As the sun came up over San Diego’s coastline Monday, dozens of surfers grabbed their boards and headed into the water in Pacific Beach – something they had been itching to do for weeks.
One by one, surfers trickled into the ocean near Crystal Pier. By dawn, the water was speckled with people on surfboards.
It was the first morning in many weeks that city beaches were open after being shuttered as part of the public health order due to the coronavirus pandemic.
Effective at sunrise, the city of San Diego reopened city beaches to activities like surfing, swimming and single-person paddling and kayaking.
Mount Hope resident and surfer Dale Huntington was one of the first people to get in the water in Pacific Beach. He told NBC 7 he got up at 3 a.m. to hit the shore.
He hoped everyone would follow the city’s rules so this wave could keep going.
Over the hot weekend, tens of thousands of people packed the sand at Newport Beach in Orange County, where locals compared the crowds to July 4.
“I’m not convinced they’re not going to close it back down, because I’ve been seeing what the people are doing on the beaches,” Huntington told NBC 7. “Surfers are solitary; we like each other but we hang out away from each other. I’m hoping that we can all do the right thing and not crowd around the beach so that those of us – this is our exercise, this is for our mental health – that we can continue doing what we love doing.”
PB surfer Mitchell Wright hopped in the water near Crystal Pier, too. He couldn’t believe how many surfers were out there by dawn.
“I don’t think I’ve ever seen it this crowded at 5 a.m.,” Wright said. “So, this is pretty unusual, but like I said, I think everybody’s just so excited to get in the water, so they wanted to get out here as quick as they could.”
People could also be seen strolling on the shoreline, walking their dogs and jogging. Those activities, under the city’s guidelines, were also allowed on city beaches starting Monday at sunrise.
Savannah Mude walked along the beach and told NBC 7 she couldn’t believe how many surfers were in the water.
“I honestly thought those were birds down there when I first looked,” Mude said. “And then I was like, ‘Oh my gosh, there are so many surfers!’”
San Diego resident Melanie Aikin also took a Monday morning walk in Pacific Beach. She said it felt good.
“I feel like it made us happy,” she explained. “We walked down there, and we were like, ‘That’s so awesome.’ Like it feels like this is maybe coming to an end.”
After the first day of the city beaches reopening, Mayor Kevin Faulconer said beachgoers had behaved. The mayor, at his daily news briefing, thanked locals for following social distancing guidelines and avoiding crowding, which he said was what led to the beach closures in the first place.
He applauded the community for representing San Diego well and said those at city beaches had set an example for the rest of the nation's coastal surf cities. He even used a quote from the beloved, San Diego-centric movie "Anchorman" to describe how the day at the beaches had gone.
"I'm happy to report you stayed classy, San Diego," Faulconer said.
“Big thank you to everyone in our surfing community who got the word out, particularly over the weekend and all day today. Let’s do the right thing in the water, let’s keep that social distancing," the mayor added.
Faulconer said this upcoming weekend would be a big test for the community.
San Diego Police Chief David Nisleit said officers would continue to patrol city beaches, along with lifeguards, to educate beachgoers about the rules.
The city of San Diego reopened beaches Monday under Phase 1 of a regional plan that allows limited coastal activities.
Here’s what’s allowed at city beaches, as of April 27:
- Oceans: swimming, surfing, kayaking and single-person paddling.
- Beaches and shorelines: only walking and running.
Here’s what’s NOT allowed:
- Stopping, sitting or lying down on beaches or shorelines.
- Gatherings and non-physical distancing activities.
Boardwalks, piers, parking lots and Fiesta Island remain closed, the city said. San Diego Bay is open for swimming, kayaking and single-person paddling but recreational boating is not allowed. Since recreational boating is not allowed and piers are closed, recreational fishing is limited to kayakers, according to Randa Coniglio, President and CEO of the Port of San Diego.
San Diego city leaders have urged locals using city beaches to also exercise social distancing practices. The use of face masks or coverings is also recommended by city leaders. By Friday, masks will be required all over the city for anyone who's out in public and 6 feet away from anyone who's not a member of their household.
Again, these rules pertain to San Diego city beaches. For updates on those locations, check the city’s website here. The city of San Diego’s beaches span over 17 miles of coastline and 4,600 acres including Pacific Beach, Ocean Beach, Mission Beach and La Jolla Shores.
More information on what's allowed in the bay and on its shorelines can be found here.
Scripps Ranch residents Beau and Stacia Lecomete took their kids to the beach in La Jolla Monday, just to walk a bit and get the little ones out of the house.
“We’re not allowed to sit down,” Stacia Lecomete said, referring to the shoreline activities that were not allowed. “We had to be moving at all times and no sun bathing, no sitting down. We can swim, we can walk, we can jog, but that’s about it.”
San Diego resident Paris Lancaster said visiting the beach with her 2-year-old son was much-needed.
“Being at home can be kind of stressful; it can get depressing,” Lancaster told NBC 7. “So, it’s just nice to be out here.”
Lancaster said she was following the social distancing guidelines as she hit the beach.
“I think that face masks are needed right now. We are making sure we’re keeping our distance, like pretty far from people,” she said. “I think everybody is doing what they’re supposed to be doing and following the rules.”
Mike Ortega, a College Area resident, also hit the beach Monday and told NBC 7 from what he saw, people were following the Phase 1 rules.
“There’s no sitting around. Everyone is walking and I’m doing the same,” Ortega said.
Coastal cities and beaches not under the city of San Diego’s jurisdiction can make their own decisions on when to reopen their beaches.
For instance, the city of Oceanside said its beaches would be open for limited use starting Monday. In Encinitas, part of Moonlight Beach is now open, but also with restrictions like no lounging on the beach. Surfing and swimming is allowed.
State beaches remain closed, including Carlsbad State Beach, San Elijo State Beach and Torrey Pines. Updates on those COVID-19-related closures can be seen here.
Phase 2 of the regional plan will include all activities that allow for physical distancing at beaches, bays, piers, boardwalks and parking lots. San Diego Mayor Kevin Faulconer said last week this transition between Phase 1 and Phase 2 would be determined through guidance from county public health officials.
As of Monday evening, San Diego County's tally of COVID-19 cases was 3,141, according to public health officials. There have been 113 deaths related to the novel coronavirus in San Diego County since Feb. 14.