Maritime police launch ‘taken by wave onto Luz beach’ after trying to head-off surfers

The zeal of authorities to control all kinds of sports during this exhilarating weekend where the sun finally came out to shine on lockdown ended in dismal embarrassment in Praia da Luz, west of Lagos, yesterday afternoon.

A maritime police launch intent on “supervising” surfers (well within their rights to be in the sea practising their sport) ended up taken by a large wave and deposited on the beach, in a rocky bay next to the Rocha Negra (the large black rock jutting out at the eastern end of the beach).

No-one was hurt (beyond damage possibly to their pride), and the boat was eventually able to be towed back out to sea to safety.

But what this incident highlighted was the faintly ridiculous lengths police have been going to stop people taking perfectly legitimate exercise.

Saturday evening’s news described cyclists forced to turn round (as they inadvertently left the confines of their boroughs); walkers challenged for their reason for being out of their homes.

On social media, a number of Algarve groups described incidents in which ‘simple exercise’ close to people’s homes was challenged.

But it does appear that surfers are taking the brunt of authorities enthusiasm to control.

Expresso has carried a double-page spread this week on ‘Measures that make no sense. Or do they?’ and explains how the situation is far from clear: under the terms of the law governing Portugal’s latest lockdown ‘individual sports’ are allowed. Surf is an individual sport – therefore it is allowed. BUT municipalities are also empowered to condition or prohibit access to beaches.

In other words, surfers technically are allowed to surf, but if they aren’t allowed onto the beaches, how do they get into the water?

As João Jardim Aranhã of the Portuguese Surf Federation agreed, it’s like a mad comedy sketch.

“Every day we hear stories of people who have had to flee from beaches when the police arrive – or who have to stay in the water, hoping the police give up and go away…”

In the case of yesterday’s incident in Praia da Luz, maritime police possibly thought a way of getting to surfers this time was not to chase them from the beach, but to catch them in the water.

Says João Jardim Aranhã, the federation’s advice to all surfers is “just surf, and when you have finished, leave the beach straight away”.

Expresso however seems to have got a slightly more complicated answer from sources on high:

“The government confirms that surfing can be considered a sporting activity”, says the paper. “It is permitted under measure nº1 of article 34 in the current law, allowing for the practice of individual sport. However, under article 35 of the same law, the president of the municipal council can order a beach closed in the case of an agglomeration of people. In short, if a beach is closed in a manner that impedes the exercise of a sporting activity like surf, this activity cannot take place on that beach”.

That still leaves a slightly grey area about the water, though. In Luz, for example, it is possible to ‘enter the water’ from rocks at the western end of the bay, and paddle eastwards parallel with the beach, to the area with the best waves (near Rocha Negra).

It could well be that this is what yesterday’s surfers did – and the reason for the police launch ending up on the afternoon news.

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