How to Embrace this Social Distance Surf Siesta

Is surfing a sport for you? Or is it a compulsion?

Either way it is a raw connection between human and ocean, where wave energy uplifts, physically and mentally. Stoke flows, by some magical marine osmosis, from the ocean into the heart of the rider, fortifying surfers for the moment but also for the maelstrom of life.

But now, in the dark days of COVID-19, surfers are not high on stoke, instead surfers are high and dry, gasping for saltwater, like stranded creatures on a beach of Netflix.

priscilla du preez * unsplash *

To make this difficult situation even more difficult, the internet supplies a steady stream of visual surf reports and everyone’s favourite wave appears to be absolutely firing.

But if we cast our Insta aside and have a good cry into our Pilates mats, most surfers, despite aching down deep into their very soul, are okay. Many surfers have food, a bit of cash, possibly a credit card and access to healthcare.  Surfing is for the most part a leisure activity of privilege. (I know I’m generalizing, so don’t @ me, but in the most part you have to have some spare money to spend outside of the basics to buy a wetsuit, a board and a ride to the beach.)

Yet something fishy is drifting in on the wind. Is it the onshore? Is it the resurgence of an oppositional subculture that defined surfing in the seventies? Maybe the counterculture never died?   

Because whatever it is, we’ve all seen the people on social media who paddled out anyway, we’ve read the posts that are justifying that it’s okay, or are making a case that it should be.  For their trouble the paddlers-out are getting a free ride in a South African police van, arrested at Malibu or shot at in Costa Rica. And rumour has it, in some cases, they are getting away with it. In worse cases, they are sending out weirdo petitions.

But wait what. I thought surfing had moved on from the counterculture seventies. I thought it was about the aloha spirit? I thought it was about being at one with mother ocean and mother earth? I though surfers were mellow, go with the flow kinda people?

 ‘…No, but surfing is solo, and it doesn’t make a difference and we’re far apart in the water and I’m far away from everyone and I need it because exercise….’

So many people on this planet don’t have their basic survival needs met and more so now during COVID-19. Some don’t have a decent home to shelter in place, they don’t have space to practice social distancing. They don’t have running water, they don’t have privacy, they don’t have grocery essentials. There are little kids here in Cape Town walking a kilometre with an old empty margarine bakkie for the only food they will get. They are putting their little hands together in prayer and thanks for that container of lentil curry.

People have lost their livelihood, job, money, dignity or a beloved person during this crisis.

But we, the surfers, haven’t lost surfing.

All we’ve done is hit the pause button.

So how about nobody channels that old counterculture mindset?

Let’s reflect instead on how the spirit of surfing has become mindful, inclusive, and uplifting; how surfers have used their connection to the ocean to contribute to the protection of the marine environment. Let’s focus on how surfing has empowered girls, women, people of color, PTSD survivors, street kids and youngsters in countries ravaged by war and disease? How about we pay our privilege forward and help those in need?

Yes, of course we’re bummed when it’s cooking, and we can’t surf. But can we temper our disappointment? Can we pause and reflect, with gratitude and compassion, instead of stamping our CAPS LOCK Facebook feet because we are not able to surf?

One thing is as certain as the tide coming in and going out. Surfers will surf again. In the meantime, let’s be mindful of those who are caught inside, those who are continually battered by the pounding shore break of poverty, disease, unemployment and homelessness in this twenty-first century life. Let’s expend our energy trying to help instead of claiming it’s not fair or trying to sneak in a surf.  What’s truly not fair is far greater than that.

sebastian leon * unsplash *

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