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'Temple of today': Surf Beach provides refuge for Lompoc community amid coronavirus crisis

'Temple of today': Surf Beach provides refuge for Lompoc community amid coronavirus crisis

From the April 10 recap: Lompoc news you may have missed this week series

For generations, Surf Beach has served a multitude of purposes for members of the Lompoc community.

The coastline, which connects the Lompoc Valley with the Pacific Ocean, has been a playground, a watersports venue, a gathering place, and, sometimes, just a spot for calming relaxation.

As the COVID-19 pandemic continues to disrupt the lives — and, in some cases, livelihoods — of so many in the Lompoc Valley, the beach has seemingly taken on a new role in its evolving relationship with the community.

Dale Hammond, a docent at Surf Beach, said that over the past month he has noticed people using the beach as a refuge to escape stresses and/or anxieties brought on by the coronavirus crisis. Hammond said he views that trend as further evidence of the significant bond between the beach and the people of Lompoc.

“They come here with countless, wonderful memories, now part of an extraordinary experience spanning the generations of those who’ve lived, loved, and raised their families in this valley,” he said. “Surf [Beach] seems to me like a temple of today.”

Surf Beach remains one of the few public spaces that people can still visit amid all the shelter-in-place recommendations that have been made by public health officials. But just like at La Purisima Mission State Historic Park — another popular Lompoc Valley outdoor space — visitors are advised to be responsible and adhere to public health guidance while utilizing the 1.25 miles of accessible coastline.

Since it is on Vandenberg Air Force Base property, the beach is patrolled and monitored by docents and airmen with the 30th Space Wing.

Col. Anthony Mastalir, commander of the 30th Space Wing, acknowledged that the beach can be a particularly effective respite for people who may be dealing with added anxiety due to the ongoing pandemic.

“This is a stressful and hectic time for everyone,” Mastalir said. “We are experiencing something completely unprecedented in our lifetimes. Part of getting through this together is making sure we are taking care of ourselves physically, mentally and emotionally. Walking on the beach and getting outside can help alleviate stress and be a great retreat for some.”

Although the beach remains open, Mastalir stressed that base leaders are not recommending that people necessarily make plans to go there.

“Health and safety are our No. 1 priorities,” he said. “The safest place to be right now, as determined by federal, state and local officials, is at home. That said, we understand the need to get outside for exercise and fresh air.”

Mastalir asked that all beach visitors follow the recommendations of the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, as well as those of local public health agencies.

“This includes practicing physical distancing, no gatherings, wearing face coverings, and limiting time spent outside,” he said.

Additionally, the restricted boundaries that are in place to protect the Western snowy plover during its nesting season remain in place, so beachgoers are encouraged to remain mindful of those, as well.

As part of those restrictions, dogs are not allowed on the beach during the plover nesting season, which runs from March through September. They are allowed, on-leash, outside of the nesting season.

Hammond said he finds the relationship between Surf Beach and the people of Lompoc to be “moving.” Mastalir, who has previously supported efforts to give the community more access to the beach, said that link was not lost on him.

“Vandenberg Air Force Base has employed several measures in light of this guidance to help protect the health and well-being of our members to ensure that we are carrying out our national security mission," he said. "We understand how hard this is for our community and the nation as a whole. We will get through this together.”

Willis Jacobson covers the city of Lompoc for Lee Central Coast Newspapers. Follow him on Twitter @WJacobsonLR.

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Willis Jacobson covers news and other issues, primarily those that affect the Lompoc Valley and Vandenberg Air Force Base for the Lompoc Record. He is a graduate of The University of Florida's College of Journalism and Communications.

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