It seems some citizens have become self-appointed covid vigilantes and surfers are amongst their primary targets.

On Saturday afternoon a Sydney surfer was walking along the footpath in his Bondi street, with a board under his arm, when a driver swerved into him and started screaming expletives.

“I thought it was a joke at first but then he went again,” explains Curt, who was on his way out for a late afternoon surf at nearby Tamarama.

Entirely unprovoked, the driver pulled up and continued to yell profanities at the shell-shocked surfer, who eventually returned fire with a few terse words of his own. “When I snapped back at him after all the abuse, I said ‘ Who the hell are you to tell me what to do?’ He then said ‘it’s against the law and you are breaking the law’.”    

The man got out of his car and followed Curt up the street and repeatedly called him a coward. “After about 50m I turned and confronted him,” explains Curt. “He obviously didn’t want to be the one to throw the first punch. I guess he could use that against me if I went at him as he really had it in for me and surfers in general.” Sensing he was intentionally being drawn into a violent altercation, Curt continued walking up the street while the man kept following and issuing abuse. Eventually, a couple pushing a pram on the other side of the road intervened on Curt’s behalf. “They’d been listening to the whole debacle,” explains Curt. “The male, who was a surfer, told the bloke to pull his head in that it’s ok to surf as exercise.”

The rogue driver obviously felt his actions were justified by the climate of fear and tension the covid-19 virus has created in Sydney's east. 

Surfers in Sydney’s east have seen their beaches fenced up with heavy barricades. Giant neon lights flash the message ‘beach closed’ at Bondi and Tamarama while council rangers, police and hired ring-ins in high-viz outfits threaten surfers with fines if they enter the water. Reluctant Life Guards have been forced to act like water police, chasing boardriders out of the surf.  

In the past couple of days the restrictions have been slightly relaxed with officials turning a blind eye to surfers at Bronte and Tamarama. At Maroubra, a group of surfers eventually grew frustrated and decided they wouldn’t leave the water.

Randwick council (includes Maroubra Coogee and Clovelly) today re-opened their beaches for the purpose of responsible, socially-distanced exercise, which includes surfing. 

Meanwhile, Bondi remains officially off-limits, although surfers have been sneaking out for a few waves at dawn and dusk.

A few surfers duck and weave through a dusk session at Bondi. Photo: Zenla

It’s a frustrating situation for eastern suburbs surfers who feel that they are being unfairly treated. While golfers, walkers and runners are encouraged to continue exercising in parks in the name of physical and mental well-being, surfers are being told to stay away from what is essentially a large marine park at Bondi. “What if everyone was told that every park was off-limits?” suggested one surfer. “There would be major outcries.” Surfers in Sydney’s east have also reported being hunted by photographers and filmers from major News networks, looking for an easy kill story that paints anyone with a board as a villain.    

Meanwhile, beaches up and down the coast, (including those in the Prime Minister’s electorate which incorporates Cronulla) are adopting a more sensible management approach, allowing surfers and swimmers to hit the water providing they don’t linger on the beach.

Respected surf photographer and local surfer, Bill Morris, is amongst those who have railed against the hard-line policy adopted by Waverley council. "I’ve been surfing these beaches for 56 years and it’s the first time I’ve ever been denied access,” stated Morris … “I’ve got rheumatoid arthritis. I can’t play golf and I can’t walk long distances but I can still paddle, and stand up on a surfboard." Morris, like most surfers, felt that his ocean pursuit could be undertaken without violating the social-distancing guidelines: "When are you ever less than two metres away from someone in the surf?"

Pressure is mounting on the Waverley council to lift the restrictions. There is little doubt that the fences and heavy police presence make some individuals feel empowered to act like the vigilante referenced at the start of this article. Regular Bondi surfer, Mic Gruchy created an online petition, which has been submitted to the council. Asked for a comment Gruchy stated, “My friends and I who surf the eastern suburbs beaches are being unfairly denied access to the ocean and I wanted to do something practical, legal and rational about it before things get out of control. If the police and council lifeguards are on the beach there’s no reason why they can’t manage safe, socially distanced access to the surf.”

The situation for Bondi swimmers and surfers became more tense and confusing after a long-time local was savagely man-handled by police last night as he attempted to go for a swim off an isolated rock ledge at North Bondi.    

Like everyone else in Australia surfers want to see a rapid end to the current crisis. However, in the process, they don’t deserve to be completely stripped of their civil liberties and treated like criminals by councils, police or vigilante elements.