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Everyone has a plan until they start lobbing stun grena...

South Africa

SURFING: LEVEL 3 Op-Ed

Everyone has a plan until they start lobbing stun grenades at you

(Illustrative image | Sources: Unsplash / Victoria-Palacios | Daily Maverick/Leila Dougan)

Cape St Francis, Eastern Cape, South Africa. A quiet little corner of nowhere with a fun right-hand point-break, an equally fun beach-break, and zealous cops throwing stun grenades at surfers.

A right-hand point-break is a wave that breaks from right to left, looking out to sea. It generally breaks over rocks, usually along a cape or headland, in a regular procession of waves, and is the most favoured sort of waves for surfers. A beachbreak, on the other hand, is just that, a wave that breaks at a beach. Usually predominantly sand. A beachbreak is the safest sort of wave and is currently part of the country’s beach closure regulations. 

Setting the scene:

It’s confusing. Today surfing is banned; tomorrow surfing is legal. Surfers are getting fines, surfers are getting arrested, surfers have permits if they are professional, surfers are getting friendly warnings. Surfers are getting let off the hook as cops are too busy, and the rest of the Covid-19 dramas drown out the drama of surfers and surfing. No one knows what is happening, to be honest. The only thing that is a certainty is that if the police get a phone call, they have to react. That’s their job.

Until recently there has been a mish-mash of proceedings in the Eastern Cape. This is mainly because there is so much going on. Some surfers were fined in the St Francis area and in JBay, some had their boards confiscated, and some found themselves in the charge office. Others were let off with a warning, while others had a blind eye turned as long as things were stable and not out of control. It was very much mutual respect going, with interaction and ongoing communications between the police and the public. Low key and with common sense prevailing. That is all that we want out of this repugnant situation really, just a smidgen of common sense prevailing. Well, let’s see how that turned out.

Social media:

Things were going quite swimmingly, so to speak, in Cape St Francis, with no snitching, no dramas and everyone being decent. Except for a few well-known exceptions, everyone minded their businesses. That was until a few TikTok videos like this started circulating. So much for beach closures.

 

@brandonvaljaloI thought all beaches were closed??♬ I want you to shut up – 🌻tegan marais🌻

In an unconfirmed rumour, a video, possibly this one or one like this, made its way to a local police forum meeting. Still live, and at 676k likes, the video has done well. However, the outcome of that police meeting would have been relatively poor for all involved, for obvious reasons. Following that meeting, the rumours were out that the shit was well and truly on the R300, and headed straight for the fan.

Yesterday, (5 January) at around noon, a local surfer Misha G went to the beach to look. It was pretty quiet and seemed relatively empty, so our friend Misha decided to go and mind-surf a few waves from the safety of his bakkie.

“It was small and onshore, and it looked quite good, so I thought I’d just go and have a look at what I was missing,” said Misha of his mission.

When the wind goes onshore, the waves get ruffled and affected by the wind. It’s not ideal for surfing, but one can still surf.

When he got there, he found the main surfer’s car park cordoned off by a police van. “It was a bigger van, like a 10-12 seater, and there were a few cars blocked off in the car park,” recalls Misha.

“About five or six cops were sitting on the beach by the surfer showers,” said Misha, and there were two standing in the car park. I saw one of the guys throw something that looked like a rock at the surfers, and I thought, ‘what are they doing? Why would a cop throw rocks at the surfers? That’s not going to work.’ ”

The “rock” landed about five metres shy of the water’s edge, with plenty of exposed rock due to the low tide. “It landed on the rocks, in line with the police sitting on the bench,” recalls Misha. 

Explosions

The first stun-grenade explosion shook his car. The second one which followed immediately afterwards he could feel in his chest. 

“It was this loud, booming explosion,” said Misha, “and it was pretty intimidating. It gave me a shock because I wasn’t expecting it; it was just such a surprise. I could feel the shock wave.”

With smoke in the air and with cops waving, the two surfers, an older guy and a younger guy started moving.

From Daily Maverick 2015: 

First developed for military use in the 1960s, stun grenades are designed to temporarily disorient their targets without causing severe physical harm. They accomplish this by releasing a flash so bright that it temporarily blinds those close by, and a bang so loud that it renders listeners deaf and off-balance. They are designed to split, rather than fragment, and are partially made of cardboard to minimise bodily harm.”

