Passing out on the water

I had a situation yesterday that was a bit of a heads up for me. After a flat water paddle practice session I stepped off the board in a weird way and my left foot didn’t make it off the board, causing my knee to bend outwards. I’ve had a couple of injuries foiling before but never felt like I was going to pass out. This time I did feel like I could immediately, but was right next to the beach so layed down and got through it.

But I have passed out numerous times from silly injuries in my life. Amazingly, today was the first time I’ve looked up how to avoid passing out, and the internet says stay hydrated and drink electrolytes. When talking to my doctor about passing out from flu shots he suggested potato chips beforehand so that squares I’d say. I’ve often kicked myself for rushing to the beach in the morning without remembering to drink water, but I wasn’t thinking specifically about passing out.

Question: besides taking care of one’s body with water, food, and electrolytes, does anyone take any precautions against passing out in the water? Inflation vest without auto inflate? My back of the mind game plan for winging has been to lie on the wing. But I could see prone in some situations being problematic.

1 Like

What was your HR doing when this happened? Was it racing (like 200+ bpm)? I have AFIB episodes that I’ve dealt with it for a long time. Can send you a PM if it is something similar.

1 Like

I’ve had one afib episode in the middle of the night once, after passing out for no discernible reason.

My HR was pretty baseline I’m sure. It had been a while since my last go. Sometimes I think it’s mental, like this time I really felt my knee explode. And that puts me into that mode. Luckily it wasn’t like that but still limping for sure.

I’m not a Dr, but doesnt sound like AFIB to me (based on my experiences). During an AFIB episode my HR trips into overdrive very suddenly, and then once the episode concludes it clicks back to normal HR just as suddenly - like within a single beat. So I don’t really have any ideas for you, sorry.

Specifically for the issue you described, no suggestions sorry. But I do rate loss of conscious as one of the most severe risks associated with the sport so I wear a helmet as much as I can manage. For longer sessions I wear the vaikobi vest with a hydration pack so I have water with me, my balance goes to shit when I get dehydrated, and a bar or something to keep from bonking. Have a lot of experience with various life vests from years sailing, including a lot of solo. Don’t know of an auto inflator that would be reliable but not trip unwanted for our use. Nobody uses the crotch strap that is absolutely required to get you face up with an inflatable anyways. Non inflatables that can get you face up are really big and bulky, don’t see them as a viable option. So, my mitigation measures all focus on prevention.

1 Like

Yeah not afib, rather vasovagel, but the episode in the night years ago was vagel induced afib. Btw in addition to hydration etc, not having to poop is important. If you have to go it puts pressure on the vagus nerve, or so I’m told.

There’s always the buddy system. There are limits of what we can prepare for on our own. We can do everything right and even so we can’t eliminate all the risk. I’m not good at following this and I can think of a good number of sketchy situations I out myself in while solo. You pose a good question and maybe it’s not worth the risk.

Also, it’s important to process. Like that’s a really scary experience. I recently ruptured my Achilles playing ultimate frisbee and was happy to be on land and have people around to help me. That fear response of “oh my god my life is over”stayed with me for a good bit of
time and then I went from that vagal state (of helplessness) to hyper vigilance.

I think the podcast with the wing Foiler hit by the whale was an excellent story of this shock trauma fear response. TLDR: He went on the 24hr news cycle for a week and kept saying how he wasn’t afraid to go back out in the water, how he was a true Aussie, no fear etc. and it wasn’t until 2weeks or so that he was able to process what had happened and that he really was afraid to go back out there.

It’s not rational to think a whale is going to land on you again, but our mind gets high jacked and the negative thoughts go on repeat. I had a near fall and thought I re-ruptured my tendon. I couldn’t talk myself out of it and ultimately had to just let my body shake it off. Deer do this naturally after they freeze, but it’s harder for us to let ourselves do that after a scary event. Peter Levine and Bessel Van der Kolk (The Body Keeps the Score) are good resources on somatic responses/ healing from shock trauma.

Thanks for sharing! You will figure it out it’s inevitable. :slight_smile:

I think it’s a risk that’s a part of life. We lost a surfer here last year. Out with friends, everyone together, 2’ surf. Then someone noticed he was facedown and gone.

Life is fragile and we don’t need to be reckless, but I think it’s hard to rig up every day planning to pass out and putting all the safety measures in place to keep us invincible. It changes the experience.

1 Like

Pretty scary situation.

I would say that you should wear a buoyancy aid by default, but seems more to it considering they might not ensure you float face up (demonstrated)

These belt PFDs seem like a possible sensible compromise, as long as you know the onset warnings well enough to activate the thing, so maybe a good vest with more padding on the front is best.

FWIW, my experience rather than medical expertise…never had a vasovagal syncope episode until I fairly late in life…dermatologist froze a wart on my hand, then unexpectedly pulled out a scalpel and started sawing on it and I was out…I always thought of “fainting” as some mild and gentle thing, but it really messed with me big time, and after that I was much more prone to coming close to going out, and FOR ME, it has had a major psychological aspect to it…if I’m confident and feeling strong, then I can get through all sorts of stuff, but if I’m feeling fearful/anxious and fragile, I can easily get pulled down into it, and that tends to feed on itself. Something to explore, mind and body…best of luck out there

1 Like

After covid I was getting weird heart rate spikes for a couple of months when jogging. I’d feel totally fine going at an easy pace but then glance at my watch and my heart rate would be over 180. This eventually went away on it’s own.

