Coronavirus Pandemic: Collective Calamity or Global Awakening?

Bodhi Surf + Yoga / Surf + Yoga Camp Blog / Coronavirus Pandemic: Collective Calamity or Global Awakening?

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On March 14th of this year, we welcomed our first ever participants for Bodhi Awaken: 14 Night Bodysurfing, Ocean Awareness, Surf and Yoga Retreat. This unique two-week ocean-immersive retreat included a first-of-its-kind bodysurfing curriculum, making Bodhi Surf + Yoga the first ever surf school in the world to offer bodysurf lessons to prospective surfers. I am proud to announce that even with the coronavirus panic swelling around us, the first week of Bodhi Awaken — led by Hannah Walsh and myself, and focused primarily on teaching students how to catch and ride waves sans surfboard — went swimmingly. However, the maiden voyage of this novel retreat was cut short due to the quickly changing circumstances imposed on us by the COVID-19 pandemic.

Artistic ocean photography

Changing tides, changing reactions

The intention of the two-week program, at least from a surf-centric viewpoint, was to teach bodysurfing as a prerequisite to board-surfing in order to provide students with a stronger foundation of ocean-savvy and confidence that would ultimately reduce their learning curve. Unfortunately, our lofty goals were cut short as a result of the intensifying limitations posed by the ongoing coronavirus outbreak. First it was travel bans and border closures, soon followed by beach closures and quarantine restrictions. While two of our Bodhi Awaken guests opted to stay and ride out the storm with us here at the lodge, without ocean access (and the decision to self-isolate as a team on day seven of the 14-day retreat), we had to inform them that we would be unable to complete the surf portion of the second week of surfing and yoga.

Although we were unable to complete the Bodhi Awaken retreat in its entirety, the silver lining was that we did in fact finish the bodysurfing portion of camp before having to pull the plug on week two. On the final day of week one, Bodhi Awaken students swam out to the lineup and proceeded to bodysurf green (unbroken) waves with proficiency, thus capping off nearly a year of hard work preparing for the undertaking. It was amazing to watch their progression during the course of just one week, and we were proud to see proof of what we had long-known — bodysurfing can in fact be taught.

Adapt, improvise, overcome

In the weeks since, Bodhi Surf + Yoga has seen such an unprecedented upheaval of both its daily operations and entire communications strategy due to the coronavirus pandemic, that it would be nearly impossible for me to recount the details here with any semblance of brevity. Suffice to say it’s been a blur.

With borders closed and future guests unable to travel to us, we have had to find ways to diversify and become more resilient in the event that these types of situations become more frequent. We are moving and adapting quickly, and rising to the challenge. Our role in highlighting the interdependence of the health of people and planet, as well as our goal to foster connection for the betterment of both, has not wavered.

Jungle of the Osa Peninsula

Evidence of environmental crisis and systems failure

For decades, scientists have been warning us about the very real and growing dangers posed by global climate change, a message that we have collectively (and quite incomprehensibly) ignored in our continual pursuit of economic growth and prosperity. However, this once distant threat is rapidly becoming a devastating reality, as we have seen earlier this year with bushfires engulfing nearly the entire continent of Australia, and now with the COVID-19 pandemic raging throughout the rest of the world.

What we’ve seen with COVID-19 is that governments are responding to the threat because of its immediacy: the virus is upending all human lives (regardless of location, gender, race, spiritual belief, economic status, etc.) in a very real and personal manner. We haven’t seen the same response to the threat of climate change because it is such a large and complex conceptual problem that it is nearly impossible for the average person to comprehend in scope. But what we can learn from the current pandemic is that COVID-19 and climate change should not be regarded as separate issues, but one in the same.

According to Dr. Aaron Bernstein, director of the Center of Climate, Health, and the Global Environment at Harvard University, many of the same factors that contribute to climate change also increase the risk of epidemics like Ebola, SARS, MERS, and, you guessed it, COVID.

