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Well, it looks like the three-week coronavirus lockdown for the UK is about to be extended. There's no official word yet but it's best to brace yourself for that info dropping over the next few days.
When it comes to surfing, there has been some conflicting information for the South West of England. Devon and Cornwall police said it is ok to drive a reasonable distance to the beach last week – this was hastily clarified and retracted the following day. And sure, you're allowed out for your one form of exercise a day – but just because you can walk to the beach, should you get in the sea?
It's questions we've all been asking, so we tapped up the RNLI in the UK to get their official take on the situation. “Is there going to be anyone else who can call for help? It's not just your ability to surf, it's people around you. Think about the impact on others,” says Steve Instance, a surfer and the RNLI's water safety lead.
And if Michel Bourez can miss one of the best swells of the season at Teahupoo in order to beat this thing, despite living there and not being under lockdown, then can we all skip a few weeks? There's myriad reasons the RNLI think people shouldn’t (not mustn't) be in the water right now, as Steve lays out below.
What's the RNLI's spin on things at the moment?
In terms of the driving, that's for the police or government to make a stance on. What I can say, first of all, their stance is very clear, stay home, protect the NHS, save lives. You can't get clearer than that.
You're allowed outside for one form of exercise. But because there are no lifeguards on any of our region's beaches, we don't recommend that that exercise is in the sea.
If you're considering visiting the coast for any reason, walking there, consider the impact of what you're doing on other people. Our emergency services are already stretched and if you need to dial 999 and call the coastguard, we're fully stretched at the moment.
Lifeboat crews want to maintain a full service. But you are putting them at risk because they have no choice other than to gather in the small confines of a lifeboat, or the station, or coastguard vehicle. Please be really considerate about what you're planning to do.
I see the sea, 4-5ft, perfect, clean surf coming in. Offshore wind, blue sky, and I'm mowing the lawn and that is just something we have to do. This isn't going to last forever
I see the sea, 4-5ft, perfect, clean surf coming in. Offshore wind, blue sky, and I'm mowing the lawn and that is just something we have to do. This isn't going to last forever.
Unfortunately, we have seen the best weather and this week, there's even more risk for us. Our normal shouts aren't to surfers but to beach walkers getting cut off by the tide and we've got some massive tides coming up this week.
We're really quite nervous about people, not intentionally putting themselves at risk, but taking their dog for a walk across the beach is riskier now than it ever has been.
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For anyone feeling a little more stressed, worried or anxious at the moment let me offer you some advice and a technique that I have had great success with and have used for years in stressful competitive situations or new goals and challenges. This technique always helps me to remain calm and centre myself, silencing any negative mindless chatter that ultimately always leads to an anxious state, reminding me that I am not my mind it’s thoughts and ultimately the feelings and emotions that arise from that state. This practice reminds me that there is a better place to be present in and just watch from. Then from this calmer perspective choose to take action or not. Hopefully within just a few minutes you will feel centred calm and relaxed with better clarity of thought and renewed positive energy. I would also like to add that this is a very quick and simplified version of my practice to get you started, there are many variations out there and I really recommend anyone that feels any benefits to keep practicing and start their own insightful journey. Ok so let’s begin, find a comfy quiet safe environment, headphones or earplugs are useful. Eyes closed or better still cover them with an eye mask or something similar. With one hand on your stomach inhale filling the stomach (not into the chest) all the way in lifting the diaphragm and expanding the ribcage, filling the lungs and let go. Focus and listen to the sound of the outward breath. Again fully in and let go. Nice and slow nice and relaxed. Don’t worry about thoughts or noises around you if you start thinking about something just carry on with the breathing and bring your attention back to the sound of the outward breath. Do this for ten breaths and on the final outward breath all the way out and hold. Now in this silent place just sit and observe. How do you feel? What has changed? When you need to breath, fully in and hold for a few seconds or longer if comfortable. Again observe how your feeling? What has changed? Continue this cycle. And that’s it very simple very quick you can do one cycle of ten breaths or more. Use this technique, take your time and your own unique way of doing this will develop. X
That's a great point. I've seen recently about some studies about the coronavirus and its spread over water. I guess there's now the added factor that you could get into some other difficulty in the water or while out?
Yeah, there are fewer people to spot you around the coastline, if you get into difficulty. No coastguards. Think of it this way, lifeboat crews usually rush down to the station, get changed and launch as quick as you can.
Now, you have to attend, stay at a self distance, wait for the helm to turn up, who will say 'stay where you are, let's look at the plan, do we need any protective equipment?
In that case, for this job, I will take you, you and you', and the launch process is slowed down significantly. We've got to keep our people safe, too. That may have an impact.
We're saying you should not go in
Most surfers are confident in their own ability. But it's safe to say that just about every surfers has helped someone else at a different time.
And it's that sort of thing, will there be someone there to help that person? Is there going to be anyone else who can call for help at that time. It's not just your ability to surf, it's people around you. Think about the impact on others.
Any particular area that's been busy on the beaches at the moment?
I've heard a few spots on the south coast of Cornwall are bad at the moment. Local people are not surfing, the car park is closed but cars are driving there, dumped everywhere and packing the beaches.
You're a surfer as well, right?
Yeah, I've been around for a few years [laughs]. Lifeguarded at Poldhu, Praa Sands but mostly Portreath and Porthtowan.
How was it at those locations before pre-lockdown and a few days after?
Yeah, lots of people still going to the beach but the message caught on a few days after and people started to stay away.
There's only two people in right now, which, for a day like today, you'd usually see a lot more in. So people are listening.
Is there a message you'd like to add for people who are thinking about surfing?
We're saying you should not go in.
I think as surfers, we identify with the RNLI more than anyone else. And that's a clear message.
Cover shot of Newquay's Fistral Beach by Paddy Lovatt.