Yesterday I was asked to sign a petition allowing swimmers back onto some of Sydney’s beaches.  It seems reasonable as I know how valuable the ocean can be.  The cold of the water is good for the immune system; being on or by water is good for us with the negative ions; I know myself I often say, ‘no matter how good or bad your day is, putting your feet on sand makes everything better’.  I know the water is essential for my mental health and that of others.  So, of course, I wanted to sign it.

I read the information which suggested some reasonable options – opening the beach at certain times, limited hours, ‘drop and go’ swim, etc.  Two issues occurred to me.  The first is logistics.  The second more values-based.

How do you police it?  Do you ask volunteers to monitor, count the number of people?  Do you time it, so each person gets fifteen minutes?  How do you get people back out of the water when their time is up?  What about safety – do we need lifeguards then to patrol, just in case two people get in trouble? I totally believe that rules could be put in place, yet would people stick to them.  As much as I have an optimistic view of the human race, in the last week I have watched three people climb over barriers to get to an ocean pool, I have seen people breaking rules they know are in place to get in the water, and just this weekend over $1 million of fines have been handed out.  If rules were put in place to allow people to swim, there is plenty of evidence to suggest that a percentage of people would not follow those rules – then what?

Then I had to ask myself, what about people who are not ‘ocean swimmers’ yet get their mental health and physical health hit from being on or at the beach.

Every morning I am at home, I run/walk along the beach.  It is something that I find essential to my wellbeing, and I have been longing to get back to feeling my feet on the sand.  I haven’t been down the beach now since they closed three weeks ago and the longing is increasing.

I found myself walking along the front at Bondi Beach at 6 am last week and an ‘-oodle’ puppy escaped under the barrier and onto the beach, and I watched her burst with joy.  She ran around in circles like a whirling dervish, so excited, and I admit I so wanted to be her at that moment.

Last week on my early morning walk I watched half a dozen people swimming at Clovelly, and as one man emerged from the sea up the beach I had a fusion of emotions – envy first, longing (to be in his place) and anger – that he was ‘allowed’ and I wasn’t.

Two days ago as I was again going for my early morning one hour exercise I came across the rocks near Gordon’s Bay and found dozens of people on the rocks – some sitting, some drying off, some going for a swim.  I watched as about 20 people over just a few minutes, in ones, twos and fives in one case, went into the water.  It was a beautiful morning, and the water looked amazing.  The yearning to rip off my clothes and jump in was overwhelming.  I was so envious of their ability to flaunt the rules.  I wanted to be one of them, yet I couldn’t – my values wouldn’t allow it.  It didn’t seem fair.  And maybe growing up with a police officer for a father wouldn’t let me.

So, the bigger picture is not about how we ‘police’ the opening of beaches. As soon as it happens, I will be down there with the rest of the swimmers, walkers and runners.  It is about why we should.

It seems quite reasonable to allow people to swim.  I am guessing (although I don’t know) that you probably are not likely to catch COVID-19 in the water.

The tagline on this particular petition was “It would be wonderful if I can do my form of exercise when so many others can enjoy theirs.”  So, I started to think, what about all the other people who can no longer do their form of exercise –people who get their exercise at gyms, spin classes, cross-fit, rock climbing walls.  Those who play team sports – touch rugby, football, netball, hockey.  What about those who can no longer go to their exercise physiologist or functional movement specialist because gyms are no longer open?  What about aerobics classes, yoga classes – we all know the benefit of exercising in groups?

Of course, that leads to a broader view of mental health needs that are not being met because people can’t visit their families, their loved ones, their support groups, their workplaces, their colleagues.  What about the other mental health needs that we cannot fulfil at the moment?

At this point in time, we are all being asked to adapt.  Every one of us is changing habits and finding new ways.  All of us have our own individual needs.  Yes, I am longing to get back in the water, yet are my needs any more important than anyone else’s?

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