Dr Chapman and The Surfing Doctors

How to travel the world and surf the best waves

Meet the good Doctor who gets to surf some of the best waves in the world by looking after people.

Phillip Chapman grew up in Cape Town and was schooled at Pinelands High. He had a successful competitive surfing career and dominated events held in solid surf. However, his standout performances always came when the waves were serious – at places like Kalk Bay, Outer Kom, big Dunes and Sea Point’s infamous Off The Wall.
His studies saw him become Dr Chapman, Staff Specialist in Emergency Medicine at the Bunbury Regional Hospital in Western Australia, and the man behind Surfing Doctors.

The Surfing Doctors describe themselves as:
“… a close-knit group of like-minded individuals who have filtered out of various specialities and areas of medicine to combine the love of two totally different passions; the surfing sport and lifestyle, and a lifelong career in medicine.”


Their ethos reads, “To head out to remote areas and act as caregivers to a host of different people, including the setting up of long-term projects with the local population, and looking after the guests and staff where we are based.”
In short, they travel to amazing surf locations around the world, snag a few set waves and look after surfers who smash themselves up on the reef. An excellent way to pass the time.

“We operate from G-Land mostly, “explains Dr Chapman, “but we get gigs at Tavarua, Maccas, and a few other low-key spots like the Solomons. We have set up the main infirmary at Jawa Jiwa G-Land, so that’s our base.”
However, Dr Chapman has spent more time on the road than most of the doctors on the Surfing Doctors roster. “I’ve done this gig in Java, Sumatra, Fiji, Australia and South Africa.”

It’s not all roses, though, as their job deals with radical situations and, at times, severe trauma. His worst situation was a full-blown near-death pelvic split at G-Land when an inexperienced surfer panicked, turned his back to a set wave, and got smashed, with the wave splitting him in half, pretty much. Dr Chapman was on duty, and the surfer survived, barely.” We had some near-drowning situations recently as well,” said Dr Chapman. “One made it, and one didn’t.”
There are good times as well for the Surfing Doctors. “The best part of the job is that we can combine two passions, medicine and surfing, as well as meeting cool crew,” reckons Dr Chapman. “Then we get to share waves with them and even a few beers afterwards.”

Still, most surf destinations do not have a resident Surfing Doctor on call. As a result, surfers need to take control of their health and safety while travelling, especially to the more remote surf destinations that are becoming increasingly popular as surfers shy further and further away from the crowds. “You must have adequate medical insurance,” reckon Dr Chapman.
This needs to include medevac cover so that you can get a helicopter out to pick you up where possible, as opposed to bouncing through the jungle for days with possible broken bones. “It is also essential that you have a decent medical kit. I also reckon that travelling surfers should take a BLS course – Basic Life Support – which gives you skills you can use when you least expect it.”
It’s great to have a Surfing Doctor on call while surfing and charging some thick Indonesian barrels. Still, it’s essential to be able to look after yourself as well.