Gov Newsom shutters OC beaches; surfers say nein!
It felt strange to be stuck in traffic again. I hadn’t seen brake lights in front of me in so long it was disorienting.
Then I saw and the red hats, the American flags, a huge sign in the bed of a raised truck, “Trump 2020, no more bullshit.”
All of them going the same place I was, Main Street, Huntington Beach, USA, USA, USA!
A month ago, or was it, two, or twenty, the mayor of Los Angeles, Eric Garcetti, closed the beaches.
So I became one of the bad people, escaping the lockdown three, four, sometimes five times a week by driving through the quiet streets of Inglewood and onto the 405 south. The journey, which normally took an an hour or two was suddenly managed in a breezy thirty minutes.
And the pillowy bosom of good old HB welcomed me with fun three-to-four-foot surf nearly every time.
Because, until Monday, the stretch from Surfside to Newport was literally the only stretch of sand anyone could legally touch in the two hundred miles from Oxnard to Imperial Beach.
All because of a pesky virus that’s killed 240,000 people across the globe.
When California’s governor Gavin Newsom issued a stay at home order on March 19 I was honestly scared. Apocalyptic scenes of sickness and death from Italy, Spain and then New York played out on television and social media every day.
It was only a matter of time before the same thing started happening in America’s most populous state, right? Overflowing hospitals, ventilator shortages, mass graves.
It would all be here soon.
What was I thinking going surfing, especially driving to another county to go surfing? The selfishness, horror, the shame.
I’d park my car a few blocks away from Main Street, keep my head low as I ran across PCH and hope that Kim Prather a UCSD scientist endlessly quoted by the press when she hypothesized that the virus could be easily spread by sea spray, was wrong.
When Trestles was shuttered in early April, all star crew often headlined by Kolohe Andino, Yadin Nicol and the brothers Colapinto were seen shredding next to the HB pier alongside Brett Simpson and Kanoa Igarashi. Springtime HB, never to be confused with world class waves, was suddenly Surf City once more – the new North Shore.
After I surfed, I was usually hungry, so would head to the safest place I could think of to eat, Little Saigon.
Why there? Vietnam shares a border with China, but COVID-19 was no match for the iron will and organizational might of the Vietnamese people.
To date: 270 infections, 0 deaths. Charlie crushed the virus like a bug.
You go north to get to Little Saigon from HB. You pass by the Huntington Valley Healthcare Center, a nursing home where over a hundred poor souls are currently battling the virus.
The toll in this one facility accounts for almost half the infections in all of Huntington Beach, a city of 200,000.
My lunch spot is tucked inside the Mall of Fortune in Garden Grove.
I hear the boom, boom, boom baseline of Nancy Sinatra’s These Boots Were Made for Walking in my head every time I pull inside the parking lot. The virus isn’t getting anywhere near this joint. The cooks are suited up head to toe in PPE, gloves, masks, hats, the works. A glass wall separates me from the cashier. A two-gallon jug of hand sanitizer sits at the ready next to the credit card reader. I self-pay, the cashier places my order on a table and never comes within fifteen feet of me. I eat in my car and go home.
It was a nice little program.
I stayed healthy and quietly enjoyed it until I started see alarming messages on my instagram on Wednesday night. “Newsom to close all beaches in California tomorrow,” they said.
Thursday I woke up thinking that it was my last day to surf so of course that’s what I did.
Then the cracks in the wall started showing. The San Diego City Council had just instituted a sensible policy allowing for surfing and active recreation on beaches but no sitting allowed. They’d left their full beach ban behind and weren’t going back.
But HB and Newport?
They’d committed the cardinal sin of embarrassing Newsom by drawing summer type crowds on over the weekend.
Does it matter that not a single case of COVID-19 infection can be traced to the ocean or a beach?
Newsom was mad dad and needed to punish his wayward children.
Starting Friday he decreed, all OC beaches will be closed indefinitely.
I soon saw a “Defend your rights, storm HB Pier Saturday May 2” insty story.
Shit, this could get interesting.
A pack of surfers running past police to claim public stretch of ocean?
Like D-Day in reverse.
HB wasn’t having it.
The City Council voted to block Newsom’s order in an emergency late-night session Thursday.
Mayor Lyn Semeta said, “Our experience here locally has been that most people are being responsible and complying with social distancing, and given that Orange County has among the lowest per capita COVID-19 death rates in California, the state’s action today seems to prioritize politics over data.”
OC Sheriff Don Barnes went even further. He flatly refused to enforce Newsom’s shutdown order.
So that was the stage for today’s rally against the Gov today in Surf City. A motley crew had assembled on Main Street, Trump supporters, anti vaxxers, 5G truthers, Q Anon followers and the rest of us who just want to be free to go the beach.
I wore a mask, looked at the ground and tried not to breathe as I crossed PCH today amidst a sea of unprotected humanity standing shoulder to shoulder fighting for their right to party.
I couldn’t see the virus, but I know it was there.
A phalanx of police on horseback and on foot stood guard in front of the pier. A friendly cop explained the situation to anyone who asked.
“Yes, the beach is closed, but we’re only asking for voluntary compliance. No, we’re not going to arrest you if you go on the beach.”
It was a protest with no speakers and no formal agenda other than giving Newsom the finger.
I wonder how many of these angry people would want to live in a state like New York that waited too long to shut down and now has the highest numbers of COVID infection and death in the world.
Or would they prefer to be in Georgia where the head of state deemed tattoo and massage parlors to be essential businesses?
Newsom will probably watch this HB happening and think, “How many of you fuckers would be dead now if I hadn’t been the first to shut it all down?”
The whole thing started to feel ugly and weird.
I didn’t want to feel like I’m joining forces with this crowd just because I want to be able to surf. I positioned myself next to the entrance to Duke’s, thirty-feet upwind from the throng.
Was I safer there? When the virus gets carried in the breeze, does it only go in one direction?
Someone asked the friendly cop what would happen if the everyone rushed the beach at the same time.
“Then we’ll have a problem,” he said.
The mood was aimless, restless, twitchy. I started feeling some Dealey Plaza vibes on Main Street.
John Birch Society types coming out to play for the first time in many moons.
Is there a little guy with a rifle in the clock tower above Jack’s?
Who is that shadowy figure on the grassy knoll above the parking lot?
Are they the virus? Or are we?
I had to get out to there. I walked back to my car. Put on my wetsuit and slipped past the police cars stationed on the mostly empty beach without looking back. No one stopped me. The spring sun was warm and the waves looked sparkly and fun. Only one other guy was out on the south side of the pier.
Surfing was still allowed.
I padded out and a big OC County lifeguard boat pulled up next to us.
I thought the blonde guy at the wheel was going to tell us we had to go in.
“Sorry bros, Newsom’s orders.”
That kind of thing.
But he didn’t.
He smiled, waved us a shaka and sped away.
I got a whiff of that familiar gasoline smell from his boat as the onshore wind carried it my way.
Smelled like victory.