2 Surfers Arrested In South Africa's Post-Covid Surfing Debut
Breaking lockdown with Stab's South African confidant, the one and only Alan Van Gysen.
While the world has been consumed with the protests and conversation surrounding racial inequality and injustice for the past 72 hours, many have had what was an entirely un-welcome and wholly disturbing reprieve from thinking about the magnanimous issue that is COVID-19. Many cities in the U.S. have spent the past several weeks grappling with the issue of effectively winding back regulations on social distancing. Luckily for us here in Southern California this has meant a re-opening of our beaches and a widely accepted ability to surf. Unfortunately for our friends in South Africa, they have not been so lucky. Stab's good friend and collaborator Alan Van Gysen, otherwise known as "Surfing's Very Own Dr. Livingstone" hit our inbox with a story of Muizenberg surfer's being relieved of a two and a half month period without surfing.
Alan said, "Scores of Cape Town surfers took to the water yesterday in Muizenberg under a fog of ambiguity that even had police scratching their heads about what the regulations are when it comes to surfing under South African Lockdown Level 3. The authorities eventually arrested two surfers, but many others continued surfing throughout the day."
Intrigued and confused, we'll let him take it from here.
Surfer's enjoyed what was that to be a consensual session between them and law enforcement as authorities watch on.
At midnight on Thursday 26 March 2020 South Africa entered Lockdown Level 5 - one of the largest and most restrictive forms of COVID-19 mass quarantines implemented in the world. For the most part South Africans have been compliant, but after more than two months under lockdown - soon the longest in the world, and two levels of restrictions later (with little information on what is to come), their beaches still officially closed, and the laws pertaining to water activities including surfing ambiguous and unclear, South African surfers were in need of some relief today.
“We arrived this morning,” reports Craig Paul, co-owner of Lifestyle Surf Shop in Muizenberg, “the police and law enforcement were here, not being hectic about anything, just chatting nicely to the surfers. At one stage they said they were going to phone the station and speak to their commander up on the mountain, which they did. After the call they all drove off. Everyone figured that that was the time to get in, and within 15-mins there were 50 people in the water. Everything seemed fine…I mean the police have been good. Just telling people what the rules are. What they think the rules are, at least, while we shared what we thought the rules were. No one is really sure what the rules are at this stage.” He laughs.
It’s been an interesting morning. There are still guys out now enjoying it and hopefully they all get in safely. I think that is what will happen. You just aren’t allowed to touch the sand. Officially anything along the coastline is beach. I don’t think it matters whether it’s sand, rocks or a pier to be honest. If you want to enter the lineup without touching the beach we’ll have to rig up a zip-line from the Lifestyle balcony down to the waters edge to be 100% safe. We’re working on it,” Craig laughs harder.
These surf starved locals were greeted with playful lines as far as the eye can see.
“People were desperate to get out there. I’m stoked that people came down today, and I hope it can continue soon legally. I just think we need to stay within the law as best we can. Today has been a good day for the guys and girls to get out there, and everyone was hooting in the water and just being super stoked. It was a good vibe. Even from the police and everyone. It’s nice to have that feeling back a bit. I mean yesterday it was completely empty. No one has surfed at Muizenberg at all from what I have seen in the two weeks we’ve been open. The lockdown has been well adhered to out here. So I think the guys really deserved this little respite from the lounge, Netflix or whatever.”
Justin Rogers, Muizenberg local, reflects. “It was so good to be back in the water,” “It’s warm, the suns out and the waves were epic. Ja, it’s just good to be back. The first surf of many. I do feel like it was a bit unfair of them to take this away from us, seeing as surfing is an individual sport. I feel like it should be allowed because we are keeping our distance and it’s non-contact. There was just such a good vibe out in the water and I’m stoked we’re back. It’s lekker. We did get reprimanded a little bit down the beach this morning and were told we could be arrested, so we kinda moved on closer to the corner and just had a great session. I’m not sure if anyone else had issues, but I just heard a siren so I'm not sure what the situation is, but somethings up.”
Two surfers getting pulled aside and arrested by local authorities.
Speaking to another local Muizenberg surfer shortly after his surf, Ntando Nqadala echoed the renewed stoke he felt…“The surf this morning was amazing! It’s been a while! This is my first surf since lockdown started. It was a bit weird and off-balancing because of the police presence, but it was still incredible. People were being very respectful in the water, keeping their distance and all greeting one another from a distance, catching waves and just having fun. Unfortunately I did see two people get arrested just now. I don’t know what happened. It’s still a bit scary. A Law Enforcement officer called me out of the water this morning, but I got scared and paddled away. When I came in another two approached me and told me that the beaches are closed and that I am not allowed to be in the water. I apologized and said I thought surfing was allowed after the ministers speech and what I read on social media, and they let me go. Luckily they only gave me a warning.”
An unfortunate turn of events for these two out of towners.
All in all the vibe on Muizenberg beach today between surfers and authorities was mostly one of shared respect and humanity, stoke and the aloha spirit. What the rest of the week ahead will bring is unknown, but if yesterdays “family” session was anything to go by, surfers desperately needed the salt therapy - even if just for one day. Leaving the beach the question surely on every surfers mind is when will we South Africans be legally allowed to surf again?
The day after surfers decided it was time to get back into the water the South African High Court found some of the strict, illogical coronavirus lockdown regulations imposed by the government "unconstitutional and invalid". It has given government 14-days to overhaul the restrictions. Whether this will include beach access and surfing be permitted is unknown, but many are more hopeful than ever.