Tue, 14 April 2020

More than 3,000 South African surfers have signed a petition asking government to label surfing an essential activity, and to open South African beaches to surfers, writes Spike.


SALTY YEARNINGS: We're hanging for a surf, for exposure to sodium chloride. Photo Unsplash

donate-nowThe petition on Change.org here is titled Surfing is an essential activity and is addressed "Dear (Western Cape Premier) Mr Alan Winde & President Ramaphosa", and signed off by David G Visagie, a Knysna resident known online in the deep house music community as Deep Seeker (came across this track on Sound Cloud).

David started the petition four days ago on 10 April 2020 and already 3,425 people have signed. He basically calls for surfing beaches in South Africa to be opened to surfing as an essential activity during the COVID-19 pandemic lockdown.

Speaking with him, he said he had copped a lot of flak from people regarding the petition, "but I haven’t fueled any of their comments".

"I do feel this is necessary because in times like these we all need something we can believe in or fight for, something positive. I’ve got a lot of real valid comments from people who have signed the petition and why they are signing.

"I didn’t think I would reach 100 people let alone 3000+ and counting. My view on the pandemic is quite simple - we all need the sun for our vitamin D and exercise to keep our immune system healthy.

"I didn’t think I would reach 100 people let alone 3000+ and counting. My view on the pandemic is quite simple - we all need the sun for our vitamin D and exercise to keep our immune system healthy.""I don’t think we going to make this petition come to the point where we can go surf during lockdown but it’s good to see that I’m not alone feeling isolated from going surfing, one of the comments that stood out for me is that we have a bigger chance to catch the virus going to the shop than going surfing. In Australia they are allowed to surf as long as they keep up with social distancing, and now I hear a friend from Ireland is also going surfing almost on a daily basis. I’m not against the government and I’m still abiding by the rules. So I guess I’m just trying to extend my right to practice my own way to handle this lockdown."

The petition comes after an earlier initiative on GoPetition.com from surfers in the JBay and St Francis area. However, unlike the Eastern Cape version, which only attracted 51 signatures (although liked 233 times on Facebook), this one has attracted large-scale interest from all over the country, including Cape Town, JBay, the southern Cape and KZN.

The wording of the petition has been copied - almost word for word barring geographic references - from a petition by a surfer in Florida, which has attracted 11,330+ signatures. Even the title is the same (Surfing is an essential activity) but several inaccuracies have been carried over based on differences in lockdown laws between Florida and South Africa.


DESPERATE TIMES: Many surfers do not believe this warrants wasting the government's time.

In this paragraph, "Western Capers" and "Western Cape" replace "Floridians" and "Florida" respectively, but an unfortunate error has crept in that could lead to confusion: "There have been a handful of activities listed that are still allowed during our social distancing and stay-at-home orders like golf, swimming, hiking, running, and biking. We, as a community of Floridians whose ties and commonalities lie deeper than lines on a map, feel that surfing and access to Florida waters are essential to our way of life."

"It has been over 2 weeks since my toes have touched the sand"As we all know, our lockdown does not allow any form of outdoor activity at all except if you're getting essential supplies. The words "state" and "counties" have also been retained. South Africa has provinces and municipalities or districts, not states and counties. The language does not elicit too much empathy, particularly if that was the aim. It could be worded in a more convincing way, but that's just me: "At the time of me writing this, most beaches (if not all) in my local area of North East Florida (Jeffreys Bay to Mosselbay) have been shut down and it has been over 2 weeks since my toes have touched the sand."

"Attached are signatures from surfers all across the state, respectfully asking you to allow us to once again feel the joy of being in the ocean, and vowing to accept the responsibility of still maintaining safe distances while we partake in something that is so much a part of who we are."

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SITE FOR SORE EYES: We need to surf, but we're in this together. Los it brah. Photo Unsplash

Other surfing petitions are listed on Change.org but mostly in the US, with one in New Zealand. All seem to have been created by recreational surfers, not surfing organisations. All make the point that surfing is essential to our well-being, and lifestyle as surfers.

