Imagine a government that would “allow” citizens to surf at the beach but would forbid them from swimming. How would police go about enforcing this rule? Would they watch surfers continuously, and swim out to arrest them the instant they fell off their surfboards? Would surfers have to freeze in the water and drown if they wished to avoid arrest?
You don’t have to imagine this kind of insanity — you can witness it on the beaches of Ocean City, New Jersey. Ocean City even has a helpful sign explaining what is and isn’t allowed at the partially reopened beaches.
Data analyst Andrew Puopolo snapped a photo of the sign. “Beach access for exercise only,” it reads. Activities like walking, running, exercising, and yes, surfing, are allowed. Activities like sunbathing, sitting in chairs, group sports, and yes, swimming, are prohibited.
“Ocean City, New Jersey, where I’m riding out quarantine, has banned swimming but not surfing in their first reopening phase,” Puopolo tweeted. “I’m not sure if this satisfies the laws of physics.”
Ocean City, New Jersey, where I’m riding out quarantine, has banned swimming but not surfing in their first reopening phase.
I’m not sure if this satisfies the laws of physics. pic.twitter.com/79FclrVf5p
— Andrew Puopolo (@andrew_puopolo) May 12, 2020
The Ocean City website explains that while surfing is allowed, “the city always advises that people should swim only at protected beaches.”
However, the website does suggest a distinction that might make a modicum of sense. Rather than banning “swimming,” the website says “bathing” is prohibited.
Am I allowed to be on the beach?
Beach access is permitted for active recreation only — including walking, running, surfing, exercising and fishing. Sunbathing, sitting in chairs or lying on towels, groups of people, group sports and bathing are prohibited. Full access to all beach activities, including sunbathing in chairs, will open on Saturday, May 16. Please avoid social gathering and respect social distancing guidelines. Ocean City’s beaches remain unguarded until Memorial Day Weekend, and the city always advises that people should swim only at protected beaches.
Perhaps the police will only come and arrest citizens if they are spending an inordinate amount of time in the water not “exercising,” whatever that means. Regardless, the sign suggests that citizens are not allowed to go swim some freestyle in the Atlantic, no matter how many calories they burn.
How anyone can manage surfing without swimming or accidentally “bathing” in the Atlantic Ocean, I have no idea. It seems rather impossible, to be honest.
I’m old enough to remember when swimming was considered a form of exercise. I competed on a swim team in elementary school, and those races sure were tiring. But hey, if the Ocean City Health Department thinks “swimming” isn’t exercise, who am I to disagree? Perhaps there should be some oversight for coronavirus orders, or something. Maybe the people, through their elected leaders, should have a say, and then things wouldn’t get so insane. Just a thought.
Tyler O’Neil is the author of Making Hate Pay: The Corruption of the Southern Poverty Law Center. Follow him on Twitter at @Tyler2ONeil.
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