EXCLUSIVE: Life Under Lockdown as Surfing Banned in Portugal, Spain, Italy Due to Coronavirus

Jason Lock

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Updated 1160d ago

This Covid-19 sure is a piece of work. In some ways, Coronavirus is going to impact your life and maybe even your livelihood – whether that's just hearing about it on your daily commute, or taking a more severe toll, this thing isn't going anywhere soon.

A few weeks ago, we asked a cross-section of surfers if they were concerned about coronavirus and the response was kinda nonchalant. But, as the nature of this all develops, so too has people's opinions (see that article HERE).

You'd have thought an escape to the ocean would be ok, but in some countries across Europe, going to the beach has been restricted -- which means surfing is off the cards for the foreseeable. Also, Spain, France and Italy are in total lockdown with people forced indoors until early April, while the virus runs its course.

Roberto D'Amico dropped this last week.

Life without surfing sucks, but keep one eye on the charts and the other on the back door, HERE

Portugal's government has advised people to self-isolate if they have symptoms, though there is no mandatory shut down yet. Beaches around Porto are totally closed, though, and you cannot be in the water. Everywhere else, you are allowed in alone. But when have you ever had a solo session in recent times? Officially, it's any gathering at the beach with more than five people is forbidden. The details around other locales is fuzzy but the message is clear; no surfing, for now anyway.

In light of that, we checked in with the likes of Natxo Gonzalez, Kepa Acero, Jon Bakio (all in the Basque Country) and Nik Zanella (who penned this exclusive piece for MSW about life in China under the coronavirus. Nik's since shifted to Italy) Nic Von Rupp (slab hunter stuck at home in Portugal) and Roberto D'Amico (also Italy, who dropped the above edit under lockdown) to get their low down on life as a surfers under imposed isolation.

And you know what? Nik Zanella may just be the world's most unlucky surfer. Having left his workplace in China, the widely-regarded birthplace of the pandemic, to return to his home country of Italy, which became the European boom of coronavirus - it's really starting to feel like there's a personal vendetta here.

So far, Nik's managed to give the virus the slip, but he is urging caution in these times. I ask what the vibe is like in Italy right now: “Too hectic too late,” he says. “I arrived in Italy on February 14 through Russia because all direct flights were cancelled since January 30. Everyone was taking it extremely easy. I called my doctor and he told me to contact him if I had symptoms.

“Back then I was laughed at for wearing a mask in shops, people even refused masks I was giving away as gifts. I’m happy they refused them because I’m almost out of them and have a stock of 30 that my wife Yang Li sent from the US and it is taking forever to get them through customs.

“Anyway in February I self quarantined (that was up to me, not that I had to) but I was craving for a surf after being locked in Beijing and not having surfed for a full month, so I went a few times here in Ravenna on the east coast of Italy.

Empty and fun-sized. This is Italy just before lock down.

Empty and fun-sized. This is Italy just before lock down.

© 2023 - Nik Zanella.

“Then on Feb 21, Italy also realised the situation was serious so the police called me, put me in touch with the hospital and forced me into ‘fiduciary isolation’ at home, till Feb 28 (that’s 15 days after my return). Now last week the safety measures finally got raised to more serious standards and we are asked to stay home and limit interpersonal contact.”

I ask about the isolation and whether that means no surfing. “Yes and no,” says Nik. “First of all, the Italian ban is not specific to surfing and not clear at all in terms of what you can actually do outdoors.

“Walking the dog is ok, running (without using a car to go to the park or place you want to run) is ok, and there's a specific ban on beaches, piers and docks because two weekends ago people (including myself) flocked to the beaches for what they suspected would have been their last sunny days of outdoor life.

“Now, people have been fined by the thousands for riding a bicycle without a valid reason and SUPing has been stopped too. When you get fined you pay 209 euro and then it goes on your record, it's not like burning a red light.

