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A surfer walks on the sand at San Elijo State Beach. Photo courtesy of Cole Ferguson Productions
Community CommentaryOpinion

Opinion: How North County beaches could reopen

By Jake Howard

When the current health and economic crisis we find ourselves in kicked into overdrive in early March when California first started 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 refuges, 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.

As of April 4th, all North County San Diego city and state beaches were 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 Sampson, a mother and nurse, Liam Ferguson, Carlsbad resident and former President of TransWorld Media, 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 North County 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. North County.

They all acknowledge that overcrowding, especially as the beaches were closed in phases from Blacks up to Oceanside, has been 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.

The group I spoke with opposes public gatherings for any reason especially when people are in close proximity to each other without masks and politicizing this viral infection. The recent protest in Encinitas makes it appear the community is not responsible enough to social distance in the water and that could not be further from the truth.

All that being said, with local schools now doing “distance learning” until further notice, 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 makes 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. Re-opening local beaches can be part of the solution instead of the problem,” Sampson explained 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 within.”

“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,” agrees McDermott, who runs Primmune Therapeutics, a company developing a COVID-19 drug. “Policymakers 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 nearby San Clemente and Laguna Beach are both closed. Further up P.C.H., Newport Beach and Huntington Beach still allow surfing.

And while the beaches are closed in L.A. County, in Ventura and Oxnard access 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. Clearly, it’s a huge problem if people are coming from outside communities and abusing the situation, but we can be responsible about this and still figure out a way for local residents and surfers to utilize their beaches.”

With the North County Coastal City Mayors currently working on strategies and with the County of San Diego’s health order continuing through April 30th, there are some ideas that have merit:

– Open access to all North San Diego County City and State beaches (including Carlsbad and San Elijo Campgrounds, pedestrian traffic only)

– Continue to keep beach parking lots and surrounding street parking closed

– Residents stay in their areas and don’t drive to destination spots

-The other concern is limiting short-term rentals.

“With what appears to be an arbitrary decision by the Public Health Officer of the County of San Diego, with no credible data supporting beach closures, outside of a sensational, tabloid ‘opinion piece’ in the Los Angeles Times on April 2nd, we have closed our San Diego County beaches,” says Liam Ferguson.

“Unfortunately, we have taken our most prized open space along the Carlsbad coast where people can responsibly social distance, especially around the Carlsbad Campground area with no campers currently and have wedged them onto a crowded, dangerous Carlsbad Blvd. It seems to me if we can regulate beach closures with city resources, we can regulate beach openings with city resources,” he continues.

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 in this area.

1 comment

Sam Savage`` April 25, 2020 at 3:20 am

I live on Pacific Street in Oceanside, which is near the beach. I agree that beaches should be open for recreation if done carefully. Most of Oceanside’s problems were due to it being one of two beaches open (before it closed), which caused a flood of non-local traffic. For two weeks, Oceanside had more people coming to the beach than it does on holiday weekends. If all beaches in the county are open, the problem shouldn’t be as bad.

However, one problematic measure that seems to be returning is that the parking lots will remain closed. This makes no sense. If the beaches are going to be open, people need a place to park. With the parking lots closed, people aren’t discouraged from coming to the beach. They still come, however, all of that traffic is then directed into the neighborhoods where beachgoers park to access the beach. Even though it is a residential neighborhood in most areas, this is not the suburbs with giant yards and wide streets where people can avoid each other. This is a dense urban neighborhood where property walls abut the sidewalks and there is too much pedestrian traffic to keep a 6-foot distance when all of the beach-goers are competing with residents for parking and changing into wetsuits a few feet from resident’s doors.

Opening beaches, but keeping the parking lots closed creates more problems, increases risk, and defies common sense. It feels like the City is pushing the problem off of it’s plate and creating a worse situation for its residents.

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