Less than two months later, everything changed.
On March 23, Mayor Kevin Faulconer closed all City beaches, parks, and trials until at least April 30 to further limit public gatherings and slow the spread of COVID-19. “People can still go outdoors, but please go outdoors close to home,” Faulconer said. “This is about protecting each other.”
While abiding by the six-foot social distancing rules, residents can still take walks, ride bicycles, and go for runs around their neighborhoods to keep active. But for surfers, who surf for their daily exercise and meditation, they have nowhere to go.
“Surfing is social distancing,” said Skyler Scharf, a surfer who resides in North Pacific Beach. “Surfers don’t want to hang out on the beach – we just want to surf and go home.”
Scharf, who learned to surf in PB after moving from Arizona in 1996, says the surfers in his neighborhood don’t think it’s fair they’re banned from their daily activity. “It’s depressing – it's our passion, our fulfillment – it’s more than just exercise.”
Scharf suggests revising the rules of the beach closures to allow for surfing from sunrise to 11 a.m. and 4 p.m. to sunset. “I’m not against the stay-at-home order – that has really helped – I just want a tweak to the rules to allow surfers. If the police and lifeguards can enforce the emptying of the whole beach, then they can figure out how to monitor a few surfers.”
Lifeguard Chief James Gartland, who is also a surfer, says lifeguard stations are fully staffed and ready to help any member of the public. “You can count on us; we want to count on you as well,” he said. “Everyone has an important part to play in flattening the curve of this virus. Please stay home.”
One of the main arguments from surfers is that other allowed activities like cycling and running (especially on the narrow San Diego sidewalks) are more problematic than surfing. They have a point.
Kim Prather, a leading atmospheric chemist at the Scripps Institution of Oceanography, wrote in a recent Facebook post that her concern about cyclists, runners, and surfers has to do with the air possibly traveling farther than the recommended six-feet guideline.
“The best analogy is to think of a smoker walking in front of you. If you want to avoid the exhaled smoke plume, you carve a pretty big path,” Prather wrote. “The same applies here. So it is best to error on the side of caution. Go out and exercise, but keep your distance.”
La Jolla surfer Izzy Poulin agrees. “I think if walking and biking are still allowed, surfing should be as well. It is already a very independent sport and people maintain more than a six-foot distance on their own. I never thought I would live during a time where outdoor activities aren’t allowed.”
Brooke Young, a recent Point Loma High grad who has been competing on the WSL Qualifying Series, hasn’t been in the ocean for three weeks and is going a bit stir crazy.
“I completely understand the situation and how serious this is, but surfing is a form of exercise. If all exercise was banned that’s one thing, but when there are hundreds of people walking and bicycling along Sunset Cliffs Boulevard every day it’s frustrating,” Young said.
District 2 Councilmember Dr. Jennifer Campbell says COVID-19 is the most contagious virus she has seen in 40 years as a physician or learned about while studying the history of medicine, and it’s spread has led to an unprecedented response that can be overwhelming and scary.
“From surfers to dog park visitors, soccer players to beach lovers, COVID-19 has had a major impact on the San Diego way of life. For those who love nothing more than to paddle out, this has hit particularly hard,” Campbell said. “While I certainly understand the frustration of staying at home, the empty beaches and boardwalks of District 2 are a sign of a community coming together to protect each other.”
Scharf, who’s seen a lot in his 50 years, hopes a compromise with surfers could be worked out. “I know how government works – it’s hard to get them to listen to the little guy. I don’t expect to change anything – but if the ban goes on – something is going to happen.”
Maybe the most sage advice comes from San Diego surfing legend Skip Frye.
“As you all know, I love surfing and have been surfing in San Diego for over 60 years,” he said. “We have to protect each other, our lifeguards and our communities by staying home. That’s the best way to ensure that we can get out back out in the ocean as soon as possible.
“I’m asking the surfing community to please take a break from surfing and do our part to beat this virus together. If I can do it, you can do it.”