To surf, or not to surf?
The night before last I flew home from a short overseas trip and handed my COVID-19 health statement to the masked officer at Immigration. Having checked my home break surf conditions on Swellnet before embarking, and found the points pumping, I asked the officer: “Is it okay to surf?”
The officer looked at me like I was quite mad. “Mate, you can’t leave your home!” she barked, pushing a sheet of guidelines into my hands.
These are complicated and trying times, so I wasn’t about to take issue with someone doing a tough job, but in fact the isolation guidelines are somewhat contradictory, and seem to confuse draconian means with the desired outcome, which is this thing that we’d never heard of last week but now know as social distancing. At one point they advise: “If you live in a private house (tick) it is safe for you to go into your garden or courtyard.” In another: “Exercise personal responsibility for social distancing measures.”
Elsewhere in the guidelines, we are advised that it is okay for us to leave the house when necessary, such as for a medical appointment. Okay, it doesn’t specifically mention surfing here, but who is to say that this is not just as necessary for your mental health?
To further add to the confusion, it is okay for “people who usually live with you” to be in the home, and they are not required to self-isolate unless they have been overseas or have symptoms. So my wife can hang out with me (no social distancing stipulated) and do the shopping or see friends, but I can’t responsibly jump in my car alone, drive to a deserted peak and go ride a few waves while remaining a metre and a half or more from other surfers. Or can I?
This whole thing is very woolly to me, and the goal posts are moving so quickly that before you read this, we may have moved into the inevitable home lockdown that WILL DEFINITELY preclude surfing. But even the “surfing ban” across key European surf zones is confusing, with some territories stipulating surfing in groups of five or more (presumably surf schools and comps) while in others the cops are forcing people off the beach.
Just 48 hours ago on The Inertia, Dr Jeffrey Spillane, a thoracic surgeon and surfer, was trumpeting the therapeutic value of surfing as a means of flushing the sinuses, and since surfers are not “pack rats”, they would stay clear of each other in the water. The proviso, of course, is what about the parking lot? Back to the doc: “If your health is compromised, it’s not a good idea, if you’re swapping towels in the parking lot, it’s not a good idea,” he says. “But getting outside is a good idea. Surfing is something we can hold on to right now.”
So, disregarding the confusing and ever-changing regulations, it gets down to our moral and ethical position. I personally take the COVID-19 crisis very seriously, and I would not want to compromise anyone by my behavior, despite the fact that I just flew in from what is currently one of the safest places in the world and that I am less likely to have the virus than many others who have been in a scrum at the TP counter at the supermarket or on a crowded bus. On the evidence, I don’t think there is a legitimate reason that I could not “surf responsibly”, observing social distancing.
But will I? Will you?
Yesterday I exchanged messages with my friend Mark 'Mono' Stewart, just returned from his second place at the World Adaptives in California and in isolation at home while Byron Bay fires. I told him I was sorely tempted to break isolation.
He responded: “Mate, it’s okay for you. The whole of the Bay knows I just got home from overseas, I wear a green wetsuit and I’ve got one leg! I think I might be a bust!”
// PHIL JARRATT