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By Jake Howard

When the current health and economic crisis we find ourselves in kicked into overdrive in early March with California implementing its stay-at-home orders, I wrote a piece for the World Surf League entitled Why Surfing is More Important Than Ever Right Now.

In the piece, I made the argument that our lineups and local breaks are our refuge; that when life on dry land gets too wild we seek the sanctity of the water. Avoiding large crowds and social distancing are things that have long been woven into the surfer’s quirky DNA. We’ve been trying to self-quarantine ourselves ever since the second guy showed up at Malibu.

Last week, access to city and state beaches was officially closed. No surfing, no walking, no sand between the toes. Since then, area surfers have been trying to figure out how to respond.

I’ve had multiple conversations with a wide range of surfers, from business leaders such as Matt Biolos of Lost Surfboards, to Megan Walla, a mother and nurse practitioner, and Charles McDermott, who has degrees in Biochemistry, Molecular Biology and Business Administration, as well as a number of our more notable professional surfers.

The subject is at the forefront of everyone’s mind.

The consensus among everyone I’ve spoken with is that they would like to see San Clemente move forward and begin the process of opening up limited access to our beaches. Everyone has been appreciative and understanding of the precautions taken for all of our health and safety and respectful of the officials that have had to make these tough decisions.

They also readily acknowledge that overcrowding, specifically at Lower Trestles, has been extremely problematic. They also respect and appreciate the difficult position our leaders are in right now, and that, yes, there are bigger priorities than surfing right now.

All that being said, with local schools doing “distance learning” through June 4, all sports programs canceled, and all recreation and fitness facilities closed, people need a place to exercise and take advantage of the increasingly nicer days in a safe environment. That’s where the beach comes in.

In the book Blue Mind by Dr. Wallace Nichols, he make the argument that simply being “near, in, on or under water can make you happier and better at what you do.”

“Right now there is so much confusion and turmoil. I know we are all doing the best we can with the information and guidelines we have been given. In our hearts, I know that each of us wants to keep our neighbors safe and healthy. Reopening local beaches can be part of the solution instead of the problem,” Walla said in one of our conversations.

“There is well-documented research proving the psychological and immune boosting health benefits of exercise and being outside. COVID-19 is a virus that attacks the immune system, and its mere existence is already compounding the mental health crisis that our country is steeped in,” she continues. “Enable our communities to mount the best immune response possible and keep their anxiety and depression at bay by giving them access to move within the natural resources that they have built their lives around.”

“Limited opening up of beaches and the ocean for walking and surfing while keeping the parking lots closed, and maybe curtailing short-term vacation rentals, will open up more usable space and improve social distancing conditions for residents,” said McDermott, who runs Primmune Therapeutics, a company developing a COVID-19 drug. “Policy makers need to understand that we are likely a long way from fixing this outbreak and we need to pace ourselves as we move between opening up and tightening down as the situation evolves. And to do this effectively the public needs to see a clear rationale.”

At the moment, California’s beach closures are a patchwork. In Dana Point, surfing at Doheny and Salt Creek remain open but are steadily getting more crowded as the beaches at nearby San Clemente and Laguna Beach are both closed.

Further up PCH., Newport Beach and Huntington Beach still allow surfing. And while the beaches are closed in L.A. County, access in Ventura and Oxnard has been opening up. And just this week, Santa Cruz opened its beaches back up to surfing. Surfing is also currently allowed in San Francisco, one of the first big cities to go on lockdown.

With all of this in mind, being solution oriented about our current situation has been the driver of my recent conversations with our area surfers. To be perfectly clear, nobody that I spoke with views this as an “us versus them” situation, rather there’s hope that we can collectively work together towards the best outcome for everyone.

“We understand that there have to be limitations and everything has to follow health guidelines, and we want to be safe and responsible about how we move forward,” Biolos says. “But with so much closed around our community, the beach is a huge resource. We’re not suggesting that Lowers has to be open today. The spot is pretty much a tourist attraction and it was drawing people from L.A. and San Diego. Clearly, that’s a huge problem, but we can be responsible about this and still figure out a way for local residents and surfers to utilize their beaches.”

There is a San Clemente City Council meeting scheduled for Tuesday, April 21. The current beach closures are sure to be a topic. Amongst the local surfers I’ve had conversations with, the solutions that have been discussed thus far are as follows:

  • Open access to San Clemente city beaches while keeping all parking lots closed.
  • For the time being, California State Parks like Trestles and San Onofre that tend to draw large crowds should potentially remain closed to limit out-of-town surfers from crowding the beaches.
  • Consider opening up the trails area of San Onofre and place cones on every other parking spot, as well as limit the amount of cars let in, similar to how they do at Old Man’s on busy weekends. Use every third parking spot, then one car in and one car out as the parking area fills up.
  • Rather than wasting resources kicking people off the beach, utilize our esteemed lifeguards to enforce social distancing guidelines, including making sure that people on the beach are there to exercise and are not loitering, as well as informing surfers to spread out when appropriate.
  • The other concern that’s been voiced is limiting or putting a halt to short-term vacation rentals, so we don’t see a “spring break” type situation with people from out of town potentially reintroducing the coronavirus into our environment.

“We have so many in our community, and surrounding communities alike, who use the ocean as a place of recreation, and also as a place of profession. In San Clemente, there are two Olympians using the ocean as a training ground multiple times per day,” local pro surfer Kevin Schulz explained to this week. “Of course in a time like this, many are out of work, and it’s not exactly time to play, but I am mostly advocating the reopen to provide mental sanity for those who consider the ocean a place of freedom, exercise and a place to make a living.”