“For example I work in China and I could not legally work with that on my record, it messes up with your freedoms so I don’t want to test the flexibility of the law. Some guys here on the east coast went surfing yesterday but I don't know if they got caught or not. I surely don’t encourage that.

“Yesterday I opened a FB page called ‘COVID DONT SURF’ to share our experience as surfers. It’s very sad to see people writing it off as ‘just a flu’ or ‘it just kills elderly’ - most legends of our sports are over 70 right? Without them we lose our heritage. Surfing is all I do, all I think and all I have done for the past 35 years, it was and still is the epicentre of my life and all of a sudden I realise it really is a very small and insignificant activity compared to the disaster we are facing.” I realise it really is a very small and insignificant activity compared to the disaster we are facing

And how long will these measures be in place? “The government is apparently willing to implement this new measure until April 3 but frankly, I don't see it getting any better in this short span of time.

“I don’t know when I'll be surfing again and  this drives me crazy. I was used to 200 days of surf per year living in Hainan and now I’m like a junky without his fix. I hate working out, I just surf and SUP when it's flat.

“So I’m gaining weight and last time I surfed, last week, I felt like a bear fresh out of hibernation for how stiff I was. And I have those weird dreams where I get to the beach, my spot is head-high and offshore but my board has no fins, typical drug addict dreams. Without my dose I become moody.

“But I feel selfish just by mentioning it. I feel quite stupid and superficial speaking about surfing in this tragic situation. It may be that I’m scared and I've been locked-in already three times and I frankly don’t see the light out of the barrel yet.

“I don't know when I’ll see my wife and kid and my mum is 74 and had a lung surgery last year, so she’s just in target and I’m very needed here and now. But I can't wait for this to finish. And I’m more scared in Europe than I was in China.” And I’m more scared in Europe than I was in China

A state of emergency was officially declared in Spain on Saturday which ordered the closure of bars, restaurants, cafes, football grounds and cinema with residents only allowed out to buy food and medicine or travel to work, health centres or banks – which of course means no surfing.

I hit up Basque Country warrior and globe trotting slab hunter Natxo Gonzalez to get his spin on it. “No we are not going surfing now,” he says. “The police are on the streets trying to stop surfers going out. It's going to be pumping this week and empty! [laughs]. We are at home just going out to the supermarket and nothing else.

“It's a shit thing, but the world is like that though and we have to respect it. And well, we [Natxo and lensman Jon Bakio] have been working on a new project that's dropping soon. It's a perfect time to work on a computer.”

“This is a kind of mad nightmare,” adds Jon. “Quarantine for more than 15 days, minimum. Lockdown at home, even in small towns, with police controlling everything with several fines. Surf is forbidden, beaches closed, let's hope something happens safe and as quickly as possible.

“Thursday, Mundaka will be pumping...and empty! Fines from 1,500 to 6,000 euros mad. This is our second day of quarantine and today is onshore and rainy but that is going to change tomorrow. I don't know how we are going to make it [nervous laugh].”

WATCH Mundaka live HERE

Jon sent this through....policing the beaches.

Jon sent this through....policing the beaches.

Kepa Acero, the world's favourite and most humble nomad told MSW today: “I'm locked at home and things are pretty heavy. I never expected things were going to be like this. At least in my hometown, there's no one in the streets.

“If they catch you, running, walking around, you have to justify what you're doing of course, you can't go surfing. There's fines of 600 euros to 30,000 euros and they can put you in jail.

“I'm going crazy at home! But I guess it's something everybody has to do right now. The sooner we stop this, the sooner will go back to – well, maybe not normal but back to work.”

After asking how Kepa is keeping sane, he shoots through this. Anything good on Netflix?

After asking how Kepa is keeping sane, he shoots through this. Anything good on Netflix? "I am watching all the films of Kirk Douglas right now on Rakuten and also, Charlie Chaplin ones. Just watched The Gold Rush today, great message for these days."

