Health Team

Wakeboarding increases risk of head injuries to children

Posted July 21, 2011 12:14 p.m. EDT
Updated July 21, 2011 6:44 p.m. EDT

— Wakeboarding, the water sport version of skateboarding, is increasingly popular among children and teenagers, but it's sending many young people to the emergency room with serious head injuries.

Chris Jadelis, 16, of Apex, fractured his skull in a fall while wakeboarding during a family trip June 5.

"I barely remember the trip itself, and actually when I started to wakeboard, I don't remember anything after that," Chris said.

"He had a big gash in his head, and he was bleeding," his mother, Loretta Jadelis, said.

Doctors said they aren't sure what Chris' head hit, but they believe that, as with many such injuries ER doctors see, it was probably the wakeboard itself.

"Recent research shows that the risk of a head injury in wakeboarding is about five to 10 times that compared to waterskiing," WakeMed pediatrician Dr. Mark Piehl said.

A wakeboard is bigger than skis, has a sharp edge and keeps a person's feet strapped in tighter than skis do.

Because of such risks, fun-seekers must be tightly strapped into helmets at Coble Water Ski and Wakeboarding School near Lillington.

"Safety is our No. 1 concern," camp owner April Coble said.

Coble used to just strongly recommended helmets but started requiring them for all high-impact water sports after a few wakeboarding injuries at the school a few years ago, she said. Protex, a company that makes water sports helments, provides them free to her students.

"(With) the momentum of the board hitting you in the head, it doesn't take a big hit," Coble said. "The momentum, it's harder than you think."

Ski schools teach important safety skills that people who start out knee-boarding or wakeboarding without instruction miss out on, she said.

Piehl said that any sport that can result in hard hits to the head – such as biking, skateboarding or snow skiing – should require a helmet at all times.

Loretta Jadelis said a helmet will be the rule on future family trips to the lake.

"It's the same thing as when he goes out on his mountain bike. He wears a helmet," she said.

Chris said he still wants to wakeboard when he completely recovers from his injury.

"I'll get up and go, I guess, but not without that helmet, because I don't want that to happen again," he said.