Warning: Graphic content. Without taking the full-on clinical route, there really is no way to make the subject of chaffing pretty and politically correct, if you’re easily offended, you might want to visit Martha Stewart Living’s website for some delightful napkin rings that can really make your holiday table a ‘good thing.’ If you’re up for a dark and satirical look at one of the ugly truths of fishing in a wetsuit, please read on…
Call it what you want; wetsuit rash, crotch rot, thigh fire, bag drag… chaffage is the scourge of any surfcaster who walks anywhere while wet. I don’t want to hear about all you malnourished vegans with three percent body fat that can briskly jog four miles with a handful of chunky peanut butter smeared on your grundle and not chafe, this story is not for you and, seriously, go eat something real. But if you’ve ever spent the night walking around like you were trying to hold two rolls of quarters between your buttcheeks, doing ANYTHING to keep your sticky, raw and painfully tender thighs from touching… then welcome to the party brother.
I consider myself to be the undisputed KING of chaffing. I remember my first GOOD one… it was July of 1995. I was 15 years old and I had just really caught the striped bass bug. Growing up in central Massachusetts, I couldn’t just run down to the beach and go fishing whenever I wanted to. I had to beg my parents, under the guise of a ‘family day’ at the beach, to take us to The Cape for the day. Our beach of choice was Coast Guard Beach in Eastham and that left me with a doable two mile walk to Nauset Inlet.
In those days I didn’t have a lot of gear I wore my bathing suit and a t-shirt, carried my rod, a few lures, weights and hooks and a couple bags of fresh sand eels. This day holds some significance, because it was the first time I ever caught a striper without someone telling me how to do it. I only caught one, on a Slug-Go, I think it was maybe 24 inches but, it was a definite victory.
After wading for hours, I had been thoroughly brined, and it didn’t take long before some kind of convection in my shorts changed the cool evaporating water on my legs into something that resembled packing tape adhesive. With more than a mile and half to go, the pain just kept increasing—think road-rash blotted with rubbing alcohol. I distinctly remember jamming my hands into the crevices next to my manparts and praying for salvation… it never came. In the ensuing years, I have learned many dos and don’ts of chaffing. I also know the solution, but let’s take the long and painful road to that end.
DON’T pretreat with Gold Bond. I’ve seen it done. Guys that slap heaping handfuls of the wintergreeny powder onto their undercarriages so thick that they could raise a dense fog advisory with a single fart. I’m telling you this is a mistake because it will work. You’ll walk out there like your ailment never existed, fueled by thighs that glide like they’ve been lubed with Quaker State. You will probably loudly and proudly declare that you’ve licked your ball problems and your buddies will wish that you’d kept that comment to yourself.
However, after fishing a full tide and having several hours’ worth of lapping waves flowing through your skin-tight neoprene cat suit, the powder that had you singing the Lord’s Prayer will have turned into something that resembles the last bits of dough left on the rolling pin after mom makes one of her famous pies. Only this time, the floury slurry will be dangling from your leg hairs (and worse hairs) and smearing into your thigh skin setting the stage for you to do some slow-cook baking of your own. Good luck with that.
DON’T try to pretend that you’re not in pain. The only thing worse than watching someone perform the double roll of quarter buttcheek walk is watching someone try to pretend that they always walk like they’re trying to straddle a sleeping lion while pawing at their pant legs so hard that they give themselves a perma-Melvin. Yes it’s embarrassing, your balls and thighs and even less appealing parts feel like they have been zested like a lemon but don’t belabor the issue by trying to tough it out. There is a strange component of the male psyche that makes us not want to admit to feeling pain that the other men involved in the same activity are not feeling. How many times have you seen it? A group of guys out for a run and one of them is visibly not able to keep up—red face, shirt weighed down with 8 pounds of sweat, breathing like he’s giving birth to twins—but does he stop or ask the other guys to slow down? Hell no, he pushes himself to the brink of cardiac arrest and prays that his imminent death will be quick and painless. If chaffage is taking over your normal gait, say something, your pulsating thighs will thank you for it!
