth out of the visit.

The only cure for Exostosis is a surgery where they make a half-moon incision behind your ear, pull the whole ear forward, and then drill out the bone growth. Easy tick. Sign me up. I’m all in. I got this.

I was ready to rock it out right there on sight with my new Peruvian Doctor. The office was a little primitive, but I figured at least we’d have Jesus on our side. He’s very active here in Peru.

Stevie asked the Doc when he could do the surgery. He laughed. He said they didn’t have the right tools in Peru and that I should go back to the United States. At least he was honest.

Well, it looks like an emergency trip to the USA is in the cards for Sprinter Life.

At least this comes at a time when we have hardly anything else on our plate.  🙂

Since I’m deaf in my right ear, we’re going to move fast. On April 22nd we fly from Lima to Los Angeles. We’ll be there for two weeks and the plan is to have one ear surgery done each week.

And so, a moment of reflection…

Outdoor sports have been a huge part of my life. They’ve given me the most amazing experiences imaginable. But they’ve also taken their toll. Kayaking left me with two bad shoulders, two bad ears, and several near death experiences. Rock climbing left me with two bad feet, one very, very near death experience, and an irrational fear of heights. Surfing has been one fractured sternum, multiple line-up confrontations, several scratch-n-dents, one shark sightings, zero near death experiences.

What does all this mean?

In a couple weeks I turn 38 years old. My maturity level will be 18, and my body is turning 60. 

What the F#ck? I’m not sure this is how millions of years of evolution was meant to unfold.





My frankenstien x-rays, post rock climbing accident. Can’t wait to see the ear photos.  🙂


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  1. Oh.. that sucks big time. Yeah, I have been living in denial as well. My left ear is worked, and I used to be good about plugs, but you know how that goes. I feel somewhat blessed that my children and family have slowed me down in the climbing/kayaking aspect.
    I think I remember Clay Wright having a similiar story.

    Thanks for sharing this story.. Wake up call for sure.
    P.S Your feet… how much extra weight are you walking around with? Wow. Your irrational fear of heights is probably where mine has always been. Reason I was called “small wall widmer” in my days..
    I’m 41, and my shoulder is just starting to feel better after 9 months.

    • You should learn how to play the guitar.. My 8 year experience has still been one of the most challenging hobbies yet.. and I have yet to get hurt by it..

      • Ha! I can’t believe you can play guitar with those fingers. Finger cracks were never your stong suit, remember! 🙂

        • Yeah, as long as I use a capo. I’ll take a handcrack over fingers anyday.. lol BTW was that an air compressor in the back. Ouch! When I was boating a ton back in the day I always wore ear plugs, but they were the cheapo foamies that you buy at the hardware store. Those are the only ones that seem to work. After you get your ears fixed, you need to get some custom ear plugs. When I busted my two front teeth, the Dentist made me some custom mouth pieces.. said I had to wear them when I went skating.. At least you don’t have to wear a mouth piece.. It lasted one day of looking like a dork, and those things went in the garbage can! Now I wish I had them..

    • I hope you have a huge selection of ear plugs at ODP.. That might be my next purchase, along with some wrist gaskets form my dry top.

    • Yeah, Clay and I have been chatting about his surgery on FB. Scary. You should be wearing ear plugs every time you go out bro! buy them.

  2. Anonymous says:

    oh man, that totally sucks. sorry to hear. don’t worry you’ll be back in the water soon

  3. Cyndi Lou says:

    Momsy de Hermosa is getting the recovery room ready. Now get your nalgas home and no surfing in between my nagging you. Maybe you can throw a block on Stevie but you can’t stop Momsy de Hermosa. Send me the details soon. (Mijito your passed the stage in your young life when you are able to ignore messages and signs from your body. It doesn’t mean your old it just means you have to be the”quick” and “first responder.”) No more waiting!!!!

  4. cyndi lou says:

    Yes, one more thing: American Jesus has more duckets than Peruvian Jesus.

