SINGAPORE: Just off the coast of Changi, a line of surfers and windsurfers were out catching the waves and the wind on a sunless Wednesday afternoon (Jan 13).
While this spot near the National Service Resort & Country Club has been known to surfers in Singapore for decades, it is not usually this popular.
"This is once in a blue moon," said a surfer in a black rash guard, hair dripping as he walked up the soft sand beach.
The waves are mild, just high enough for the dozens of surfers, among them children, to ride. At about 4.30pm on Wednesday, there looked to be about 80 people out on the beach and in the water.
Mr Ho Kah Soon, director of Constant Wind, a sea sports centre near the spot, estimated that there were about three times as many people out surfing here than in other years.
Travel restrictions due to the pandemic have resulted in a "surge" of people not just coming to surf, but also to take up other sea sports, he said.
A few surfers told CNA that they were there for the first time this week after seeing reports and photos on social media of a surf spot in Singapore.
American surf enthusiast, Jonathan, who gave only his first name, came to check out the spot because he has not been able to travel to Bali.
"For Singapore, it's good. I probably wouldn't paddle if I was at home ... It's too small. But it's workable," he said, as he geared up to get into the water.
Large waves form when wind scoops up sea water over large expanses of ocean, and their size also depends on the topography of the sea floor.
They are nearly unheard of in Singapore, and at this eastern point of the island, it is also uncommon to have waves high enough to surf: The conditions need to be just right.
Parts of Southeast Asia are now in the middle of the northeast monsoon season, which lasts from December until March.
There has also been a spate of wet weather and stronger winds, and come low tide, the white caps would appear. The waves are only expected to last one to two weeks.
A number of surfers said that they have been there every afternoon since Sunday, when the waves began. Their surfboards have been dry since travel restrictions tightened in March and there was an upbeat vibe in the air as people paddled out and tried to catch the waist-high surf.
Mr Michael Lim, 45, who represented Singapore as part of the country's first surfing team at the SEA Games last year, said he would normally be in Desaru in Malaysia at this time of the year.
The athlete, who has been surfing since the late 1990s, said that he used to go to Bali once a fortnight - but that was now out of the question.
Mr Lim said the Changi spot was discovered around 2000 by a friend of his who was a lifeguard in the area, and they dubbed it "Longkang Point" after a large drain beside it. This was the first year Mr Lim has surfed here - thanks to COVID-19.
"We try to make the best out of it ... You can feel the positive vibe because, especially now during COVID, everybody's quite stressed out. Surfing is a good stress reliever," he said.
Mr Khairul Anuar, a member of the Surfing Association of Singapore who has surfed there for many years, said that he has mixed feelings about their "playground" becoming an open secret due to social media.
While he was happy that there are so many people interested in surfing, he is also worried that too many people may be going to the surf spot, and that the newcomers may be unaware of the possible dangers.
As they are at the mouth of a large drain, there are rip currents which can sweep people out to sea, he said. They have also spotted dangerous wildlife in the area.
"You must remember you are in the ocean, so there are stingrays ... There were also reports of stonefish and jellyfish," he said, adding that surfers should wear their leashes, which attach them to their boards, for added safety.