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Surfing In The Time Of Coronavirus

Should Beaches Be Closed?

We are living in unprecedented times – and this is probably an understatement.  With the arrival of Covid-19 to the human race, our life was dramatically changed almost overnight.  Apocalyptic scenes are everywhere – Venice skate park drowned in sand, Lower Trestles empty for the first time in decades.  Beaches and stores closed.  No traffic in Los Angeles at all.  Professional sports seasons completely cancelled.  It’s really quite insane.  It’s April 21 as I write this and I’m sure none of this is probably news to anyone.

Right now the hot topic is when and how to reopen public spaces.  Should surfers be allowed back in the water?  Should the general public be allowed to go to the beach again?  Not every area is under a state of closure like we are here in California, but it is certainly driving people into two very different camps – those that are protesting the current lockdowns and calling for the opening of stores and public spaces, and those that are still adamantly against it for the moment – at least until we can get a better handle on the spread of this novel coronavirus.

Venice skatepark buried in sand like a scene in a post-apocalyptic movie

Let’s simply take a look at surfing, as that’s all this blog really concerns itself with anyway, and this is by no means a political website.  Additionally, this is a bit of an op-ed; I am not a scientist, doctor, or a public health expert.  But I do try to listen to those with superior knowledge and make my opinions and decisions from that.

Many of my friends work in the healthcare field and work directly with Covid-19 patients.  I even have some close friends who currently have Covid-19.  And there are anecdotal stories out there about young people who are athletes that have gotten extremely sick with this virus – perhaps not life threateningly so but close, and perhaps with permanent damage to their lungs.

Those of my friends that work in healthcare are urging people to social distance and to not risk catching Covid-19.  They see firsthand how awful this virus is and how it can really screw up a human being.  These are the people I trust the most – they are literally seeing it in front of them.  It’s not a hoax, it’s not overblown.

My friend that has Covid-19 currently is on her 22nd day of the illness and is a young and healthy 28 year old woman with no health issues and an active lifestyle of surfing, hiking, and camping.  She posted on her Instagram that she still is suffering from waves of illness, fever, and periods where she feels she cannot breathe.  It is awful and she is urging people to stay home.  This is another person I trust.

California has been lucky – we seem to have dodged the worst of it as our fatality numbers are very low – especially here in San Diego where I am currently living.  However it has also given people what I think is a false sense of security – myself included.  I may have taken one too many semi-necessary trips to the store myself as staying at home all the time is pretty maddening.  But the recent protests that have been happening around the country are a bit absurd.

There are some surfers who think we should be allowed back in the ocean and that these restrictions infringe on our rights and freedoms.  There are other surfers who think we need to still keep everything closed as the risk is just too high.

My take on this issue is that there is just too big of a population in Southern California to open things just yet – it’s very hard to trust people to not clump together and there just aren’t enough surfable waves to always surf alone.  With everyone off school and off work there will be more people out in the water than ever before.  Surfing is an active sport, and therefore you’re breathing more and harder than you would if you were resting, meaning an increased amount of aerosols that can be blown quickly in many directions by seabreezes.

The city of Oceanside closes all beaches – the last city in San Diego County to do so

Oceanside was the last beach to close here in San Diego county and people were simply NOT following social distance rules – groups of kids and teenagers were still walking around in groups and the cliques of old guys that love to hang and talk with a coffee were still doing so.  That’s the issue – can we trust people to refrain from that for a while if beaches are reopened?  The protesters in Encinitas recently weren’t doing such a fabulous job of social distancing and their reasoning to open the beaches was a bit flimsy – manicures and haircuts?  Really?

In other more remote places where it’s easier to surf alone or apart from others I don’t see the issue with surfing.  I am personally still running and walking in my neighborhood and recently took a bike ride down to the beach and back along one of our bike paths.  Most people were doing a good job of not congregating – but it took massive closures to get it through some people’s heads.  For instance, it took removing the basketball hoops from our local park to make the groups of nimrods stop playing large pickup games.  It only takes a small fraction of people to ruin it for everyone.

Oahu beaches are open and surfing is allowed – do you think this distancing in the lineup at Pipe is good enough or not?


My stance is that we need to slow the curve on this virus for a while longer.  And it truly sucks not being able to get in the ocean right now.  But we can get through this – not being able to go to the beach or the hiking trails or the park for a small period of time is not a hardship.  Neither is having your highlights grow out or your nail polish go without a refresh.

Follow your local leadership and try to stay home right now.  If you really don’t agree with the steps being taken and want to protest, do so while respecting social distancing rules.

I will not go too deep into the science of Covid-19 and the transmission, because it’s ever changing and I do not feel I am qualified to do it.  However we recommend these resources to learn more about the virus and about the risks of certain activities including surfing:

Surfrider Foundation – The Beach And Covid-19: Understanding The Risks

Surfline’s Official Stance

What do you think about beach closures and restrictions on surfing?  Let us know (civilly) in the comments below, and let us know where you are from.

Hayley Gordon

Hayley Gordon has been surfing for over 20 years. Riding both shortboards and longboards, she's traveled the world to surf but mainly sticks to her two home locations of San Diego and Long Island.

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