The SA Police’s new weapon of choice: The stun grenade

 While the beaches are closed, Cape St Francis is still a holiday town with young kids around. Older people were walking their dogs with their masks on and doing all the right Covid protocol stuff. The explosions saw people heading down to the beach in numbers to see what was going on in various agitation and distress levels. 

“It turned into a bit of a traffic jam, and then the cops started eyeing us out,” recalls Misha. “We all kinda dispersed, and I don’t even know what happened to the surfers. They headed down the point to get out, I’m sure.”

The thunder flashes video can be seen here, with some fine commentary from the legendary Mr Deon Bing:

 It’s easy to sprout the wisdom of common sense, and it is just as easy to lament the fact that our rules are abhorrent and asinine, but please don’t try and be a hero. Whether they have the authority to throw stun grenades around or not is another conversation. Regarding the beaches and surfers, the police are merely doing their jobs in trying to flatten the curve. There are no apparent vendettas involved. They are obeying their orders from above and doing what they have to do. Common sense, however, is most definitely not prevailing. 

If you must surf, it’s probably better to do it in the *dawnie, or the late evening surf. Don’t surf the point if it is “in the eyes”, rather surf one of the quieter beachbreak corners nearby. DM

 *A dawnie is the first session of the day. Surfers like to be in the water a few minutes before there is light. It is generally a ghastly hour, and there is no one around. A “point” is a wave breaking along the headland. It is “in the eyes” because it is usually the focal point of any beach set-up. 

Addendum

Here is South Africa’s version of Chariots Of Fire for a lighter side to the whole beach/surfing travesty. That cop in the front is #fasterthanCaster but needed a pacesetter. After a spirited attempt he agonisingly runs out steam at the finish, and the surfer gently trots away to freedom: https://fb.watch/2RxqRxUc-7/ 

Gallery

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All Comments 12

  • Yes the beaches are closed and the law says some activities cannot occur on them.
    But logic is lacking and easy confusion reigns. Common sense is not so ‘common’ either.
    One is allowed to fish from the beach, or rocks – if you have a permit.
    Thus one is also able to ‘spearfish’, which is listed on the fishing permit (block 2 on a permit). So your fishing permit technically and legally also covers spearfishing.
    Spearfishing is a form of fishing – so its done from the rocks or beach as well – usually with a mask, fins and wearing a wetsuit, and of course carrying a speargun instead of a fishing rod and reel. One enters the sea via a gully or swims through the waves – all legal if you have a permit – which is ticked-off for ‘spearfishing’.
    Surfing is not allowed, unless you are a professional and are in training or have a special permit. What about those who run surfing schools – its a business, can they not do business?
    Most surfers wear a wetsuit too – similar to spearfisher-persons, to be politically correct, and enter the sea off the beach, rocks, and in some places a pier. THEY ARE ‘FISHING’ TO CATCH WAVES.
    Kite-surfers do similar, trying to CATCH the breeze and ride a wave.
    Really Government Covid Command Council – try and be reasonable and sensible. Where does the variability in hazard and risk lie between these sea activities?
    The rules related to certain beach sports have no logic in terms of effectively controlling the spread of COVID19.
    If you wanted to seriously stop the spread, all inter-provincial travel should have been discouraged (or banned) for the December-January period, viz city to rural homestead holiday travel. This would have resulted in a revolt – we all know it as the traditions are strong. The same will happen at Easter – massive city to rural homestead travel. The next set of WAVES is still to arrive when the millions return to the cities and towns from the rural areas and neighbouring countries – ‘surfing the highways’. The most healthiest place for them to go when they get back to the coastal cities, would be to the beach for some good exercise, fresh sea air and sunshine.
    ‘The mind of a fool is like a broken pot it will hold no wisdom’. ~African Proverb

    • I don’t think an interprovincial travel ban was ever on the cards for December break. As effective as it was it could be, it would be incredibly unpopular – Gauteng empties for 3 weeks of the year for a reason. I fully agree that returning holidaymakers will surely see our infections rise in the coming weeks, along with people returning from their bubbles to their workplaces.

      Failing that option, I’ll begrudgingly admit that the beach bans have probably been the most effective Covid prevention measure. the superspreader new years day type crowds would have put our infections through the roof. One person on a beach, is not a problem, nor is ten or even a hundred. Is a thousand too many? There was no mechanism to draw this line effectively so it was set at one. I live right by the beach, so it has affected me in a big way, but it will always be there. I feel for the inland people who get an annual beachpass that was invalid this year.