  5. Dear Steve,
    I am sure you will overcome this situation, you have proved with prior experiences that a positive “actitud” is very powerful.
    I wish you the best and will send you positive energy from my end.
    Recibe un cordial saludo….

  6. Anonymous says:

    Thanks for posting this. I suffer from the same problem.
    Note to self: this is the year to get the custom fit ear plugs.

  7. I’m curious why you’re holding a bowl under your ear. Is that to catch whatever falls out? I have to admit, I think you’re at your funniest when you’re making fun of yourself. This was hysterical to read. ps. I hope you mend soon…. I said I HOPE YOU MEND SOON…..

    • Hoop, I’m deaf, but not BLIND! 🙂
      the bowl under my ear was to catch whatever liquid he was shooting in there. Fun times. Fun.

  8. There is more than one way to do the procedure. I’m pretty Sure Clay wrote it up on boatertalk when he had it done this way: http://www.pamf.org/ENT/services/surfersear.html where they use chisels, vs the fold the ear forward thing. Seem a lot less complicated.

    • Yo JB, yeah, I’ve been researching both. The chisel is mostly used in mild cases. They need to be able to see the ear drum or else they risk doing permanent damage. I ears are basically closed, so it’s probably the drill for me. I should have had them done 10 years ago.

  9. mamatuyas says:

    Well, you may be living in an “60-year-old body”, but your heart and spirit are forever young, Tree. It’s just who you are. (And your sense of humor is obviously alive and well!)

  10. Wayne Wardlow says:

    Wow! I hope it’s not too painful. Please take good care of you and we wish you a speedy recovery.

  11. Mick Evans says:

    Ouch – think I was your age when I had my ears drilled. The procedure sounds gory, but it, and the recovery were painless, albeit a little “itchy”. You”ll need to protect your ears from now on, because the bone grows faster the 2nd time around. Good luck, oh and btw, they usually don’t do both ears at the same time, so pick your worst one 🙂

  12. Veronica Grey TheOracle says:

    Tell Tree we wish him well and if you need company
    I’m down.

  13. Andrea Greever says:

    oh cousin you are no longer a spring chicken as my dad would say lol time to take it easy

  14. Mauricio Arredondo L says:

    Dude… I got the same shit…

  15. Clay Wright says:

    We ALL have it, they ALL want to operate. Doc from Pro-plugs says till it’s causing frequent infections even when you get your ears professionally cleaned every 3 months don’t do it! Just use alcohol/vinegar EVERY time you get wet. I lasted ten years at 90% one ear and 85 the other by being vigilant. Had surgery, still vigilant (grows back faster afterwards).

  16. Mike Leeds says:

    not what i wanted to see right before i have to do the same thing…..

  17. Brandon Knapp says:

    Mine are at 92 and 94. Been that way for 15 years. Always wore ear plugs and a skull cap. Avoiding surgery as long as possible. Like Clay said, always dry them out after getting wet.

  18. Jose Oscar Acevedo says:


  19. Christopher J Shinpaugh says:

    That sucks! I’ll get you a bouquet.

  20. Rich Dressen says:

    was this caused by Stevie slapping you up side the head?

  21. Zach McDuffie says:

    great blog, I feel your pain. I had a bad ear infection from surfing that lasted a year, almost drove me mad. Love the “Jesus the surgical assistant” poster in the office!

    BTW we are in San Diego this month, maybe we can meet up with you guys.

  22. Melissa Monroe says:

    ‎:( sorry tree.. What a bummer..

  23. Reform Schooler says:

    My doc comments on my “bony growths” every physical. He learned about “paddler’s ear” from me (all the other paddlers must go to the paddler in his practice). So far no roto-rooter work planned . . .

  24. Jennifer Chandler Meyer says:

    What a bummer cuz…I hope everything goes well.

  25. Alexander Roberts says:

    Some people pay a lot of money to get horn implants – think of it as a gift from – no wait, that’s not right …

  26. Wow!
    Those x-rays are scary. I had a couple of neck/spinal surgeries and also have some hardware
    but holy sh*& you got enough to recycle. Remember “GO GREEN” all that metal should help your beneficiaries.
    I also have Surfers ear and I found out over 20 tears ago and I always wear plugs no problems since.
    Only hurts when diving say more than 30 ft. ….So no deep divind. Hope all goes well and do as the DR> orders and all should be ok.

