San Diego surfers welcome easing of ocean restrictions

By The Health News Team | April 22, 2020
Riding out the surfing restrictions

San Diego has miles of gorgeous beaches, many of which offer a great surf break right off shore. When the
County of San Diego issued a beach water access closure for all San Diego coastal waters to prevent the spread of COVID-19, surfers were less than thrilled about the development. However, some restrictions have been lifted and swimmers, surfers, kayakers and paddle-boarders can now return to the ocean.
"The surfing community had a hard time with the restrictions because the ocean is not reproducible," says
Dr. Julie Roth, a family medicine physician with
Sharp Rees-Stealy Medical Group and surfer. "Dropping into and riding the waves, the breeze, the pull of the currents, the scent, the sounds and overall sensations are special and unique."
Like many surfers, Dr. Roth recognizes surfing's benefits beyond providing a great way to maintain your fitness. Noting that there is something inherently therapeutic about the ocean, she believes it can be a meditative, spiritual experience for some. Also, studies have proven the benefits of the ocean — and nature, in general — for its healing properties.
"Surfing is a great form of exercise," Dr. Roth says. "While other people are able to walk, jog and cycle or do yoga, Pilates and weight training at home, surfing can't be replicated on so many levels. That is why the beach closures were so hard."
The reasons behind the restrictions
However, Dr. Roth understood the reasons for the earlier restrictions and believes more research needs to be done on the potential spread of the virus in the ocean. Along with the crowds of people that our local beaches can attract, which could cause the virus to easily spread, there may also be a risk of the virus being transmitted through the air, ocean spray and, possibly, in the water.
Experts have also been researching whether the virus can live in fecal matter, which could contaminate the ocean during sewage spills or outfalls. Breaking waves could then potentially propel the virus into the air above and around the ocean if wastewater treatments have not effectively removed the virus.

Understanding the new guidelines
Even so, County of San Diego representatives announced that they believe San Diegans can safely return to the ocean, as long as they continue to follow guidelines. The modifications to the Public Health Order allow walking, running and sitting with household members on the beach, though still forbid gatherings and group sports.

Each of the cities within San Diego County will have the option to open — or continue to restrict — beach access, and the new guidelines do not affect state beaches. Therefore, San Diegans should check with their respective city website before heading to their local beach.

Dr. Roth believes that when surfers recognize the seriousness of the COVID-19 pandemic, they will not want to put others at risk and will continue to follow all health and safety guidelines, including social distancing both on the beach and in the water.

"We will get back to our normal routines, but we all need to do our part now," she says.

Learn more about what Sharp is doing to identify and treat COVID-19.

This story was updated on June 23, 2020.

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