  • The sensible thing would be to ban gatherings, even sitting on the beach, in other words you cannot take your chair, gazebo, and family and go spend the day on the beach, but allow surfers, Surf Ski’s, divers, swimmers etc to go into the water under the understanding that they need to vacate the beach area when they come out the water.

    • Great in theory, and I’m sure this option could well have been discussed. But all of a sudden everyone is a surfer/swimmer now. so good luck lifesavers. Now we’d need to allocate large resources policing all the beaches now. it’s just way easier to police an empty beach.

    • The problem apparently is that SA COVID enforcement does not know the difference between beach and ocean. The beaches will still always be safer than the corner restaurant or the shopping mall (or my neighbour’s lounge), but let’s accept and respect that the beaches are forbidden…but good grief, no-one should ever try to enforce a ban on the ocean and the swimmers or craft that travel on it. Detrimental, counter-productive, lacking completely in any common sense!

  • There is no denial that SA has a Covid crises, we are not alone in the world. The purpose of the regulations are to limit the spread of the disease. I totally understand the objective. Sure, break up gatherings, ask people to move along… but when authorities start wasting resources and employing aggro para military tactics on situations where there are clearly zero risks of further infection or compromising the program, tossing stun grenades, deploying helicopters to chase a kite surfer hundreds of meters out to sea, sending rubber boats into the wave line, there is clearly an element of vengeance being applied to what are healthy, adventurous free spirits who are simply addicted to their sport. Why not make cyclists carry a 3m horizontal bar when they ride. Its that stupid. Bizarre.

  • Here’s a novel idea: how about we all behave as though there is a global viral pandemic on the go. If you want ‘logic’ and ‘common sense’ begin there. Then the question of whether it is permissable to throw stun grenades is moot since there will be no one to throw them at.

    • Couldn’t agree more: let’s realise there is a killer virus on the hunt… Let’s stay away from crowds and closed in places…let’s go somewhere that there are no people and zero close-up interaction. Oh and we are instructed to keep exercising (even with covid19) and keeping the blood and lungs going. So maybe you can help me out here Craig: where can we find this outdoor, quiet, safe place to go exercise with no chance of close interaction…??

  • The government should follow the science – whether it be health science or social or economic. The reality is we now understand with good evidence that transmission is almost overwhelmingly occurring in ENCLOSED spaces. It is hardly ever occurring outdoors and when it does it is in exceptional circumstances – like the middle of winter with no air movement where a large group of people is congregated very close together and singing at the top of their voices or shouting. Transmission is not occurring in the ocean and I doubt there is any evidence anywhere globally of transmission linked to an activity on the beach. Maybe in bars or restaurants adjacent to the beach but not on the beach.

    Just to summarise three landmark studies on this: a study in China examined 318 cluster outbreaks – it as found all of them apart from one occurred in an enclosed environment. Another study in Japan found the risk of transmission was 18 times higher in an indoor environment than outdoors. Another study found sunlight at around 40 degrees latitude (weaker than the SA sun in summer) inactivated the virus outdoors in as little as 7 to 10 minutes.

    There is almost no transmission on a beach and none in the ocean. Someone would need to be literally right in your face and cough or shout to possibly transmit it on the beach. This could happen if there was a huge group of drunk people on top of each other on the beach.

    The issues is large groups of people being transported in buses and taxis to the beach and huge crowds congregating. Ban this and enforce it with large fines. It’s surely much more efficient for the police to enforce this than running around chasing a few surfers along sometimes quite remote sections of coast. Its a waste of resources. People are stressed and the government should be finding safe ways to allow people to get outdoors and enjoy themselves. The superspreader events are weddings. funerals, religious events like church meetings indoors, schools possibly etc. They are not a few people sitting on the beach and certainly not any activity taking place in the ocean.

    Open up the coastline and ban groups of more than lets say 8 people congregating.

    People found responsible for organizing large congregations of people in any setting should be handed a large fine.

    The government should be crafting rules to open up sidewalks, taking over roads and forcing restaurants and public services to get people to sit outside and not indoors. Use the police to educate and enforce this and not waste resources on them running around after surfers and kitesurfers etc

      • Rob I think it needs to go through SASOC, SSA and sports bodies – individuals lobbying government are a waste of time. I think sports organizations may be doing this in the background but do worry the science is not expressed clearly enough. Certain sports obviously have much much greater lobbying power than others

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