  27. I feel your pain! I lived through my teens and twenties with an “Ill never make it past 30 anyways” attitude, and now between the plates and screws, arthritis and carpal tunnel, Im better at forecasting the weather than the weather network is, lol. Deciding to look after my body with the same anal retentiveness as I do my trad rack, bike and cameras was a big part of ‘growing up’. or at least growing slightly smarter.

  28. Bummer dude,
    I stopped and looked at bikes today, as a way to get around and maybe take one to Central/South America.
    I looked at the height that I would have to lift my leg for it to get over the bike to the other side – i thought “Who am I kidding – I can’t do that every time!”
    Growing old ain’t for sissies – guess you’ll survive – LOL
    Too bad Tree, but age always catches you.

  29. Dominated that sucks bro,however totally stoked I get to see you two. I guess that means we won’t be able to surf though. Oh well can’t wait to see you guys

  30. Two Notes:
    1. Your business partner votes for golf and fly fishing, cuz that’s what he did after the last near-death experience and subsequent shoulder dislocation when rolling over in bed asleep.
    2. Your fear of heights is in NO WAY irrational given the circumstances.

    • at some point I should probably just start listening to you. Oh wait, I don’t have any hearing anymore. Dammit!

  31. karin stronkhorst says:

    ouch, good luck with the surgeries! thanks for sharing, makes me feel I’m not alone in the list of things I did to myself…. got stiched up in my face 4 times. Anyway, hope all goes well.

  32. Owweeee! Impressive pictures. Let me know if you would like to do a little R & R in Arizona while you are in the states. Be careful out there. c

  33. Chris Koll says:

    I have it bad in both ears…can’t hear a thing my wife says. Hope it never heals!!!

  34. Mick Evans says:

    Tree – tell the doc to lose that chrome bicycle pump – a 3/8″ drill bit is just about perfect *grins*. Btw – in my case, my ear canal reduced to the size of a pinhole – in the late 80’s very few paddlers were aware of this condition – personally, I blame the invention of drysuits *grins*

  35. Lorraine Chittock says:

    Agree, no surgery! Haven’t had it, but so many things in our bodies heal themselves with time! I’d had skin cancer three times, and after the first surgery, allowed TIME to heal, and the other two vanished…

  36. Anonymous says:

    never boring with you guys is it?

  37. Ben and Janet says:

    Sorry to hear about your condition.
    When you get to LA, we are here if we can be of any help please give us a call. Our number is 714-968-5446 Cell 714-330-1820

  38. John Rich says:

    Wow! Best of luck with the surgeries. I’m glad to hear you will be doing that in the U.S. If Peru surgery is anything like Peru van repairs you could have been screwed.
    I got a laugh from your “reflections” today!

  39. Dude–add it to the list of things that make our bodies older than we are, but at least we have fun getting to that point ……Get better!

    • Hey BP, I should have just stuck to racing where we never tipped over. I think it was moving into freestyle kayaking that screwed me!

      Anyway, can’t wait to watch your little bro in the olympics! We’re pulling for him.

      Take care my friend,


  40. David Curran says:

    Let’s see, if memory is working, isn’t that caused from too much cold water to the tympanic membrane?

  41. Tree,
    You dont know me but Im your brother I was wasted and spinning my wheels…Then I saw Sprinter life, that changed everything, now I just listen to Eckart Tolle all day and stare out at the mesa. I have scored the sickest gigante Pacasmayo ever. 3 to 4 times overhead and mile long rides back into town. But dont tell anyone ok!!!

    Hope things get better, then you can get your first legit deep pit at Cabo Blanco….Remember.”When Waimea is killing people,Cabo Blanco is killing people!” Our winter of course. I hate the crowds in Mancora!