“Deforestation, which occurs mostly for agricultural purposes, is the largest cause of habitat loss worldwide. Loss of habitat forces animals to migrate and potentially contact other animals or people and share germs,” says Bernstein. “Historically, we have grown as a species in partnership with the plants and animals we live with,” Bernstein adds. “So when we change the rules of the game by drastically changing the climate and life on earth, we have to expect that it will affect our health.”

Will we learn this lesson?

On a positive note, countries around the world have demonstrated that taking a radical approach and drastically slowing down the entire global economy, can and does work in the face of an emergency, and that the same approach could be applied to address climate change. China, for example, the world’s largest carbon emitter, saw a 25% reduction in CO₂ emissions over a four-week period as a result of its coronavirus-induced government shutdown.

The fear, however, is that China and the rest of the world will return to a “business as usual” approach once the dust has settled and the worst of the coronavirus pandemic is over. This would be a grave and potentially insurmountable mistake. Nature is sending us a clear message — a warning shot, if you will — and we would be wise to take heed.

Bodhi Awaken Bodysurf

This surf and yoga camp’s renewed commitment to the environment

During this time of great uncertainty, Bodhi Surf + Yoga is positioning itself to emerge stronger than ever before. Adversity presents a tremendous opportunity for adaptation and growth, and that is the path we have chosen to pursue. Rather than letting this monumental predicament overwhelm us, we have decided to get back to the values this company was founded on, especially the health of our community.

Health, as defined by Merriam-Webster, is “the condition of being sound in mind, body, or spirit.” That is exactly what we have honed in on by making the decision to maintain and support our immediate family (the Bodhi Surf + Yoga staff) and weather this storm as the dream team that we are. To work hand-in-hand with the SOMOS Foundation to assist those in our community who are experiencing the devastating effects of this crisis today. Additionally, to use our expertise, skills, and passions to create virtual offerings to bolster that of our extended family — former and future guests. While they cannot physically get to us at this moment in time, we hope to still bring them benefit, and hopefully even joy, during this strange moment in time.

Furthermore, we want to show that reinventing the way business is traditionally done can be lucrative, as well as contribute to positive solutions for existing problems. We are proud members of networks like B Corp, 1% for the Planet, and the Transformational Travel Council. The movers, shakers, and disruptors of the status quo in these various networks inspire us to think outside the box and find ways to improve conditions for both people and planet.

Bodhi Surf + Yoga Ocean Guardian Pledge

We protect what we love

There is another, less-anthropocentric definition of health that I believe to be particularly apposite in the context of the current state of the world, and that is “the condition in which someone or something is thriving or doing well.” If there is a lesson to be learned from the COVID-19 pandemic, it is that the biosphere is not in a state of good health — it is not thriving.

The root cause of this sad reality is that we humans have separated ourselves from the natural world, both physically and psychologically. With more than half of the world’s population now living in cities and urban areas, the visible proof of our planet’s failing health often goes unnoticed — “out of sight, out of mind”. What our species seems to have forgotten is that we are of the earth, and we are not exempt from the same natural laws that govern the rest of the earth’s biological species and systems. We hope that this global crisis becomes a collective awakening and ultimately a historic turning point. Change must be systemic, and it must be widespread.

In our day to day, what we are trying to do here at Bodhi Surf + Yoga is provide a space for people to reconnect with the environment, to fall in love with it, to become Ocean Guardians and environmental stewards. When you pursue an activity like bodysurfing, for example, you are literally immersing yourself in nature and surrendering to forces greater than yourself. During this process, what you begin to understand (or remember) is that you are made up of the same elements that surround you. “You didn’t come into this world,” said writer Alan Watts. “You came out of it, like a wave from the ocean.”

There has never been a better time to awaken to the simple fact that the health of our species is inextricably linked to the health of our ecosystems, and if we wish to flourish, then we must ensure that the rest of the planet is flourishing too.

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About the author

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Spencer Dunlap

Spencer is a former Division I college baseball player, San Diego lifeguard, ISA certified surf instructor, bodysurf retreat leader, and published writer at Bodhi Surf + Yoga. Spencer is passionate about surfing, bodysurfing, music, reading, writing, and playing with his dog Nefta.