They appeal to "fairness" based on what surfing historian Glen Thompson calls the liberal democratic perception of our human rights and personal freedom in a democracy. Each petition varies in tone and motivation, but the premise remains a resounding "please make an exception for us because we are special".

Sometimes self-identity becomes so ingrained, it starts to resemble entitlement. The deeper it's lodged, the harder it is to shed. Underlying ironies come to the surface like a boil on the slab at Crayfish Factory, and there's a 15 foot wide swinger blacking out the sky.

Here's a list of the petitions on Change.org that request authorities to allow surfing:

Florida, USA: Surfing is an Essential Activity
Started: 1 week ago

Florida, USA: Surfing is Essential Exercise
Started: 1 week ago

Duval County, Florida, USA: Make surfing an essential sport
Started: 2 weeks ago

Okaloosa county, Florida: Keep the GULF open to surfers (Withdrawn)
Started: 3 weeks ago

Huntington Beach USA: Surfers practice social distancing anyways ...
Started: 3 weeks ago

San Diego, USA: Open the ocean back up to San Diego surfers
Started: 3 weeks ago

San Diego, USA: Surfing is "ESSENTIAL" Open the ocean!
Started: 4 days ago

Allow Responsible Surfing in New Zealand
Started: 2 weeks ago


SOUND AND FURY: The energy of the ocean is a panacea for the troubled soul. Photo Unsplash

Of course surfing is an essential activity ... if you're a surfer. The same could be said for people who rely on other activities to get their fix, such as mountain biking, sailing, swiming, running, hiking, wingsuit flying, BASE jumping and smoking crack.

Of course we should be allowed healthy activities, but should surfers be the only people who get permission to walk on the beach? "I promise not to gob on anyone on the way to the surf!" Think about what that SOUNDS like when you're living in a shack, or homeless on the street.

I spoke to some surfers, including my wife Janet Heard, a journalist and keen (Muizenberg) surfer: "I think it is bad taste and incredibly tone-deaf to demand the right to surf when the country is literally fighting for people's lives and to prevent nationwide starvation. This is a time for solidarity and empathy, and we need to join together and observe the lockdown, and not make selfish demands when the government has other pressing and and other petitions that are far more worthy."


STREET SURFERS: The homeless don't have the option to go surfing bru. Photo Nicky Newman

Financial planner and passionate surfer Miles Protheroe said: "I did sign out of boredom, but on second thoughts it seems a bit whimsical in the big scheme of things. The problem is most sports/activities could argue the same. Surfing is no different. All sports that you can do from home without driving should be allowed for an hour or two. We are a lily white sport in many respects although it’s changing, so we run the risk of being a group asking for a hall pass while everyone else also wants to exercise. No easy answer."

Glen Thompson, who is locked down solo in his Cape Town house, said that it was impossible to list surfing as an essential activity considering the lives of all South Africans "no matter how you wish to argue the case" and called on the surfers who signed to "to search their conscience and withdraw their signatures".

"Please, do not burden and distract the government with unnecessary petitions""In South Africa our hard won freedom at the 1994 polls means that freedom comes with responsibility. In this time of crisis and to limit the spread of COVID-19 it is our responsibility as surfers and citizens to adhere to the lockdown restrictions on our freedom of movement. It is for the greater social good that our collective action to not surf matters. I urge you, please, do not burden and distract the government with unnecessary petitions seeking aquatic pleasure in the face of the pressing need for government to keep its attention on supporting essential healthcare and other social services services during this pandemic."


SOLO VIGIL: Waiting to go surfing is a lonely feeling, but we're in it together. Photo Unsplash

Multiple female surfing champion and grandmother Bernie Shelly was forthright. Surfing is her life, her passion, and her identity and "yes I miss the water and everything about surfing".