But given that foiling is much more strenuous than jogging and it’s over water I got a bit concerned that something could happen so I bought a proper chest strap heart rate monitor to make sure my numbers looked the way they used to. The accuracy from the strap is much better than a watch and it doesn’t interfere with paddling at all. Might be worth trying.

1 Like

Have you got your AFIB checked out? I recently had an arrythmia/tachcardia incident while winging … couldn’t catch my breath, pulse 170+ for 2 hours. My doctor buddy assured me it wasn’t a heart attack but he felt 99% likely to be PSVT. I am still awaiting testing results and specialist meet, but I actually kinda hope it’s PSVT, as that’s quite treatable…ablation to zap the short circuits and potentially good as new. A friend got this and his episodes are now gone.

I’ve had a few incidents like this over past 5 years or so since taking up foiling. Either from pumping or intense winging (light wind, paddling to wind line, unable to get up, working too hard). Can’t catch breath, light headed…could easily see how you could pass out from this. My safety rule has been…if out of breath, have to stop for 5-10 mins to catch up…or if not, then the price will be paid. And now the price is paid, as I am off the water until test results come back and fun travel is out of the question :frowning:

PS agreed about Covid…that has come with heart complications with several friends, and I think mine could be too.

Light headless from seeing your own blood / injuries is a real thing for sure. I had a similar, yet different issue once.

I tried a new protein shake with mushrooms before a wing session. I was about a mile directly upwind from my launch when I tried to reach down and grab a football out of the water and came off foil. Before I could get back up, an intense vertigo nausea swept over me. It took me an hour to get back to the beach one handing the wing and laying down. Luckily it was a river with no waves and minimal current. When I dragged myself onto the beach, I couldn’t walk and had to yell to a kid for help. Kids mom helped call my wife who came and picked me up. Even loaded my foil rig on my roof rack (first and only time she’s touched a foil lol). An hour later fell into a deep sleep and woke up fine. It was a wild experience and I’ve never felt so helpless. Could have been worse had the conditions not been so tame! Other than the small beach it was all private properties with docks and break walls.

I’m glad Eric put me onto Promix protein so I won’t have that issue again!

Yes my afib is diagnosed and I’ve had it for many years. For me it can be triggered by maximal efforts like trying to powerfully lift something very heavy or doing sprint workouts. My heart rate will suddenly spike to 200+ bpm, I start breathing shallow and my body goes lactic and feels weak after a while. If I lay down and breathe deeply and slowly I can make it go away - my Hr clicks into gear and goes from like 200 bpm to 60 bpm in a snap. My understanding is that it’s not really pumping blood at 200 bpm, it’s more like a spasm due to the misfiring electric signals in the heart. It has happened to me on the water and I need to calmly get to shore when it does. My episodes generally are only a few minutes every month or two and I have learned to control them. My doctor has told me that I won’t pass out from an episode like this, which is somewhat reassuring.

Triggers include being dehydrated, electrolyte imbalance, poor sleep and alcohol. Covid had nothing to do with mine and I had it well prior to then.

I actually have an ablation scheduled for this fall but I’m still deciding whether to go through with it or not. I’m a longtime endurance athlete (a potential contributor to the diagnosis) and the outcomes are not as good with athletes. It can also mess up your cardio endurance (many people run at higher HR after the procedure forever or for a long time). If it weren’t for the scary episodes on the water I would just live with it - it’s the water episodes that freak me out.

What you describe sounds similar to me. Worth getting checked out because there are things of varying degrees of seriousness that can manifest similarly.

1 Like

If you don’t have any medical issues, and as you stated, have passed out getting flu shots etc. you might want to teach yourself how to quickly oxigenate and raise your blood pressure. Also, I’d suggest meditation to teach mind control. A couple gasps of air followed by steady deep and calm breathing, clentching your butt and fists, and more techniques can help. Although as mentioned, there probably aren’t any self righting floatation devises compatible with foiling, having a comfortable vest or something as a security blanket might also help to avoid panic that causes fainting. Maybe go and get flu and covid shots and practice your mind control, then try donating blood! If you study Youtube videos of people hyperventillating while on roller coasters etc. it’s illuminating to see how they shallow breathe and tense up just before passing out.


IMO passing out on the water is a real worry and needs some action. It would be sensible to get some basic cardiac investigations, if not already done. My advice would be a 24 hr ECG and echo and using a smart watch designed to pick up arrhythmia like AF

There’s some good thoughts in here for sure. For my understanding of my own history, I think being very strict about hydration and nutrition going forward and once I recover. Also, my cheat code for staying awake, say during a technicolor yawn, is a cold wet rag on the forehead. Which makes me think about a snorkel, so I can keep my face in the cold water. Worst case is prone, where I’d lie across the board face in, but if any chance of going under then schooch back a bit. Really no good options without a wing to lie on.

For me, when an afib episode happens I need to lie on my back, and ideally elevate my legs. Pressure on my chest (like laying on a board) does not help. I have laid on my back on a surfboard or even a sinker wingboard during these episodes, but realistically, you just need to get to shore. If its an Afib episode, they can really take a lot of strength out of you and it can feel like lactic acid buildup in your muscles until it passes.

If I’m not feeling well rested, hydrated, fueled, etc… I don’t stray way offshore.

For me personally, afib is unrelated, as I get a vasovagel reponse. But same as far as lying on my back is preferred. Maybe just carry a washcloth. Should experiment with lying on my prone board on my back.