We undertook a cross-sectional survey of surfers at eight Victorian beaches between February and May 2003 and analysed acute injury and chronic disability sustained while surfing during the preceding 12 months. Significant injuries were defined as requiring medical attention or time off surfing/work. 646 surfers were enrolled (90.2% male, median age 27 years, median years of surfing 10). 145 surfers sustained 168 significant acute injuries in the preceding 12 months (0.26 injuries/surfer/year, 95% CI 0.22-0.30). Most were caused by striking a surfboard or another surfer (45.2%, 95% CI 37.6-53.1), "wiping out" (36.3%, 95% CI 29.1-44.1) or striking the seabed (17.9%, 95% CI 12.6-24.7). Injuries included lacerations (46.4%, 95% CI 38.8-54.3), sprains (28.6%, 95% CI 22.0-36.1), dislocations (10.7%, 95% CI 6.7-16.6) and fractures (8.9%, 95% CI 5.3-14.6). Body parts most frequently injured were the lower limb (45.8%, 95% CI 38.2-53.7) and the head/face (26.2%, 95% CI 19.9-33.6). Surfing injuries that were treated in Victorian emergency departments over a six year period revealed a similar pattern, although there was a greater proportion of head/face injuries (42.0%, 95% CI 36.0-48.1, p = 0.001). 20 surfers reported long-term effects from acute injuries, mainly unstable/stiff/painful joints. 136 surfers reported chronic health problems not related to acute injury including chronic/recurrent otitis externa and exostoses, muscle and joint pain/stiffness and pterygium. Significant injury while surfing is not uncommon. Although head injury accounts for a considerable proportion, very few surfers wear protective headgear. Greater use of protective headgear should be considered.