The surfing community isn’t looking to be selfish or diminish the severity of the current situation we’re all in, rather they’re solution-minded and looking forward to how we can collectively work together as a community to restore some access to one of the most valuable and important resources we have within our city.

Stay tuned for updates from next week’s city council meeting as things are sure to continue to develop.

Jake Howard is the weekly surf columnist for the San Clemente Times. The views and opinions he expresses are his own and do not necessarily reflect the policies and positions of this publication.

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comments (9)

  • Well said and very politically sensitive. You did not question the mentality of the authorities in closing the beach, surfing in San Clemente and the trail. Congratulations on being a true diplomatic person! Thank you

    • I agree with your views and would also add opening the golf course. Many retirees, surfers and locals enjoy this course and use it as a form of excercise. So dial distancing is not problematic when walking as we all walk towards our ball. Remove racks and ball washers, and invert cups. Necessary fixes can easily be implemented, how about a shout out?

  • This is a sound and appropriate written article, let’s all be responsible and open up the San Clemente beaches at a minimum at restricted use, and hours as so wonderfully outlined in this article. I love T-street and in these very difficult times, the beach is an avenue of good exercising and mental improvement.

    Thank you Sir, for your enthusiasm and hope to see you in the water soon. And to the San Clemente city council members, thank you for your consideration in this matter!

  • Jake you’re so diplomatic I think you should run for mayor. I’m not as well-reasoned as you are.
    In fact I believe that there’s people in the community who actually despise anybody who gets out and exercises and those are the ones that are screaming bloody murder that everybody needs to stay home and they’re little hovel and read their Bible. My hunch is the people who made this order are really waspy Presbyterian type evangelicals. I bet you just need to go to City council meetings to take a look at them.
    I’m much more libertarian about this like they are in Sweden. All the shelter-in-place stuff is only postponing the inevitable and that is that everyone dies eventually.
    I really believe that you spend your money and you take your chances. Yes you want to educate people as to their risk, but then you need to make an educated guess about what you want to take a risk on. We have to ask ourselves if we’re all having two accommodate others who would otherwise parish are we actually stunting the growth of society.
    And if you find yourself outside of a hospital gasping for air and dying and there’s no room for you, then oh well, you made an educated guess and this is the result.
    Now I know that there’s the helicopter parents and the nanny state that wants to put knee guards, shin pads, a helmet and put a fence around everything but that’s not the society I want to live in.

  • I think it’s reasonable to open the beaches for surfing and body surfing. But I am still totally against opening up any of the beach or park parking lots down here. our street and neighborhood is especially affected by huge crowds and traffic directly related to these big parking lots designed to bring everyone in. The city made a mistake and making them so large in the first place because as everyone knows it’s hard to even find a spot of sand during the summer months around these Beach parking lots. Not very fair for the residents who live here. And downright dangerous in a situation like this. Open up the beach for surfing and walking but keep the parking lots closed!

  • Very well put. I think there are a lot of ways that everyone can work together to police each other and make sure everyone is respecting everyone’s space. The North Shore is a good example right now with lifeguards monitoring people setting up on the beach for the day and telling them to move along if they aren’t in the water, running, exercising, etc. Get to the water, surf and go home. For the next few weeks that is a healthy compromise until we all know more.

  • Thank you for asking this question. Thank you for including that exercising will help boost the immune system against Covid 19. But, there are even more reasons why the beaches should never have been closed.

    First, is that the virus is very quickly killed by sunlight. We already knew this about the common cold corona viruses. But, now there is a published study that shows covid19 is quickly killed by sunlight.
    Second, is that while stagnant air is the perfect way to transmit any airborne virus, Even a moderate wind will very quickly disburse any airborne virus, making it nearly impossible to transmit in a moderate wind.

    Third, is that the virus does not last long in humid environments, and beach air is usually more humid than indoor air-conditioned air.

    Fourth, is that ocean water is much more hostile to corona viruses. They are quickly killed in ocean water, and in addition to that, the moving water dilutes any trace virus making it difficult to transmit.

    Based on those, it is likely safer for a person to be out surfing than it is to be locked in the same home or apartment building as someone who has covid19. It would be safer for an “essential employee, who might be infected but asymptomatic, to spend 3-4 hours outside the home in an environment that will make it nearly impossible to spread the virus, than for them to spend that 4 hours at home,

    Then, lets also not forget that at least one of the pictures the media used, and eventually convinced the local governments to close down the beaches were fake. Others were specifically framed to make it looklike people were not social distancing.

    When San Onofre beaches were closed, it was supposedly because it was too crowded on the beach, but, the surf cams clearly show that there were few people on the beach, and those who were there were social distancing.

    Essentially all of the reason for the beach closures is based on incorrect, or outright false information.

  • Sad, but as the pier was closed as the parking lot was close we were all asked to social distance on the beach or in the water. It FAILED. Just watch the YouTube live video streaming. Volleyball games, football games, large groups of surfers in the water as people run in and out of crowds. And you want the lifeguards to patrol this? I want the beaches to open but some people not all using the beach ignore what the City would like to put in place for everyones safety for now.
    Can we come to the beach sit and read a magazine and enjoy the summer breeze? Or do we have to be moving as some have mentioned in this article’s response.

  • Great article? I guess?
    I prefer to get my epidemiology/ID data from a physician, not the surfing section dude.

    Here we sit in a Country approaching third world medical status. Opening up pressure, virtually no testing, a loon clown pretending to be president, and politics not science running the show.

    Have a great day at the beach kids!

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