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04 • 24 • 2020

Looking ahead: When and how to safely open beaches and surfing?

By Surfrider Foundation

As an organization that has “enjoying our ocean, waves and beaches” in our mission statement, we desperately want to get back to the beach and surfing. But the important question remains, how can we do so without risking more community spread that puts lives at risk and could result in a relapse and extended closures.

Over the last month, most of the nation has been diligently following stay home orders and practicing physical distancing to flatten the curve and stop community spread of COVID-19 to protect each other and prevent our hospitals from being completely overwhelmed. As the calls to stay home mounted and people were off work, we witnessed a rash of beach and surfing closures across the country when the public flocked to our coastlines causing crowding problems and creating a public health threat. Surfrider responded with our #StayHomeShredLater campaign to encourage the surfing and beach going community to act responsibly and follow stay at home orders.

Early signs show that the collective shutdown is working in many parts of the country and the world. We are still far from being “in the clear” from the threat of coronavirus, but we are looking ahead. Now the conversation has shifted to when and how to begin to reopen society.

Recently, CA Governor Newsom and NY Governor Cuomo assembled regional coalitions of states to focus on how to responsibly reopen our economy, including the $124 billion ocean recreation and tourism economy that supports millions of jobs.

It begs the question, when and how will our beaches and surf spots be opened responsibly?

Our deep dive into the latest science on COVID-19 and water quality shows that with the exception of extreme water pollution (like sewage spills), the biggest risk at the beach is your proximity to others that could be contagious.

As an organization that has fought for ocean recreation, beach access and surfing for 35 years, we want to see our beaches opened just as much as anyone. We also know that the ocean, surfing and coastal recreation are good for us both mentally and physically, something that we all need right now. But we also recognize that if we don’t return to the beach responsibly that we risk increased illness, fatalities, and longer closures. Lifting stay home orders and allowing crowds too soon risks a resurgence of COVID-19 that could undo all the sacrifices we’ve made to flatten the curve and set us back even further. 

The fact that people were surging to the coast and are now so frustrated with the lack of access is a testament to how much we all love the coast, whether it’s to hang out with family or go for a swim or a surf.

It’s also clear that opening our beaches and surfing without creating overwhelming crowds will be no easy task. So, how do we reopen the beach and ensure that it’s done safely? We know if the beach is just reopened broadly that we’ll see a rush of visitors and crowds that not only risk a resurgence of COVID-19 but it will also trigger renewed closures, particularly in the high population areas of the country.

Limiting access to reduce the influx increases the likelihood of being exclusionary, particularly with groups who already struggle with limited access to the coast or other public spaces.

Although many locals feel that they should have priority, the fact remains that our beaches and coastlines are public resources that belong to all of us and it’s a long standing belief for Surfrider and our laws that the public has equal rights to access our public resources.

There are no easy answers but one thing is clear is that, like the stay at home order, it will require the ability to think beyond oneself for the betterment of our communities and society and that irresponsible actions (defying orders or massive crowds) will only prolong the closures and make it more difficult to return to our favorite places.

There is no question that opening our beaches and coasts in a way that is fair and safe will be challenging, but when the time is right, the Surfrider Foundation will be working hard to advocate for responsible reopening of our beaches and working with authorities at all levels of government to seek solutions so we can all get back to enjoying our ocean, waves and beaches!

While the best option to protect public health is still to stay home, here are some general guidelines for future beachgoers to consider when closures get lifted. We are in the process of developing a more thorough set of principles and guidelines with the advice of experts to help support safe and responsible re-opening of beaches and surfing. In the meantime San Diego County mayors have put together a solid plan to reopen their beaches when it is deemed safe. 

 

Beachgoer Best Practices:

Continue to Follow CDC Guidelines: Visit the CDC website frequently to stay up to date on best practices for staying safe, including washing hands frequently and wearing masks when in crowded public places.

Respect Existing Closures: Follow all local, state and federal laws and guidelines, including restrictions on beach access and ocean recreation. These are designed to stop community spread and protect your health, as well as the health of others. Disobeying the rules could result in additional or lengthy closures. 

Practice Physical Distancing: When at the beach or in the water stay at least 6 feet away from others (even farther may be warranted). Avoid popular beaches and parks where social distancing may be challenging - either in the water, on the sand, in the parking lot, or the access between.

Stay Close to Home: Traveling to other regions, particularly in less populated areas, can put those communities at unnecessary risk, overwhelm their capacity to give care, and contribute to crowded beaches.

Be Safe: Recreate with caution. Now is not a good time to get hurt. Healthcare systems may be overwhelmed. Please do not add to the burden.

If Sick or Exposed, Stay Home: If you have symptoms of COVID-19 or think you may have been exposed to someone with the virus, stay home and call your doctor!