Surf Cowgirl Chronicles 7: Shelter in Place Surfing

The author, sheltering in place

“Forbearance in the face of fate, beauty constant under torture, are not merely passive. They are a positive achievement, an explicit triumph.” ~ Thomas Mann

Your mental health depends on surfing?

So does mine.

Your favorite break is empty because everyone is sheltering at home?

So is mine.

Let’s talk about why it’s important as surfers to form an alliance to shelter in place, and what you can do to ease the discomfort of not paddling out. There have been divisive arguments about this, and I’d like to set my rail right here, against my ottoman.

This is why you need to stay out of the water, and how to stay stoked.

Stuck Couch Surfing? Let’s Talk About the Lives You’re Saving!

The best movie is the one you’re alive to see

You’re joining a global community of irritated, bored, exasperated shelter surfers ( #sheltersurfer ), because you’re smart!

Smart people plan for prevention, then preparedness. (My friend Gavin de Becker — the world’s leading expert on violence prediction and prevention has a little joke about this that goes, “Want to never get bitten by a shark? Here are 5 words for your safety: Stay out of the water.”)

Scientists are weighing in on the dangers of the beach right now. To quote a recent L.A. Times article on the dangers of the beach during COVID-19: “Kim Prather, a leading atmospheric chemist at the Scripps Institute of Oceanography, wants to yell out her window at every surfer, runner, and biker she spots along the San Diego coast.

‘I wouldn’t go in the water if you paid me $1 million right now,’ she said.”

This is because sea spray can pick up the coronavirus and spread it even farther. The risk isn’t worth it.

Surfing is one of the world’s most dangerous sports. To surf is to know the exhilaration of danger, but also the pain of danger, spelled out in stories on your body: scars, slashes, mended bones and more. Ask any surfer to tell you their worst horror story and you’ll need to allow for 20 minutes of harrowing, death-defying detail.

Let me put it this way:

Recently, a dear surfer friend shared that she always wears a one piece swimsuit under her wetsuit. “Why bother?” I asked. She was happy to explain her logic, “So as the lifeguards cut my wetsuit off when they rush me to the E.R. I’m not naked!”


When. Not if.

courtesy of Offshore Winds

So while we love the beauty of surfing, and the magic of stepping into liquid, now may be a good time to remember the shadow of that wave.

Yesterday I saw a kid, pimple faced and eager with his short board tucked under his arm, huffing across Hwy 101 in Encinitas on his way to the break at Pipes. A beach which is closed right now as police hand out $1000 fines to anyone who ignores the shelter in place order.

He ducked the yellow tape, cleverly avoiding the fuzz.

This kid thinks he needs to surf, or he’ll go crazy. The world is closed, so why not get in the water? I know I feel that way. You probably feel that way. But here’s the what-if scenario of why you and I are both smarter than that kid.

Let’s say he gets a few sweet rides in, but then wipes out and hits the rocks at high tide. He’s fine, just stone bruised, but as he comes up in the foam for a breath, his surfboard strikes him in the neck. Just a fin blow, maybe a small gash, but as he raises his hand to his neck, the blood flows over his hand, his wetsuit, his arm. He struggles out of the water, losing blood fast. His board hit him in the jugular. (This happened to my neighbor, Chris, so it’s a real life scenario.)

The lifeguards in the area are off duty due to COVID-19 shelter in place rules, besides 4 of them already reportedly have the virus, so no one is there to see the boy. He ditches his board, struggles up to the parking lot, and the very police he was avoiding are now the only people available to save his life. They stop everything, grab whatever supplies they have on them to stop the bleeding, and call an ambulance.

An ambulance full of EMTs is re-routed to the beach. This is life or death. These health care workers that were tasked with saving the lives of those afflicted with the COVID-19 virus are now saving the life of a healthy teenager. A surfer who shouldn’t have been in the water in the first place.

The boy is given priority in the E.R. because of the nature of his injury, and he needs a surgeon and 3 nurses, the immediate attention of the staff who check him in, a hospital bed and, and, and…AND.

All of those resources and health care workers that are working back-to-back shifts to combat the spread of COVID-19, treat patients who have the virus, and save the lives of the people who are infected are now used by a boy who thought it was fine for him to go surfing.

Someone — a grandmother, an uncle, a child — will not get the bed they need, or the care, or the ventilator in time to survive. Someone may even die.

Or the boy may contract the virus, because he’s now been exposed. And what of his family?

So if you think that it’s the perfect time to get those empty break photos… think again. And please, I’m pleading with you now, on behalf of law enforcement, doctors, nurses, healthcare workers, and the people who are struggling for their lives — some of whom will LOSE their lives — against the COVID-19 coronavirus, stay t.f. home.

Still with me? Great news! You just saved lives, including potentially your own. So now let’s talk mental health.

Surviving the Mental Health Challenge of Dry Land

Your couch or mine? #sheltersurfer

“My soul is full of longing for the secret of the sea, and the heart of the great ocean sends a thrilling pulse through me.” ~ Longfellow

Congratulations! You’ve made the right decision, you’re staying home. But now you’re faced with the isolation of sheltering in place, along with the awful anxiety of a global pandemic surging through your veins. Here’s some great news:

Mirror neurons = stoke.

When you watch surfers on a wave, your mirror neurons will fire and you’ll feel a little bit of that glide in your soul. Your mirror neurons are the part of your brain that can immediately and instinctively grasp what others are feeling.

Trust me when I say it works!

Whether you’re dealing with anxiety, depression, the perils of addiction, isolation, watching waves is good for your soul. It may not replace a good Rx or take the place of a much-needed call with your therapist, but the sea is still just a click away. (Even if you don’t surf.)

So where can you find some waves right now during our worldwide quarantine?

  1. The World Surf League has a Youtube channel that you can watch for free. I recommend the series Transformed. Even if you’re not a surfer, this series has it all: meaningful stories, diversity, gender-parity, gorgeous waves, faraway lands, the mystique of surfing in its finest.
  2. For women, the club I love and belong to is San Diego Surf Ladies. Don’t let the name make you think it’s limited by borders of any kind. This female-led-female inspired group of shredders and wave dancers will inspire your soul! And the group is a great place to find surf news, films, shorts, apparel, surf trip advice and gear. Be sure to check out their Instagram here.
  3. Some inspiring Instagram surf accounts to follow include: Kelis Kaleopaa , Mick Fanning , Ishita Malaviya , Tara Ruttenberg of Taratula Surf , Surfer Films , Camille Cunningham , Brown Girl Surf , World Surf League , Christian Marcher and Progressive Surf Academy (feel free to leave your faves in the comments below!)
  4. Classic surf films never go out of style. The stoke from every generation gets handed down. I first saw Endless Summer in my 9th grade history class, thanks to teacher Darryl Stolper at Paul Revere, and my surf film appreciation has only grown! We need more films about female surfers, so that’s what I’m planning next in my own film career. Want to catch some great waves during your quarantine? Check out the list of surf films here, including the classics.
Share the sofa stoke!

Please join the sofa alliance and share your shelter in place surfer pic using the hashtag #sheltersurfer and tag me and a friend!

Thanks for reading. I love conversation, so stay in touch via Twitter @thisiskaia or my website

~ Kaia Alexander

Cowgirl Surf Chronicles is proudly brought to you by filmmaker, novelist, entrepreneur Kaia Alexander.

You can find Kaia at

Watch the trailer of my new documentary short, Chalice: Wise Women Rise here:

National Suicide Prevention Lifeline: 1–800–273-TALK (8255)



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