Like many of you, I’ve been glued to the news lately. A podcast summarizing the previous day’s COVID-19 happenings before heading to the office (now my living room couch), sporadic reading of new reports throughout the day, a nightly refreshing of the government page with local coronavirus stats for San Diego County, where I live. Rinse and repeat. These are the days of our self-quarantined lives.
So of course I tuned into California Governor Gavin Newsom’s address last night and watched live as he ordered the entire state to stay at home for an undetermined amount of time amid the escalating COVID-19 crisis. We can still walk out our front doors to get groceries, takeout food, gas and medical treatment — toilet paper, too, if you know a guy. But the exceptions don’t end there. “You can still take your kids outside, practicing common sense and social distancing,” said Newsom. “You can still walk your dog.” And, you can still exercise.
We should appreciate not only the Governor’s understanding that drastic action needs to be taken — at this point we all know our roles in “flattening the curve” to prevent a sudden spike in infections that would overwhelm our medical infrastructure and cost untold lives — but also for the tone of the order. The order is mandatory and administration officials have stated violators could be subject to a misdemeanor, according to the LA Times. But on the subject of enforcement, the Governor said, “I think people are making sense of what this is and what this isn’t. And again, on a regulatory bucket, we have enforcement that’s not traditional law enforcement, but we have regulatory enforcement, licensing enforcement from a business perspective and then we have social pressure that you, others, common sense will place on people, and of course we have the capacity to move beyond that.”
In other words, it’s on us to accept personal responsibility as citizens of this state and as human beings during a global crisis. “We’re counting on you to not be an asshole,” essentially.
So where does that leave surfing? As a form of “exercise”, it should be A-OK in terms of the order, right? Well, sure (and we’ve confirmed with CA State Beaches that this is indeed the case). But like every aspect of this order, it’s on us to do it in a responsible way that acknowledges the gravity of the moment. Feeling cooped up and want to go get wet and tag a few lips? Great, go to a nondescript beach break, try not to park too close to anyone else, find your own peak and paddle out there. If you run into your buddy who had the same idea, give him a wave from at least 6 feet away and feel free to shout a conversation across the lineup (some of you do this even when there isn’t a pandemic going on — I thought you were just being obnoxious before, but now I see you were merely preparing for this moment).
What you absolutely shouldn’t do is look at this as an opportunity to surf a great wave with fewer crowds — don’t go to Lower Trestles, don’t go to Rincon. Why? Because breaks like those will surely still be crowded with all kinds of selfish assholes thinking the same thing, their scheme to capitalize on the situation getting canceled out by their fellow schemers. In the end, it will probably be just like any other crowded day at a highly-trafficked break — well, except that you might get COVID-19 and be sacrificing public health for the sake of a few waves.
For many surfers also living in San Diego, this is a moot point — the waves are pretty shit right now anyway, worsened still by the fact that it’s been raining for days and the water quality is awful (even if it isn’t contaminated with COVID-19, which it might be). That’s enough for a lot of surfers to steer clear of the beach. But eventually the clouds will part, a decent swell will arrive, and in all likelihood, we’ll still be under orders to stay at home. When that day comes, should we paddle out? I could think of no better respite during such an unprecedented, anxiety-ridden time. But if and when we do so, let’s not be assholes about it.