Beach Access, Covid 19
May 07 2020

Safe Recreation At the Beach

by Surfrider Foundation

As our coasts and ocean begin to open for recreation, the Surfrider Foundation is urging the public to continue to honor stay-at-home orders, practice physical distancing, and avoid any crowded public spaces, including coastal parks, beaches and surfing areas. Stay-at-home orders specifically allow for exercise as an essential activity. As such, Surfrider supports getting outside close to home and recreating responsibly for mental and physical well-being. We love the beach and surfing as much as anyone and we look forward to returning to the water in socially responsible ways. 

Responsible access to our coasts and ocean requires two important elements. First, communities must have a plan to limit crowding and ensure responsible use. Second, coastal users must adhere to the rules. The Surfrider Foundation is advocating for both. 

Cities, counties and states are currently opening their coasts to recreational access with new guidelines and rules focused on limiting crowds and physical distancing. Surfrider has been working in communities across the U.S. to help enact responsible plans. We have seen successful coastal recreation strategies in California and Hawaii that allow for active recreation only. If active recreation-only guidelines are in place, then surfing, swimming, paddling, jogging, walking, etc. are allowed but casual beach-going, sunbathing, picnicking, gathering in mass, etc. are not. This promotes safe and responsible ocean and coastal recreation and discourages large groups, while minimizing the potential for community spread.

If you are legally allowed to visit the beach in your area as a form of essential exercise, we urge you to follow all guidelines from public health authorities, as well as local regulations. Let’s all work together and recognize our shared role in keeping our beaches and surf spots open and safe. If not, we risk losing access to our favorite places to recreate.

Frequently Asked Questions

Q: What about #StayHomeShredLater? I thought I was supposed to stay home?

A: During the outset of COVID-19, we witnessed a surge in beach visitation around the country. This increased beach visitation was both irresponsible and a threat to public health, which, in turn, led to numerous closures around the nation. During that time, we advised anyone that could safely do so, to stay home.

We continue to urge the public to honor stay-at-home orders. If you are safely and legally allowed to visit the beach in your area as a form of essential exercise, we ask you to follow all guidelines from your public health officials, as well as local rules and regulations. 

We are now seeing cities, counties, and communities returning to the beach, with new guidelines and rules to keep their communities safe and reduce community spread of COVID-19. These new guidelines are focused on a “keep it moving” ocean and coastal recreation strategy that protects public health by preventing concentrated crowds and maintaining physical distancing. We feel that with these rules in place, we can slowly return to the beach and safely enjoy ocean and coastal recreation once again. 

We also recognize that if the rules are not followed, we should expect recreational opportunities to be limited or closed again. 

Q: My beach isn’t open. Why are you telling people to go to the beach?

A: We are urging the public to continue to honor stay-at-home orders. With that said, there are regional variances in terms of beach closures, depending on your city, county and/or state. If you are legally allowed to visit the beach in your area as a form of essential exercise, we urge you to follow all guidelines from the CDC, as well as state and local governments. Surfrider supports “keep it moving” policies, along with effective physical distancing. Activities, such as surfing, swimming, paddling, jogging and walking fall within this policy, while casual beach going — sunbathing, picnicking, gathering in mass, etc. do not.

Q: My beach just opened. How do we keep it that way?

A: Large crowds and gatherings have rightly been deemed a health threat by public health experts. Addressing that public health threat requires both effective and equitable coastal access management strategies, in addition to public cooperation and individual compliance with the rules. We need to work together as a community to abide by public health guidelines, including continued physical distancing, while avoiding congregating in crowds of any kind on the beach, in the water, near the shoreline, parking lots, etc. to deter potential community spread. 

Q: Why are golf courses, tennis courts, and parks open, but not the ocean, where I recreate (this applies to beaches that are currently closed)?

A: Large crowds and gatherings have rightly been deemed a health threat by public health experts; addressing the public health threat will require both effective and equitable coastal access management strategies, public cooperation, and individual compliance with the rules.

Anywhere large groups of people congregate counters the public health guidelines set in place to help stop the spread of the COVID-19 virus. Packed beaches, coastlines, surf spots and water-based recreation increase the possibility of community spread, which is why some areas have been identified. 

Q: If my beach is currently closed when can I go back to the beach?

A: Given how much is still unknown about COVID-19 and its spread, many local and state governments are not able to set a firm date for reopening beaches due to a myriad of issues, such as trends in the area with confirmed cases, testing capabilities, local medical/ hospital resources, etc. When the time comes, nobody is going to work harder than Surfrider to find ways to reopen beaches and access to surf spots – and when that time does come, the surfing community must show that we are prioritizing public health along with catching waves. It is up to all of us as individuals to do everything we can to eliminate the risk of community spread, respect physical distancing guidelines and flatten the curve so everyone can all get back to the beach safely. 

Q: What is Surfrider doing to open our beaches (and keep them open)? 

A: The Surfrider Foundation has formed a Beach Access Expert Task Force to advise in the post-COVID timeframe how and when beaches should open up to the public. Our Expert Task Force includes renowned professionals in public health, environmental justice, coastal management and public policy. The advice from these experts is informing our staff for our beach access advocacy during this critical time. We are encouraging city, county, and state governments to develop beach and ocean recreation access plans, which will protect public health by preventing crowds and maintaining physical distance. Surfrider has been working in communities across the U.S. to help enact responsible plans through our chapters, activists and staff resources. Such coordinated plans will also help keep beaches open after closures are lifted.

Q: Are beaches open or closed?

A: Check with your city, county, and/or local government regularly for updates. This information is changing rapidly. When in doubt: stay home.

Q: How can beachgoers responsibly visit the beach?

A: If you are legally allowed to visit the beach in your area as a form of essential exercise, maintaining physical distance and limiting any crowds is key. We urge you to follow all guidelines from public health experts, as well as local regulations. With gyms and rec centers closing, there may be more beachgoers. It is also a great time for the beachgoing and the surf community to practice responsible habits and to be exemplary stewards, so that our beaches and our ocean remain open for public use.

Q: What if I had a trip planned?

A: Postpone any trips for now, and wait to reschedule until the safe timeline to do so becomes clear. We know this is difficult and disappointing. But to protect small towns and communities, recreationists have a responsibility to stay home. In fact, your favorite destination might be requesting it. When in doubt, stay home.

Q: What about beach access for those with special needs? Shouldn't everyone be able to access the beach equally?

Some new policies that restrict use of the beach are exclusionary and unfortunately highlight certain injustices already in existence in our society. However, this is why we are working to ensure that policies related to the COVID-19 pandemic take that into account and are only as restricted as need-be based on public health data. A rule that restricts travel or level of physical activity, is only warranted IF temporary and justified with public health data.

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