A Hawaiian surfer has made a big splash by treating his eye condition in the most radical way: riding a 30-foot wave. The 61-year-old man, whose name has not been released, went in head-first to cure pterygium, popularly known as "surfer’s eye." The extremely experienced surfer, with a long history of a pyterygium, rode a 30-foot wave in Waimea Bay — a surfing spot known for big waves off the coast of Oahu — at a speed of 30 or 40 miles per hour to successfully remove the fibrous tissue growing over the outer layer of his eye, according to research published in the journal BMJ Case Reports.

Surfer treats eye condition with 30-foot wave to remove fibrous tissue
A close-up of the 61-year-old's eye three days after the wave cure. Photo courtesy of BMJ Case Reports. BMJ Case Reports

"He momentarily dipped his face into the water while travelling at top speed, but was able to recover his balance and continue surfing the wave," said Dr. Thomas Campbell, a medical officer at Brisbane's Princess Alexandra Hospital, in the report. “This impressive maneuver resulted in the pterygium being ripped off his eye surface.” Typically, when surfer’s eye becomes irritating, or is likely to harm vision, doctors removed it with surgery. However, even with surgery — using scalpels and scissors – surfer’s eye is not easy to remove.

Surfer cures eye condition by riding 30-foot wave to remove fibrous tissue
The Hawaiian surfer dipped his face into the water while traveling at 30 to 40 miles per hour and quickly recovered balance and continued to surf the wave. Photo courtesy of BMJ Case Reports. BMJ Case Reports

Ophthalmologists, such as Dr. Mark Fromer at Lenox Hill Hospital in New York City and the eye surgeon director for the New York Rangers hockey team, believes it is not easy for a force of water to rip off a pterygium. He doesn’t underestimate the possibility and told LiveScience, “I think it's possible he got some sort of blast to the eye that might have torn his conjunctiva. And the blood supply to the pterygium was interrupted, so maybe it died.” Fromer does acknowledge it is “pretty unlikely this is going to happen to anyone else.”

After the 30-foot wave removed the fibrous tissue that extended onto the surfer’s corneal surface, the wound site was inflamed for several days. The 61-year-old man’s eye ultimately recovered without medical treatment, and his vision returned to normal. The surfer’s eye disease has not returned since June 2013.

According to Campbell, this is the first recorded instance of the success of an unconventional approach used to treat surfer’s eye. It remains unclear whether the surfer will continue his unorthodox medical approach to treat future cases of pyterygium, but Campbell advised him to seek a more traditional method of removal if it does return.

Surfer’s eye commonly affects people who spend a lot of time outdoors and does not develop overnight, but rather over time, says Medline Plus. It is quite common in people who live near the equator where the exposure to direct sunlight is more likely. The noncancerous lesion can affect one or both eyes, but it can be avoided by wearing sunglasses and hats.

Source: Campbell TG. A radical treatment for surfer's eye. BMJ Case Reports. 2014.