New Zealand Bans Surfing, In Australia It’s A Grey Area

by stab April 05, 2020 3 min read

We truly wish there were nicer topics to divulge at the moment, but right now the world (surfing included) is all but consumed by Covid-19. Surf biz is going bust, beaches are being closed around the globe, and much more seriously, over a million people are infected. 

In Australia, the bans are relatively lax. Technically we’re in a lockdown, but you’re allowed to exercise, and for the majority of the country surfing is included in the figurative list of permissible exercises; the only place where surfing is actually banned is Sydney’s Eastern Beaches. While I believe there’s a strong case to stop surfing for your own health and those you encounter, a quick look around the country’s cams suggests the majority disagree. 

Besides, the countries official stance leaves surfing in a somewhat grey area. Under Australia’s currently guidelines, exercise is allowed to take place in groups of up to two people with a distance of 1.5 metres being maintained between other people. 

According to the ABCNSW Health  confirmed that surfing is not banned but people must adhere to the normal exercise guidelines when surfing: max groups of two people, 1.5 metres apart from others, and to strictly follow social distancing. 

This is all well and good at that small town beachie, but it isn’t quite as simple when you’re talking about Snapper, Lennox, and the Northern Beaches, which by all accounts are still crammed. Hell, some of my most intimate moments in life have been at an overcrowded Greenmount. 

Things however aren’t as lackadaisical across the ditch. Despite New Zealand having a lower infection count, they’ve taken a more hardline approach than their Australian counterparts and therefore have a narrower view of what constitutes a legitimate reason to head outside. 

“Look mate, I know those straight-handers are tempting, but you’re just gonna have to go home and watch Noa Deane’s Electric Acid Test instead.” Photo: Stuff NZ

Yes, exercise is a valid reason, but the Director General of Health outlined last night that water-based activities are not counted included. That means swimming, surfing, boogin’, and even goat-boating are ruled out. 

While the potential for surfers to spread the virus to one another—as well as to those they contact going between their home and beach—is one reason surfing has been outlawed, the other is the inherent risk it already poses. Floundering on your plastic finned softie might be relatively harmless*, but surfing in general is largely considered high-risk: think a fin chop to the head, a learner sucked out to sea, or even the off-chance of a shark attack. In short, the NZ government doesn’t want their hospitals and staff dealing with people who’ve been run over by a helpless pensioner on their Xmas SUP.

Understandably, they want as many health resources as possible to be equipped and ready to deal with a possible influx of Covid-19 patients.  

Come on Dad (read: sir), just one more. Photo: Stuff NZ

Richard Pamatatau, a lecturer at ATU put it a little more eloquently for Stuff NZ“They’re taking advantage of every other New Zealander who is staying at home to help protect the health and economy.” Richard said to Stuff. “It’s time for New Zealanders to really think about their behaviour … the more people who flout the rules, the longer we’ll be in lockdown.”

Expectedly, surfers weren’t exactly adherent to the new rules. While no shots were fired (unlike Costa Rica), police were present on popular beaches ordering people in. No fines have been dished out as yet—as ignorance is still a reasonable excuse regarding the new laws—but if people continue failing to co-operate this may change in the near future.

*excluding the retinal damage incurred by those watching. 

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