Stab Magazine | Opinion: This Sucks, But It's Time We Stopped Surfing
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Opinion: This Sucks, But It’s Time We Stopped Surfing

Unfortunately, surfing shouldn’t be exempt from the world’s attempt to ‘flatten the curve’. 

style // Mar 30, 2020
Words by Stab
Reading Time: 4 minutes

At the time of writing there are 665,000 confirmed Covid-19 cases globally and 30,000 deaths. A week ago total numbers were under 300,000, and this time next week total cases will very likely be surging past the one million mark. The confirmed case and death rates will only continue to climb in the coming weeks and days. And if we’re going to do anything about it, the time we must act is now.  

Surfing is probably a very low risk activity when it comes to novel-coronavirus’ transmission, but arguments that suggest beach closures and surfing restrictions are unnecessary fail to see the bigger picture—or the severity of the situation. The collapse of the surf industry we’re currently witnessing is horrific (not to mention the looming financial crisis), and trust us, we’re peeved about not being able to surf either, but occasionally there’s some things more important than surfing. In this case it’s your own health and the health of those around you. 

Countries such as France and Italy are under complete lockdown, so surfing is clearly off the agenda. Other countries however, such as my own home in Australia, are currently taking a more lax approach due to lower infection numbers. This will however change in the coming weeks as confirmed cases surge and stricter measures are enacted due to people’s seeming inability to self-isolate. 

Last weekend, surfing across Sydney’s Eastern Beaches was essentially banned; the same was true again this weekend, and surf forecasters like Swellnet were urging readers not to surf (although are still posting reports/forecasts). So far however, I haven’t spoken to many surfers willing to curb their surfing habits of their own volition, and judging from the numbers I saw at the beaches this week (upwards of 100 in the water in the water at Maroubra), it seems my few anecdotal experiences generalise relatively wide.

The argument that you’re socially distanced in the water might hold true in small coastal towns, but it certainly isn’t true in Sydney or any beach near a metropolitan area. There cannot be a rule for one group and another for surfers. We can’t ban picnics on the beach but allow 25 people to huddle on a peak out the back. We can’t limit outside gatherings to two people, yet allow five people to cram into in a car heading south for the weekend. We can’t can’t close pubs but turn a blind eye to those five surfers having post-surf beers on a hill. 

You mightn’t feel sick, and statistically you probably aren’t, but for every infected individual leaving their house the pandemic will only worsen. 

It’s also no point arguing that it’s ‘okay’ to surf your typically crowded local now that there’s nobody out there. The reason that is—as is the case for surfers arrested in Europe and other countries—is that the majority are abiding by social distancing rules. To cite Kant’s categorical imperative, it’s only a moral action if it is true for all people, at all times; in this case, if all people paddled out we’d be entirely fucked. 

In trying times like these, unfortunately, it is simple, blanket rules which will get us through by flattening the infection rate curve, reducing the burden on our health systems, and as a result lessening the overall death toll. A mortality rate of 1-1.5 percent might sound measly, but when total infection numbers surge past the 100 million mark and above that one-percent will seem like quite a lot. 

To quote Peter Doherty, the 1996 Nobel Prize winner for his work in immunology, from this week’s Saturday Paper, “if 60 percent of the Australian population become infected over the next six to 18 months, that means some 150,000 people will die. If we can’t ‘flatten the curve’, the death toll will be significantly higher.” For places like the United States, the prognosis is much darker, if 60-percent or more of the population were infected, the death toll would be in the millions. While the death toll currently sits at 30,000 globally, we need to remember this is only the beginning of the pandemic. The numbers are going to go up, and it will be frightening, but without social distancing these numbers will be much, much worse.

The reason these measures must be so strict and draconian is due to novel-coronavirus’ rate of infection, known as an R0: each infected person will infect around 3 others. Contrastingly, standard strains of influenza have an R0 of around 1.3-1.4. This doesn’t seem drastically different until you consider the implications, at say, 10 rounds of infection. To get this number you calculate the infection rate to the power of 10 (e.g., 3^10). In the case of the normal flu, 1.4^10 is 28. That means that if you were the first person to catch a virus, 10 rounds of infections later, 28 people would be infected due to your infection. For novel-coronavirus, at a rate of 3, this number is 59,000. If you infect three people, and those three infect another three each, and you do this 10 times, the number of people infected is 59,000.

So yeah, stay the fuck inside. 

Note 1: if you usually surf and there’s no one else around—or close to no one—you can probably surf safely, but for the majority of you reading this that won’t be the case. 

Note 2: I‘d highly recommend reading this article by Peter Doherty on why we need to flatten the curve and other details about the pandemic. I’m no expert, I’m just repeating the advice of those that are.

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