Between stay-at-home orders, threats of fines for surfing and the off chance of getting shot at (if you happen to live in Costa Rica), there are plenty of reasons to steer clear of the beach right now. But if the sum total of those is somehow still not enough to keep you from paddling out, consider this: coastal breezes don’t care about our social distancing protocols and can carry the COVID-19 virus distances greater than 6 feet.
That’s right, according to UC San Diego atmospheric scientist Kim Prather, who studies how viruses and bacteria can be transmitted in the ocean, your 6-foot safety bubble is burst when you enter a breezy environment, as the ocean and beaches frequently are.
“Surfers are saying that they’re safe if they stay 6 feet away from other people, but that’s only true if the air isn’t moving,” Prather told the San Diego Union-Tribune. “Most of the time, there’s wind or a breeze at the coast. Tiny drops of virus can float in the air and get blown around.”
In the UT article, Prather compares the way virus-carrying droplets travel in the breeze to the way cigarette smoke travels downwind. While you’re not gonna smell someone’s ciggy from very far away when the air is still, you can pick it up from a good distance with the wind.
So what would be considered safe social distancing amid an ocean breeze? Pretend you’re standing 6 feet away from someone at the beach. OK, now back up. Keep going back. A little further back. Are you in your house yet? Great, you nailed it.
But in all seriousness, it’s not something we should be pushing our luck with, and there will still be waves whenever COVID-19 is finally in the rearview. In the meantime, you can always pass those quarantine hours watching some of these, or tuning into a live stream of a classic surf VHS, or even taking a stab at growing your own food.