Her perspective is that surfing is not special. "All sports, all activities are “essential” to participants’ way of life. The petition was "frivolous", she said adding: "Let this thing take its course and let’s help the cause of mitigating the harm. I do not think that my “needs” should be singled out at the potential cost of lives lost."

"I will find other things to do and will dream of the day we can feel salty again"She also felt that the South African restrictions were not “draconian” as some people were saying: "I see them as the health department and the government doing what they in good faith believe to be scientifically based-best practice, and given our divergent population, this is an Herculean task. When we are given the go-ahead to get back to normal life, super, but in the meantime I will find other things to do and will dream of the day we can feel salty again. I have a personal bias - having family members who are doctors who are selflessly facing horrors every day," Bernie said.

Salty sea dog (his description :) Rob Munro said: “I am saddened at the lack of empathy shown towards fellow South Africans who are struggling with feeding their children, themselves or others ... trying to get in the surf whilst people are struggling to cope, keep their jobs or worse, is not a positive direction. If you’re bored, take up knitting, find new ways to exercise or just stop being a tjop! Poverty is nothing new in South Africa, but I challenge those who signed this petition to spend 24 hours in a single room with your entire family and with no food! Don’t be THAT surfer, be better.”


THING OF THE PAST: Hard to believe this was not long ago. This is no more. Photo Unsplash

Big wave surfer Ross Lindsay said "Lockdown is for one and all, no exceptions otherwise no control of movement of people. Remember the virus doesn’t move, humans do!!"

What's a debate involving surfing that doesn't have a Bertish brother in it? Little Optimist founder and open heart surgery survivor Greg Bertish said the petition was not good, although he understood why people are signing it, "but why surfers? Then ALL must be allowed to openly run, cycle , walk, and how do you police that? A blanket ban is a good thing so far. Keeps it simple and easy to manage".

"How would you manage Muizenberg!?"However, going forward from about 17 April or so, "they should allow some exercise (for mental and physical health). Surfers should appeal for that rather. Not surfing. Get the government to agree to one hour exercise a day within one or two kilometres of your home. Women only between 8 and 12 in morning and men only between say 2 and 6 in the afternoon. No groups. Single persons only, with strict social distancing. That would be good and easy to police too :)"

Keen surfer Maryke Musson, Chief Executive Officer at the Two Oceans Aquarium Education Foundation, said: "I am wondering how the heck will this even remotely work? How would you manage Muizenberg!? What's the difference between skateboarding and going for a surf? What it does shows though, is how addictive a sport surfing is, in a good way. I can't see that a petition is going to make a difference though. For now it will be mind surfing I suppose!"


Bruce Anderson
0 #3 Entitlement.Bruce Anderson 2020-04-19 08:36
The article concludes correctly, everyone, surfers included, needs to respect the lockdown regulations, inconvenient as they are. This petition was in bad taste and represents a stereotype of privilege and entitlement. Is this “Us?” Those who signed it should seriously reflect on their values firstly and, secondly, before signing any petition, read what they are signing. There were so many obvious factual inaccuracies that, by signing, it implies a lack of comprehension, diligence or responsibility in the signatory ... Contributing reasons to why we end up needing regulations in the first place. Can I suggest that all the sheeple who blindly signed, and now regret it, make a donation to a feeding scheme in penance.
Andrew King
+1 #2 MrAndrew King 2020-04-16 11:58
David Visagie is not a Knysna local, and I question whether he even surfs. Stay at home like everyone else
House Arrest
+5 #1 MrHouse Arrest 2020-04-14 14:51
Agree with Greg Bertish! National government might say we can go surf after lockdown ends, but your local mayor can still keep the beach closure bans in place. So rather start a petition to lift the local beach closure bans once the lockdown ends.

But to petition for surfing during a national lockdown! While no one is even allowed to walk their dog, buy a beer or shop for non-essentials, who will take that petition seriously!?! You are doing more harm than good. Stop ruining it for everyone!
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