Over the past few weeks since COVID-19 news rippled through the world, we’ve felt all the feelings. Gratitude for our health and safety (and concern for that of others), grief for all the vacations and income lost, anger for how capitalist systems are failing the most vulnerable, energized by our community that’s mobilizing to help, despair watching the news and the number of souls departing, productive in our kitchens and gardens, and hope that the earth is healing itself while we’re sheltering at home.
During any other times of uncertainty or thirst for healing, the ocean has been our salve, where we go to quiet the cacophony of noises, connect with our friends, and recalibrate our intuition. But not lately.
Days after California Governor Gavin Newsom recommended social distancing and state-wide “safer at home” measures to help “flatten the curve” of the spreading COVID-19 virus, the beaches were buzzing like any other weekend—even more so with all the restaurants and shops closed. As we tried to stay 6 feet away from others, we were shocked to see people carrying on like lives weren’t at stake, and questioned our reasons for being at the beach, too. Now, many cities have closed parking lots and access to beaches to further limit groups from gathering on a sunny day.
We’re putting away our surfboards to help flatten the curve.
Is it safe to surf?
As we all worked remotely from home, we asked each other, “Is it safe to surf?” We found this helpful article from the Surfrider Foundation which explained that “There was no information shared on the ability of the COVID-19 virus to remain viable in salt water, so it’s unclear if swimming at saltwater beaches elevates the risk of contracting COVID-19.” If you can stay a safe distance of 6 feet away, it’s probably safe to surf. But it may be more difficult to practice social distancing if everyone flocked to the beach, passing by others lounging on the sand or in the parking lot.
Leah Dawson, on Oahu: “It wasn’t until the official shutdown did most people start showing attention to detail on social distancing here. In Hawaii, surfing is still allowed here for the time being, but as with some places, that too may get the temporary ban as people are still driving and traveling to get to the beach.
Leah Dawson, safe at home.
Hi from Australia! Seea ambassador Sierra Lerback is social distancing.
Lauren L. Hill’s dispatch from Byron Bay in Australia: “Two weeks ago, just as Australia was starting to adopt social distancing, I was surfing a popular point in Byron Bay when a friend paddled up to chat. He got a little closer than I was comfortable with, considering the new distancing recommendations… I back kicked to create a little more space… the experience definitely shifted my surfing eyes to close-to-home solo peaks, or points where there aren’t more than a couple of people sitting on the peak at any one time. That is, where spacious social distancing (even more than 1.5 meters) is possible.
I’ve still been surfing because the beach feels like the healthiest and safest place to be, here on the isolated beaches of the East Coast. Would I be doing the same in Southern California? Definitely not. Humanness is too sprawling; the population too dense.”
There are other risks: even skilled surfers get hurt. Any injury that requires a trip to urgent care or the emergency room would be taking away medical resources from where it is needed most. This is not meant to promote localism, but please consider your impact of traveling to the beach. Quite simply, the further and more frequently you are traveling around, the higher risk and probability that you can be contributing to the spread of the virus (silently as a carrier or putting yourself at risk). Depending on where you live, many seasonal coastal communities have limited hospital resources and are less equipped to handle an outbreak.
Rosie Jaffurs at home in Oahu.
Is it right to surf right now?
More importantly we asked, “Is it right to surf right now?” Isn’t protecting the public health of our communities more important than our desire to catch waves? We think so.
“We’ve come to a critical time. Where it’s our duty to avoid people to the best of our ability. That sacrifice is something bigger than ourselves. And sometimes it means we can’t do what we love the most, for right now." - Leah Dawson
Leah: "While we can either focus on the things we don’t have or can’t do, we can also focus on what we do have, clearing our plate to see what adjustments we want to make, positively finding purpose, meaning, and drive. The more we stay home, and find our space to exercise away from others, the more we are activating our role in protecting humanity.”
That’s why we’ve decided to give up surfing, for now. For us, protecting the culture and community of surfers is just as important as the act of catching waves. By staying home, we can help protect those we love in our immediate surfing community (our surfing elders, the vulnerable) and beyond (those who work in essential services and aren’t able to safely shelter at home, and the medical workers who have a marathon of caring for very sick patients ahead).
Seea ambassador Lauren Hill sinks into the sea of presence at home.
What does a surfer do when we're not surfing?
People process their feelings in different ways. We’re taking time for stillness and recalibration— while keeping our small business shipping smiles and swimsuits to you. We’ve been reading, listening to podcasts, connecting digitally, looking for ways to serve our communities, and feeling incredibly grateful that we have the privilege and space to self-care.
Lauren: “On land, I’ve been vacillating between overwhelm and normalcy. Between checking on my mom who just finished up chemotherapy for lung cancer in Florida, and revelling in the magic of watching seeds sprout in our sunny kitchen windowsill with my two-year-old son. Between getting caught up in future projections of disaster and present moments of cloud-watching or stargazing. As I get older, the more life encourages me to get comfortable with paradox; with holding these bizarre juxtapositions of emotion at the same time. It is a privilege of aging.”
StayHome activity: surfboard repair and rewaxing.
Leah: “I’ve been finding my daily yoga practice again, something I’ve been slacking on for years. And feeling stronger, and more in tune with my body for doing so. Also, doing Wim Hof breathing exercises has helped keep my mind positive and lungs feeling healthy and exercised.
Now is a time to get done the tasks we’ve been pushing aside, to start that creative project we’ve been seeding in our brains, to rest when our body feels like it (especially in the first few days of our menstruation, our bodies are well due for a good period pause!!).”
Lauren: We’re all being shaken up; individually and culturally. I’m curious and hopeful to know what we will make of this upheaval. In this instant dystopian future-now scenario, where we can only connect via devices, do you also feel how lacking technology is for real connection? We’re so lucky to have it at a time like this, but it’s not better than a hug or the subtle sparkle in a loved one's eye when they see you."
"In my best of times now, I remember to sink into the sea of presence that is always available to us; the calm of the internal ocean awaiting to shelter us from the chaos of the surface chop."
As the sagely filmmaker Albe Falzon told me recently when I interviewed him for The Waterpeople Podcast, “Everything is surfing. Everything.”