River Surfing and COVID-19


As of this writing, Colorado is about 4.5 weeks into its COVID-19 stay-at-home/quarantine orders. The orders, both locally and statewide, have evolved over time, but they generally restrict everything beyond “essential” businesses and activities, and limit travel for everything but those essentials. “Outdoor recreation” that allows for social distancing falls into the “essential” category, but most guidance advises that the activities should be low risk, both from a virus transmission standpoint as well as a trauma/injury standpoint, and close to your own neighborhood/zip code.

Just about every mountain community and county has either asked that people stay home or demanded it.

In addition to the general orders, Golden and Jefferson County have agreed to shut down Clear Creek to all water activities, and the wave shapers at River Run Park will be in their “down” / unsurfable conditions until the stay at home orders have lifted.

COVID-19 Debates in Other Outdoor Communities

I’ve been tracking the discussion – or argument – in the backcountry skiing and whitewater kayaking communities already. How much “outdoor recreation” is appropriate? How do we balance mental health against community health? What if I drive by myself and don’t talk to anyone and just stop to get gas? What if it’s all a Great Liberal Hoax?

Where I Land

I’ve been struggling with all of those questions (well, except the last one). I can’t answer them for everyone. But here’s where I’ve landed: if you can get outside in a way that’s critical to your mental health within a few minutes of your home, and you can do it without any significant risk of injury or crowds, I say go for it.

I don’t think that justifies driving hours to surf or ski, regardless of how mellow the surfing or skiing is. I also don’t think you can justify taking significant risks, like skiing lines where a fall means serious injury, given the additional stress those injuries would put on SAR and medical resources. I also don’t think you can justify recreating in a crowded area, regardless of how close it is to you.

Given my personal geography, that means there are a couple of mellow low-flow waves that might be options for me. I won’t be driving to Eagle or Glenwood until this blows over. Hopefully that doesn’t mean missing a season, but if it does, I guess the community’s health is worth that sacrifice.

Framing The COVID-19 Issue

I saw this a while back, and I thought it was a good framing of things:

From Andy Slavitt:

#StayHome… saves a lot of lives. Here’s how I think about it. If you’re infected & don’t know it (highly likely) and you infect the R0 average of around 2.3 (and that’s being careful), what happens?

After 10 cycles, 4142 people are infected… The case fatality rate is a mystery. Germany with a lot of testing is .4. Italy looks like high single digits. With overcrowded hospitals, it multiplies. Bill Gates says it’s around 1%, but could be 3% with lack of vents. Let’s say 1%. So if you infect 4142 people, that may cause 41 deaths. You’ll never know because there is no contact tracing. Hold that thought— even if you disagree that’s the exact number.

If someone told me if I would be able to save 40 lives if I stayed home, missed school, lost income & missed socializing for 6-10 weeks, I would do it in a second. Everyone would. If it was 4 lives or 1–someone’s mom–we would. For many I know it’s much harder than for me. My point is this— a reporter mentioned how scary this is today. But it’s also empowering. I’ve never had the ability to save 40 lives & impact 40 families like this.

Instead of sitting home feeling like this is pointless, I think about the prize of our sacrifice. 40.

Stay safe out there.