Meet San Diego’s Surfing Spine Surgeon

For Scripps orthopedic surgeon Timothy Peppers, MD, surfing is a form of medicine

Surfing surgeon, Dr. Timothy Peppers.

Dr. Timothy Peppers, Orthopedics, Scripps Clinic

For Scripps orthopedic surgeon Timothy Peppers, MD, surfing is a form of medicine

Before his day in surgery begins, Timothy Peppers, MD, a Scripps Clinic orthopedic spine surgeon at Scripps Memorial Hospital Encinitas, hoists his surfboard under his arm and treks down the bluff to beautiful Black’s Beach.

The powerful waves, the birds, the dolphins, the cliffs — everything about the tranquil setting makes it his favorite break. 

“You feel like you’re getting away even though you’re still here in the city,” he says. “It’s a mini psychological vacation.”

From ocean waves to the operating room

As a La Jolla resident originally from Long Beach, donning a wetsuit and paddling out into waves up to twice his height has been his ritual for nearly 40 years — as a teenager, a construction worker, a med student, a father and now a surgeon. 

 “When you get out and surf in the morning, it sets the tone for everything that comes next,” Dr. Peppers says. “One good wave will make your day.”

Along the way, Dr. Peppers has taught his daughter, 14, and son, 9, to ride waves too. Though at the moment, he says, they’re crazier about another family hobby, skiing, as well as spending time skateboarding and rock climbing.

Staying active to stay in shape — and slow age-related aches and pains

At 55, the surgeon can appreciate what the surfing life has given him, and where it will take him yet. “One thing surfing does is keep you young,” he says. “I can see it in myself, and in my patients and friends who surf.”

Dr. Peppers emphasizes to his patients the importance of overall fitness in dealing with neck and back pain. “I spend a lot of my day trying to educate people. My active lifestyle — and love of surfing and skiing — has given me more insight to explain all these things.”

For a long time, he was driven to gain more experience and improve at his sport. “Now I just want to be able to keep going,” he says.

Many of Dr. Peppers’ patients are in a similar position while dealing with injuries: They want to stick with the activities they love. 

“Most people don’t want to be told they can’t keep playing,” he says. “And I am one of those people, too. So I say, let’s figure out how you can stay on the golf course or tennis court as long as you can.”

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