    Here is what my good friend Michael Howard said about your ear problema.
    I’ve had it for years, sometimes resulting in chronic recurrent infections. I am religious about drying my ears out after a swim/sesh but now I get in from showers. We have an ENT here (Dr. Alexander) who does a direct approach (from the canal) which is less invasive. I’m not sure of his total numbers so I am hesitant and will probably go to ABQ or Denver. Honestly, it has gotten to the point my stethoscope is painful. 10%chance of tympanic membrane injury, small chance hearing loss…
    Oh well, never could wear plugs, liked to know what was coming.

    Michael Howard MD PhD FACEP
    Chief of Staff, Holy Cross Hospital
    Sent from my iPad

    On Mar 27, 2012, at 2:07 PM, Jamie Baldonado wrote:

    Super common…Thats why I just want to go fuckin surfin or kayakin in warm waters….Nonetheless.. Charles hardly ever wore any ear protection in the shop..I see guys 50 to 65 that are deaf ish from power tools..Then look what happened to Pete Townshend of the Who with loud guitar amps frying his hearing…Thats a bummer for Tree, I didnt know the canal totally closes up …They need to get out of Peru any ways .They stopped being nomadic 6 to 8 months ago..He wants waves, but they dont really show up until right about now till oct.

    Hope this wasnt too obnoxious,

    Que le vaya bien!

  42. William Taggart says:

    I had one ear fixed because it closed completely. My other ear was 95%. They couldn’t even look in it the bones grew so much. Vigilance for 10 years has kept it open so far. Ear plugs, headphones, hats, and warmth! It works!

  43. I have swimmer’s ear from long-gone days of competitive swimming, and I now surf knee high waves and boogie board any waves, and my ears are starting to develop exostoses. They hurt like hell when they get water in them, but whenever I try earplugs they totally suck. Can anyone recommend some plugs that really work? That stay in even in crashing, swirling water? Thanks so much.

  44. get out of there!

  45. Stevie's Mom & Dad says:

    Hey Tree, it broke my heart to hear of your facebook entry. We immediatly went and read for ourselves. Please know if there’s anything you two need including accomadations and car travel let us know.

  46. Jacob Glissmeyer says:

    my girlfriend accuses me all the time for not listening to her. maybe i can blame it on exostosis.

  47. Anonymous says:

    I’d rather die kayaking than to not lived at all! –Shakespeare

  48. Javiera Tarragó says:

    Que mal!!! espero que todo salga bien y que aprovechen de visitar a su familia y amigos!
    Un abrazo a los 2

  49. Sorry but I did crack up when I saw the photo of the “tool” being jammed in your ear. But I do sympathize you are suffering from this and all those other ailments. Getting old sucks!!!!

  50. If you can, have Dr. Hetzler do your ears. He’s the guru. He did mine about 3 years ago, both ears at the same time. Much faster healing time. He uses micro chisels and goes through the ear canal instead of the slice the back and flop it forward method.

  51. Hi Tree,
    I found your post by googling exostoses and I was surprised to find that you lived in Lima. We have lived here in Lima for almost 2 years and we started surfing last March. I am 39 years old. I had started getting trouble with my ears so went to an ENT here on Friday. I found out that one ear is 90% closed and the other 75%. He recommended surgery in the next 3 years, but it was once I got home and started researching that I realized that there are different surgical strategies that are used. I didn’t even ask him if he did the surgery (Dr. Percy Ruiz at Anglo Americana).
    I understand you had the surgery in LA? I see that there is a highly experienced surgeon in Santa Cruz. I am interested in hearing how the surgery went and which technique they used. And of course how long the recovery process was and when you could get back in the water!
    In the meantime I just ordered a fitting kit from Doc’s Pro Plugs…

    I would appreciate hearing from you. All the best to you, Stevie and little Soleil!

    • Hi Leanne
      I would recommend going to House Ear Clinic in LA. Dr. Ericson. He’s the best and he can give you tons of info about the process. They don’t do the surgery in Peru, nor would you want it done there.

      good luck!

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