DON’T tuck and roll. The tuck and roll is a cheap method for temporary relief that involves gripping a handful of fabric from each side of your crotch and then tucking it into the dank crevices beneath. I suppose this would be a fine method if you were alone, but the resulting Bermuda Triangle of man meat alone is reason enough not to do it around anyone or anything with eyes. But when you add in the fact that you have to walk like you’re wearing a micro mini skirt and stiletto heels AND that walking like that will turn a 40 minute walk into a three hour runway show means that the tuck and roll is just plain, out of the question!
DON’T shave “it”. I have heard more than a few guys—desperate and in pain—come to the erroneous conclusion that the horrible raw, red rash must have been caused by their supposedly abrasive pubes. Maybe some guys really do have a puff of coarse grade steel wool between their legs, and if that’s the case I’m sorry—for everyone who has come in contact with that thing! But in my years of chaffing expertise, and mine settles on the inner thigh (thankfully) not my unmentionables, I have found that the harbinger of chaffing is that the hair on the affected area is rubbed away—leaving bare, vulnerable skin to fend for itself in the most inhospitable environment the human body has to offer. Whipping out the razor and turning your Mini Me into Mr. Bigglesworth will, I promise, only make things worse. I think most guys have tried it at least once and found out that the adolescent boy look doesn’t impress the ladies—and were then introduced, a week or so later, to the porcupine effect. There’s nothing quite like having 10,000 short, prickly hairs growing out of what is—let’s face it—the most delicate piece of equipment any of us own. Just… just don’t.
DON’T jelly leg it. I have not tried this method so I might be talking out of school here, but listen to this and tell me what you think. I have a friend, who shall remain nameless, he is a chaffing champion like I am and he swears that smearing a generous handful of Vaseline in between all of the moving parts “down there” will solve the issue. (For the record, he recommends coconut scented! Why? I don’t know and I was afraid to ask.) I will admit that this does sound like it would work! It’s an effective lubricant (keep the jokes to yourself), it’s inexpensive, it smells nice and it’s waterproof, so it’s not going to disappear and leave you ‘hanging’ when you turn around to walk to back to your vehicle. But that’s also the reason why I just can’t see myself shining up my lower extremities with a petroleum product. I’m spit-balling here, but wouldn’t that be like rubbing Rain-X into one of the places that needs to be washed the most? I think I just found the answer to the coconut scent question….
Now for a few do’s. A trick I learned from attending multi-day music festivals (summertime, no showers) is that baby wipes are soaked in a solution that breaks down human excretions—and sweat is not all that different than salt water. If you’re lucky enough to get back to the truck with just the beginnings of a case of chaffage, bite your lip, shield your pride and give your nether regions a quick once-over with a baby wipe—I figure they’re made by Johnson and Johnson for a reason and even though that unmistakable baby wipe smell might conjure memories of lying bottomless on your back in front of grandma, they really do help stop the advancement of the ‘disease’. (Don’t use disinfecting hand wipes though—bad scene). If you get back to the car and you’re doing “the walk”, this is the time to break out the Gold Bond. (Pro-Tip: do not apply until after you’ve showered. Thoroughly dry the affected area and then straddle the toilet while you apply the soothing powder so that the resulting snow storm doesn’t accumulate on the bathroom floor.) It will sting for a minute, but the combination of slick cornstarch and numbing, healing menthol will alleviate the pain and, if you go to sleep or sit still for a few hours, it will often heal your chaffing, post haste.
But an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure and since there is no cure, prevention is paramount to keeping your ‘gangsta walk’ in check. I have seen those deodorant sticks of glide lubricant surfers use to negate wetsuit rash and I have heard that they work pretty well. I would think that rolling that stuff on would apply a much more appropriate amount than would roughly groping oneself with a handful of Vaseline. But, you don’t need to experiment with salves and jellies—all you need is a tight fitting pair of moisture wicking boxer briefs; Under Armour is my preferred manufacturer. And ever since I started wearing them, I walk proudly, I don’t chafe and (welcome side effect) my wife thinks they’re sexy. That’s what’s known as a win-win-win.