Over in Portugal, restrictions to some beaches are in full force and the country's greatest slab hunter, Nic Von Rupp is in self-isolation. "It's advised by the government but not obligatory," he tells MSW. "But I guess everyone here in Portugal is taking their own actions. I started to feel a bit sick so decided to do what I thought was best. Trying to learn from the mistakes of others. Trying to take this as serious as I can.

"People are surfing, but the beaches are forbidden at the moment. I'm sure people will be getting in at some point, no one knows if there's a punishment for surfing. I haven't tried to in the past five days. Think we will be in quarantine for at least a month, maybe even until June. It took China three months and it's going to take less civilised places - well, where people are more reckless, it'll take longer. I don't have any travel plans for the next couple of months, that's for sure."

“I've been quarantined for one week already,” says Roberto D'Amico in Italy. “There are no waves at the moment but, even if there were waves I’m not allowed to get out of my house. And even if there were, the lineup would be like the roads...empty. We think this will be in place until April 3. Because most of the people have to get in the car and look for the right spot and once you park we are all in one place pretty much and this is not possible at the moment. I live in front of the sea, I want to get more information in case of waves so I can go if I need to.

“I was supposed to be in Israel now and then Portugal with the following QS events. Once this is done I can’t wait to go get barrelled somewhere. It’s been a great winter here but now the season is over, I don’t think there will be much till October.”

I ask how he's keeping sane: “We are really helping each other,” he says. “All the nation is sharing info with online trainings and donations to the hospitals for the ones who can.

“We are making online appointments, doing things that we never have time for being positive and respecting the rules. I know this will help mother nature to be reborn as well, world was going too fast in my eyes and this is just a brutal stop. Just don’t start to be lazy, in isolation. Keep your body active and that will help your mind. Stay away but close to the ones you care about and respect the rules.”

Meanwhile, over in Fuerteventura aka the Canaries' semi-consistent surf zone, we've heard police are currently patrolling with megaphones, commanding people stay indoors or face a 6,000 euro fine.

Whether the rest of the world follows suit is yet to be seen. Ireland has imposed restrictions, the UK is talking about a herd immunity solution (which means, lots of people infected in order to boost tolerances...) so that could swing either way.

Of course, these are preventative measures. The most elderly are seriously at risk of getting coronavirus – so if self-isolating means reducing the amount this thing spreads, then two, three weeks of no surf to save someone's life is sensible.

On the other side of the pond, New York's just gone into semi-lockdown too. Rob Kelly, New Jersey tube hound says: “I'm actually in Puerto Rico but heading home tonight but from talking to everyone at home, it sounds like things are getting a little crazy.

“Because New York and Philadelphia are on lock down and schools are closed, a lot of people are leaving the city and coming to the beach towns in New Jersey. Our towns here are very seasonal and not yet ready for the influx of visitors we normally get in the summer months so it is starting to cause some issues.”

Not an hour later and Rob hits us back: “Coincidentally, just got kicked off the beach in Puerto Rico. No surfing for two weeks is what the police officer said.”

Meanwhile Jody Perry who is in the Mentawai Islands, said: "Basically everyone’s postponing trips. Indonesian government like others are putting bans on foreigners entering.

“It’s all happening so fast, new changes, hard to say. But very difficult to do. Expats living here looking at uncrowded waves and opportunities. Boat owners talking about loading up with fuel, supplies, family, and just sit out at uncrowded surfbreaks and anchorages till it goes back to normal.”

But will that create demand when this all lifts? “Yeah. Seen similar a few times before. Surfers hear of guys surfing Uluwatu or Grajagan alone, great deals, uncrowded waves. Charge back in droves and the tail end of the season ends up extending and crowded. Once travel advisories and threats are lifted, business as usual pretty quick. How long away that is though?”

BREAKING: And as of 15 minutes ago, Europe has just announced its borders are officially closed, details are still coming in but more as we get it.

Cover shot of Mundaka by Oscar Martinez Diego.