Can’t Drink, Can’t Smoke and Definitely Can’t Surf
It has been an absolutely firing autumn in South Africa. Light winds, great south and west swells, and uncrowded. So incredibly uncrowded. The most uncrowded it has been since the '60s. Fines, jail time and the threat of possible beatings and death are possibly the reasons why.
It's a crazy old world in South Africa right now, and as we hit our 50th day of hard lockdown, there is a general feeling of unease in the air. I’m not one to buy into conspiracy theories, but something doesn't feel right.
The beaches are closed, and all ocean activities, including surfing and shoreline fishing, are banned. Paddle out and risk a fine, or sitting in a jail cell for a few hours in your wetsuit, with people coughing all over you.
We all know that petitions like change.org are worthless. We have submitted well-thought-out, social distancing solutions to going surfing to government. We have explained how it is working in places like Australia, and no one in the corridors of power has heard us.
Australia, the Lucky Country, gets to surf. In fact, from all accounts, it's pretty crowded at most spots. We wish we could have a crowded surf, we dream of a packed-out, onshore session, we crave to paddle, to move our arms, to feel the energy of a wave underfoot. Boards are waxed, dings are fixed, but mind-surfing and net-surfing are the only sanctioned alternatives.
Many have started defying the laws here though, and are sneaking out for quiet sessions at lesser-known spots. Those people face their Nazi neighbours, dobbin them in, phoning the cops as soon as someone points a board in the direction of the beach.
The police then come out, as they are obliged to do, and face off with angry surfers who are sick of these stupid laws. The cops are also sick of dealing with the bloody surfers, but once a complaint has been laid, they are obliged to follow through. People generally seem to know who is snitching, most times the cops just tell them who it is wasting everyone's time. When this shit is over, the snitches will face their music. Revenge is a dish best served cold.
Those who are getting away with it don't talk about it. These surfers don't tell their best friends. They paddle out in the dark and run home with wetsuit hoods pulled low, along clearly marked out routes. Sometimes they have to hide from the cops, and sometimes the police are in a good mood and just give them a stern warning. Who would ever think that surfing would be a crime?
I'm not a smoker anymore, but the fact that cigarettes are banned is totally nonsensical. There are an estimated
11 Million smokers in South Africa. All the ban did was point these smokers to illegal buying of their smokes, depriving our government coffers of hundreds of millions of Rands in taxes. People still buy their durries. People still smoke. It's just money going in different directions.
Alcohol is banned. People across the country are getting as pissed as ever, some even more so, as they have nothing to do. There are so many ways to get your alcohol, all illegal. All those people who are holding liquor but have no form of income, are not drinking away their sorrows. They are selling their stash, at some crazy inflated amounts.
You are only allowed to exercise between 6 am, and 9 am. The sun comes up at 7. So for two hours a day, everyone goes out there and crowds the streets, the trails, and their favourite running routes. It's packed, and social distancing be fucked, but you can't surf during exercise time.
Pies are still banned. Hot food sales, in general, is forbidden. You can't buy anything hot from any store. You can only get food delivered to your door. Most things are available for delivery from most restaurants. Still, the margins are so slim that most restaurants are considering closing up until they can accept seated clients, or are closing up for good. You have to deliver a shitload of pizza to make enough to pay staff and petrol.
Surf shops have started opening again, and are only allowed to sell essential items. T-shirts sales are illegal unless you promise to wear them under a jacket. Flip-flops and all open-toed shoes are banned. Crop bottom pants may only be purchased if they are to be worn with boots and leggings. It's utter madness I tell ye, fucking madness. The world looks on and shakes its collective head at the craziness.
After our president made a speech on Wednesday night and admitted that there were some inconsistencies in the regulations, he told us nothing further. He hinted at a drop from level four to level three. Still, there was also an indication that certain hotspots would remain on level four. Things are set to change around the end of the month. Yet it was so vague and so inconsistent, that the uneasiness continues to fester.
Many are locked down, homeschooling, trying to make a buck, and many more are bored shitless but watching hopelessly as their livelihoods collapse around them. Others, as mentioned earlier, are quietly demolishing their alcohol stashes and watching the train crash, through glassy eyes.
If we are lucky and get to level three by the end of the month, we will have more freedom, and there will be a semblance of reality in our country again. It's still a long haul though, and here's the somber bit.
I was trawling through the regulations here https://bit.ly/2WZAJcG and looking for something about beaches opening, and of ocean activities opening, but try as I may, I couldn't find anything.
So I phoned a councilor who asked to remain anonymous. The councilor mentioned to me that decisions are made at a national level. Surfing, much like tennis, and golfing, is not high on a national priority list that includes the economy and a health crisis. The councilor also reminded me that we are being ruled through a Disaster Management Act, with soldiers on the ground, and a strict curfew in place. I think he was trying to tell me that this is not really the time to fuck around.
We went through the document, and we found this:
Health, social and personal services:
- Other recreational, cultural and sporting activities and facilities, re-opening subject to directions.
It seems to be the only clause that could possibly include beaches and therefore surfing, re-opening.
The only problem is that it falls under Level One.
We won't reach Level One this year.
Let that sink in a bit.
In the meantime, here's sometimes QS campaigner Chad Du Toit ripping somewhere south of Durban before lockdown.