SANTA CRUZ, Calif. (KRON) — Surfing is officially against the law in Surf City after Santa Cruz County’s new COVID-19 public health order went into effect Thursday.
The surfing ban is slated to last through April 15, however, city officials told KRON4 that it may be extended.
No one is allowed to enter the ocean for any water sports, so for the first time in decades, glassy waves along the west side were empty for hours at low tide Thursday afternoon, without a surfer in sight. While no one was wearing a wetsuit, there were half a dozen law enforcement officers in Santa Cruz Police Department and state parks uniforms. Bright yellow crime scene tape blocked off access to world-famous Steamer Lane, as well as other popular surf spots including Cowells and Indicators.
Anyone caught surfing will potentially face a big bummer: A $1,000 citation. The surfing ban is being enforced by lifeguards and law enforcement officers on jet skis.
The biggest problem for public health officials, surfers, and law enforcement, alike right now is: No one really knows how COVID-19 spreads between people in salt water. The Los Angeles Times recently published an article on this debate, but the study cited has not yet been peer-reviewed, Santa Cruz officials told KRON4.
Can COVID-19 spread during a party wave, or wipe out? The virus is new — it first appeared in late 2019 — so virologists, microbiologists, and other infectious disease experts have not had enough time to definitely determine those answers.
What they do know is, COVID-19 is extremely contagious.
Santa Cruz Police Chief Andy Mills said the city and county will not put public health at risk during the coronavirus outbreak.
“We don’t want this disease to spread further than it needs to be,” Mills told KRON4.
“We don’t want people in the water. Often times, it’s hard to control your board for some people. You end up crashing with other people or dropping in on people who are trying to catch a wave. It’s not a good spot for people to be right now. We felt it was best to shut down all surfing,” the police chief said.
“If people still choose to go out in the water, they are going to get citations. And the citations are about $1,000 bucks. You have to calculate, is my surf session worth that much money? I don’t think so,” Mills said.
On Thursday afternoon, one teenage boy on his bicycle watched the empty breaking waves from behind the crime tape. For many in Santa Cruz, surfing is their passion.
A professional big wave surfer who has surfed the west side his entire life, Darryl “Flea” Virostko, said the water is ban is tough for everyone. “But we are all in this together,” he said.
Mills said he knows why people live in Santa Cruz. It’s to enjoy nature’s beauty through surfing, hiking, and biking. He stressed that the longer we stay in inside, maintain social distancing, and stop COVID-19, the sooner Santa Cruzans and the entire Bay Area can get back to catching waves.
Santa Cruz County’s advisory about the new order is below:
“Santa Cruz County Health Officer Dr. Gail Newel has issued a new order closing parks
and beaches throughout Santa Cruz County beginning 11:59 p.m. on April 8th, 2020
through 11:59 p.m. on April 15th, 2020, a period which includes Easter weekend and
much of Passover. Issued under California Health and Safety Code §120295, the order is necessary to
reduce the public health and safety threat from novel coronavirus, or COVID-19, due to
crowding in recreational spaces throughout Santa Cruz County. Any violation of the
order is a misdemeanor punishable by citation or arrest, with fines of $1,000 possible.
‘While the vast majority of Santa Cruz County residents are staying home and following
the direction of the County Health Officer, unfortunately some visitors and community
members are treating this extraordinary crisis as a holiday,’ Sheriff Jim Hart said. ‘We are
at a critical moment in our efforts to reduce the impacts of COVID-19, and we need to
make sure we’re doing everything we can to halt the spread of this disease.’
The order prohibits surfing in Santa Cruz County until April 16th. While playground equipment was closed by a prior order, the new order impacts dog parks, skate parks, disc golf courses, and basketball, tennis, pickleball, or other recreational courts.
Public safety personnel throughout Santa Cruz County will work collaboratively to
ensure compliance with the Order through patrols and engagement with community
members. For local information on COVID-19, go to www.santacruzhealth.org/coronavirus, call
211 or text “COVID19” to 211211. Residents may also call (831) 454-4242 between the
hours of 8 a.m. and 6 p.m., seven days a week.”