Nick Carroll: WTF, Closed Beaches?

24 Mar 2020 25 Share

Nick Carroll

Senior Writer

Bondi Beach on Sunday March 22. Photo: Waverley Council/Instagram

Bondi Beach on Sunday March 22. Photo: Waverley Council/Instagram


THE PLAGUE DESCENDS – An Ongoing Series on How the Pandemic Affects Our Coastal Surfing Lives

“Full moon surfing could be huge."

So we all saw what happened over the weekend.

Friday, pictures of a packed Bondi Beach went zooming around the world, spawning mockery wherever they appeared. “Moronic”, “selfish” etc.. No social distancing!

All of a sudden, it seemed really important to the NSW Government to, you know, “send a message”.

Fast forward to Sunday, when Bondi, Coogee, Bronte, Clovelly, Tamarama, Freshwater, North Curl Curl, Dee Why, Palm Beach (both ends) and Maroubra in Sydney, and Redhead, Blacksmiths, Caves Beach and Catherine Hill Bay in the Hunter, were all closed for part or all of the day.

The basis for the closures was a new COVID-19-related regulation that mandates no gatherings of over 500 people in open air spaces.

And surfers, who never mass in groups of 500(*), were caught in the mangler.

Is this gonna keep happening? CW spoke to numerous people yesterday across a wide range of stakeholders, and nobody seemed to have any clear idea. “I couldn’t even tell you what the intentions are about this tomorrow,” said Steve Pearce, CEO of Surf Lifesaving NSW, whose volunteers were put in charge of crowd estimation over the weekend.

As a result, some of them were also caught in the mangler. “One negative was that a lot of surf clubs reported the abuse of lifesavers by members of the public,” Steve told us. “That was disappointing.

“We’re not a police authority, we don’t want to put our volunteers in that position.”

He says there will be a lot of discussion now with coastal councils who will bear the responsibility for beach closures in the future, and wants to see it “managed in a way that still allows people to get down to the beach". But, “Social distancing has been requested and imposed, and it has to be adhered to, whether it’s on the beach or in a nightclub or wherever.” (Nightclubs are now closed under the Federal Government’s social restrictions.)

Not that anyone’s asking surfers. Surfing NSW’s Luke Madden confirmed to us that no consultations had occurred with them prior to the beach shutdowns. “It all comes back to those rules (about 500 people),” said Luke.

Surfing NSW has already taken actions of their own relating to the current situation. They’ve cancelled or postponed all their events until at least May, and have advised boardriders clubs to pull back on their March and April club rounds. “They (clubs) can make their own decisions but we are suggesting March and April be postponed. If they want to run, we have a range of things they might consider doing to limit risk: no rashies, no sharing of (judging) iPads, some other things.”

He said SNSW was ready to be a voice for surfers in any further attempts to restrict surf access, but they’d also “have to work with the Government on what that means". In other words — walk the line between surfers’ rights and the authorities.


Adding to the sense of confusions: the weekend’s beach bans seemed to be applied with some inconsistency. While Manly and Bondi were cleared and kept clear, people were swimming and surfing at Palm Beach after clubbie patrols had shut down for the day.

There was also resistance. At Bondi on the weekend, it took numerous cops and lifeguards to move people off the sand, and several water police on jetskis to finally evict the last few of Sunday’s surfers, who’d snuck out off the headlands.

Just how often these kinds of resources can be directed at clearing beaches surely has to be in question.

The bans haven’t extended to other states — yet. Surfing Victoria’s Adam Robertson said he hadn’t heard talk of any such thing. “I wouldn’t be surprised. It’s all so fast-moving,” Adam said, maybe voicing what most of us are thinking right now.

He raised a serious issue, one that goes to the heart of surfing’s social value: “We do want to be vocal around people’s mental health. That’s a role we can help with over the coming months.

“Surfers all know what you gain from surfing.”

As for Queensland, (*) where there’s actually the chance that more than 500 surfers might congregate in one place, Goldie surfer and boardmaker Darren Handley told us he went to Kirra Beach on Saturday and “there was more people on the beach than I’d ever seen there".

Of Snapper etc., Darren said: “I think you’ll find it’ll get a bit less crowded. There’ll be less tourists and people from interstate. It’ll be more of a local crowd — and they’re the ones out behind the rock battling for the set waves anyway.”

He suspects the Gold Coast City Council will have no option to close the beaches at some point, and then “I guess I’ll be surfing early. Or late, full moon surfing could be huge.”

More Coastalwatch COVID-19 Coverage

19 MAR 2020
How Surfers Around the World Are Doing Amid COVID-19

What’s it like right now being a surfer in Spain, Bali, The Ments?

17 MAR 2020
– Bells Is Off For Easter! WSL Shuts Down the Tour Until at Least June 2020

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13 MAR 2020
Nick Carroll: The World's Ending

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13 MAR 2020
– Breaking: The WSL Has Cancelled All Events in March, including the First Leg of the Championship Tour

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12 MAR 2020
Nick Carroll: How the Surfing World’s Responding to COVID-19

“Nobody knows what’s down the track with this.”

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