Why is the media locking down on surfing?
Surfers may have noticed that the media are using images of people surfing when discussing the breaking of exercise guidelines during lock down. In fact it’s almost exclusively reports on surfers – not cyclists, runners, horseriders or walkers. Why is this?
Across the world lock down restrictions have been applied to varying degrees. Many nations including the UK have required citizens to stay indoors where possible and to adhere to social-distancing measures when outside of the home to help prevent the spread of COVID-19 . In many places, one form of exercise is allowed per day. However in some countries like parts of the USA, Portugal, Italy and Spain surfing has been clearly defined as banned. To the point where arrests and fines have been imposed for going for a surf! In the UK there are no such definitive statements relating to specific sports so the rules are open to interpretation.
The National Police Chiefs Council has published a document for it’s officers to provide legal guidelines to what constitutes a “reasonable excuse” to leave home. This document applies to England but it’s unclear if it’s also been adopted by Scotland, Ireland and Wales.
The document categorically states “Exercise can come in many forms, including walks. Exercise must involve some movement, but it is acceptable for a person to stop for a break in exercise. However, a very short period of ‘exercise’ to excuse a long period of inactivity may mean that the person is not engaged in ‘exercise’ but in fact something else. It is lawful to drive for exercise.”
Further, the Police commander for Cornwall, Temporary Chief Superintendent Ian Drummond-Smith, said “surfing itself had not been banned – but said “anyone taking part still needed to follow social distancing rules. It’s exercise and in Cornwall we know it’s a popular exercise. People can still surf.” (* Source: Cornwalllive.com)
However facing a fine or caution depends on the circumstances, the legality of an action is based upon whether a person’s actions are reasonable or not. So it remains down to British police officers to make individual judgements based on the specific circumstances on the day.
So why have the British media targeted surfers as a focus for lock down exercise violations when in fact surfing may not be in violation at all? The lock down has created a lot of frustration and uncertainty. People react in different ways to these stresses. For many it means passing judgement on others who they feel should not be out and reporting perceived violations of lock down rules. When these rules aren’t clear it’s obvious misunderstandings arise.
Surfers have become a target to vent anger and the media has recognised this and to an extent compounded the issue. Surfers are obvious in the water, a few people out in the waves looks like a crowd and surfing makes for an interesting news story, so surfers are an easy target. Surfing has always represented a sense of freedom. So for the general public seeing those going for a surf flys in the face of everything they’ve been told about lock down. It’s understandable that some are (albeit misguidedly) angry.
Based on the UK guidelines and more specifically English legislation it is lawful to drive to exercise (short distances) and surfing is an exercise. So we should be allowed to surf? However…
Surfing is no more dangerous than cycling, horse riding etc which aren’t frowned upon during these days of lock down. So common sense is surely the guide here.
It doesn’t take a genius to realise that during lock down driving big distances and crowding beach car parks isn’t a good idea. If you’re inexperienced, learning to surf or out in conditions you can’t handle you’re potentially putting others in danger and risking call outs by emergency services – don’t do it. If you crowd together in the line up you’re potentially breaking distancing guidelines.
We’re all doing our best in these difficult times so exercise yes, take care of your physical and mental health. But be considerate – if there’s the slightest doubt that you’re actions could place others in harms way just don’t do it, stay safe!