I have a new love. Don’t worry about Chris though, my love is not an animate being. It is surfing, of the sea variety (as opposed to ‘doom surfing’, which is uncontrollable surfing of pandemic information and misinformation on the web). We have been in Christchurch for over a week, after dropping Mum back at her retirement village, and the surf has been great. Sumner Beach can have good waves, though they aren’t always reliable. However, the sea and weather have taken pity on lockdown recoverees and put on excellent surf for many days in a row.
When we previously lived in Christchurch we played around in the waves on surfboards. What we did then was more like boogie boarding on longboards. Last year we spent a week on a beach in Mozambique after Chris finished a stint working there. [That seems like an eternity ago, Chris working on a coal bed methane exploration project and me flying 48 hours to get to a completely different country, with no hint of COVID-19 in sight.] That week re-enthused me in regard to surfing; 25C water and 25C air together with almost empty 0.5-1m waves could perhaps enthuse anyone with a vague interest in water sports.
What is great about surfing in Christchurch, and possibly about all post-lockdown activities, is how social it seems. I have a very long way to go to be anything close to competent at surfing (that’s OK because I love the process of learning a new sport) but everyone’s grins are the same when they ride a wave to the best of their own capabilities. It is amazing how infectious that is – watching someone surf a wave, jump off their board and grin from ear to ear. People chat while sitting on their boards waiting for the next wave, they chat by their cars while changing, they chat while watching the surf and other surfers. There is the feel that you don’t need to know people specifically to feel like part of the community.
I wonder how much the mix of happiness and community feel involves the freedom of escaping lockdown, and how much is also related to the lack of congestion. Prior to COVID-19, Sumner beach had become a hangout for people living in vans along the road and surfing whenever the waves were good. As had many beaches all around New Zealand. Our beaches were cluttered with nomads who thought them nice places to hang out, which they undoubtedly are. What that meant in practice was that local residents (or non-van visitors) couldn’t find anywhere to park, and the waves had so many people on them that a snarl was more likely than a smile.
Even writing the above text raises in my mind the stress of the over-touristed, over-campervanned situation that had arisen in Queenstown Lakes. If I could write my own freedom camping law, it would allow people to park a vehicle overnight if they couldn’t see another parked vehicle or a building which could be permanently habited. Surely the point of freedom camping is to be somewhere others are not? If not, why not park up at a camping site with toilets and other amenities (and pay someone some money for the service they are providing you)?
However, the situation we had reached was one in which every space seemed to be clogged with people, and every place that used to be beautiful was crowded. This was all aided by the media publishing idiotic articles on secret spots, and social media meaning that everyone could tell everyone else where to go, and they went there. Already the campervan companies are looking for ways to get their vehicles back on the roads, offering New Zealanders rentals at ridiculously cheap prices as, presumably, more income than paying for their parking. Further, one can feel the tourism industry simply champing at the bit to open up travel bubbles with whichever country the government will let them import people from and to.
How on earth (pun intended) do we achieve a state in which there are enough people but not too many? Where there is enough space and resources for everyone? In which the residents of a place don’t recoil when they see a tourist, whether local or foreign, because they are so sick of them? Our Tourism Minister says that freedom camping brings in lots of money, therefore there is no will to ban it; he didn’t say anything about all the other downsides. The wave we had previously caught continues to drive us forward and we apparently lack the will to get off. I had better go surfing in the sun with friends right now, so as not to feel depressed!