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How the pandemic changed surfing

A line up of surfers south of SLO. Photo by Todd Weaver

Following the rules and regulations that COVID-19 has placed on citizens in California, the number of inexperienced beginners and wave-deprived locals has created a much more hostile environment for surfers in the deep blue.

There has always been a bit of a territorial feel to the surf culture, and adding hundreds of newcomers to the sport at one time makes for larger crowds and less unridden waves. Since COVID-19 hit, it’s been more difficult to find a time of day, or a certain spot to surf, without the burden of getting dropped in on. 

This makes traveling to find your own mysterious waves much more appealing. For me, this tends to mean going as far north as a tank of gas will get me. Taking a few days off work and getting away from the popular tourist surf locations with a buddy is always a great time, and lately it’s been the only way to get a calm session.

Mysterious cove north of SLO. Photo by Matthew Otero

It’s no wonder that there are loads of new faces out in the water following the pandemic. With many bars, restaurants, bowling alleys, clubs, and gyms closed, what else is there to do other than go to the beach and try to hop on a surfboard?

Don’t get me wrong, we all have to start somewhere, and I think everyone should have the opportunity to try surfing and see how wonderful it really is. However, being aware of your surroundings is a necessity in the water.

As long as you know how to get out of somebody’s way when they are on a wave, and look both ways before dropping in on someone’s head, you’ll be respected out there. Everybody wants their share of waves, but surfing (especially when you are starting out) is about patience.

A gloomy day north of SLO. Photo by Brooke Carlson

While surfing is a thing many of us share and enjoy together, for me it’s always been something I can do alone as well, to clear my head and find some peace. It is a form of meditation and a momentary escape from my responsibilities or stressors in my life.

This past summer, however, there was hardly peace and quiet in the water.

Summer is a time when tourists come from all over to surf at popular breaks, crowding up an already packed line up. With the addition of the pandemic, this past summer had an insane amount of bodies out in the water who didn’t understand or care about the etiquette or respect that comes with surfing around others.


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I’m sure I speak for more than just myself when I say how excited I am for this winter. Normally winter will thin out the crowds a little bit for a number of reasons. Tourism will go down due to high winds and cold water, and more people will know what they are doing out there because of bigger waves.

Heading out. Photo by Brooke Carlson

Surfing should be about joy and passion – not about broken boards and split lips. Surfing is for all who want and need to surf; for people who love it. If you love surfing, you should get out there and have fun. But if you can’t respect other surfers or have some patience out in the water, it’s best to practice at an empty beach or just stay home.