Is surfing OK during coronavirus order to keep your distance from others? How California surfers are adapting

Keep your social distance, bro! Tom Cozad, of Newport Beach, tries to keep a surfer from dropping in. (Photo by Laylan Connelly/SCNG) 

It’s an aquatic exercise done in the vast ocean, where you can find solitude in the sea.

But when a swell hits, dueling surfers paddle close to one another to battle for peaks and often crowd together on their boards waiting for the next wave to roll in.

Gov. Gavin Newsom’s order Thursday, March 19, for people to stay at home unless it is essential they go out  has many Southern California surfers wondering where that leaves them in the line up.

Outdoor recreation such as running and hiking that can be done with safe distancing is an exception under the order, and some surfers say they can continue to catch waves safely by opting for more remote peaks far from crowds. Others say they will be keeping out of the water all together.

In Spain, Italy and Portugal, where the coronavirus has hit hard, surfing and going to the beach has been banned.

Surfrider Foundation staff scientist Katie Day, who recently attended a Coronavirus Research Update webinar hosted by the Water Research Foundation, tried to answer questions for surfers in a written interview posted on the San Clemente-based group’s website, including does spending time in coastal waterways increase the risk of getting sick.

“The virus has been shown to remain viable and infectious, at least temporarily, in natural freshwater environments including lakes and streams,” she wrote, noting the dilution is suspected to keep the risk low. “There was no information shared on the ability of the COVID-19 virus to remain viable in saltwater, so it’s unclear if swimming at saltwater beaches elevates the risk of contracting COVID-19. However, communal spread is a serious issue so spending time at popular beaches, if in close contact to other beachgoers, will increase your risk.”

Some risk may come from exposure to sewage pollution that could happen with sewage spills – which could also expose surfers to fecal-borne pathogens that can cause symptoms such as stomach upset; ear, eyes, nose and throat infections; as well as more severe infections, she noted.

“Even if recreating in sewage-polluted waterways is determined not to be a transmission route for COVID-19, it could still expose you to other pathogens which could reduce your overall immune system,” she wrote.

Dr. Matthew Waxman, associate clinical professor of emergency medicine at the David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA who also works with Los Angeles County officials, said he believes surfing falls into the recreational activities allowed – so long as surfers can successfully distance themselves in the water.

“I’d pick a less crowded spot, ride alone in the car and make it a small family or solo trip,” he said. “Big key would be to keep the distance in the water and not being tempted to chat in the line up.”

Basically, keep in line with the key recommendation for safe recreating: Maintain social distancing.

As the morning sun rises over Doheny State Beach in Dana Point surfers are out riding the waves on Friday, September 13, 2019. Maintain distance with coronavirus concerns.  (Photo by Mark Rightmire, Orange County Register/SCNG) 

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