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In SoCal, fitness isn’t just a fix, it’s a lifestyle: ‘You can’t sleep under your bed’

Brian Comstock, 29, does a hand stand on exercise bars at Muscle Beach on Friday.
For many Southern Californians, like Brian Comstock, 29 at Muscle Beach on Thursday, outdoor exercise remains a central part of life, even during the COVID-19 pandemic.
(Jason Armond / Los Angeles Times)

House arrest? Not in our house. As cabin fever set in this past week, recreational athletes fled to the bike lanes, the beaches, the skate parts and all manner of hiking trail.

Evidently, you can shutter the gyms, you can close the saloons, but you can’t fully shut down Californians, who exhibit an obsessive need to race, paddle, pedal and dunk.

Movement is life. Movement is California.

Was this OK? Would the National Guard round them up? To many, it didn’t matter.

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Yoga classes moved outdoors, fighters shadow-boxed beneath the clouds, and almost everyone seemed respectful of the “mind the gap” safe distance of six feet — plus a little more just to be sure.

In tonic-water breezes, in sporadic sun and the occasional downpour, they moved. Fitness fanatics glistened, they panted, they got their hair in a sweaty workout beehive.

A look at athletes, coaches, and others in the sports world who have tested positive of the coronavirus.

They juked, they jabbed. They kicked at the sky, they pumped iron. They even slacklined — is that even a verb?

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Trust me, the way they slackline at Muscle Beach, it’s a crazy transitive action word. If they fall wrong on those giant stretchy tightropes, they might rubber diaper themselves.

Hand over fist, acrobats climbed ropes. Rounding corners, cyclists leaned into turns. Embrace the challenge. Burn, baby, burn.

After all, sweat is just fat crying.

An irresponsible act of civil disobedience? Maybe Guv’nor Gavin will rule so, but it’s difficult to accept the fact that residents are better off — physically and spiritually — cooped up like canaries.

Tanner Wells, 41, practices tennis on the courts at Venice Beach on Thursday.
Tanner Wells, 41, practices tennis on the courts at Venice Beach on Thursday.
(Jason Armond / Los Angeles Times)
A surfer catches a wave at Venice Beach on Thursday.
A surfer catches a wave at Venice Beach on Thursday.
(Jason Armond/Los Angeles Times)

“I talked to a couple of doctors, who said that as long as I stay out of the pack, I’ll be all right,” said surfer Ari Olmos, as he finished an hour at Venice Beach.

Two miles north, gymnast Denise Pirnbacher popped handstands on a skinny concrete wall, steady as a statue, like it’s nothing.

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“I think we need it more now,” she says of working out.

This isn’t just a fix, it’s a lifestyle, a reassuring rigor. To a man, to a woman, the fitness buffs say they need to stay active and balanced amid the closures, the job uncertainty and the tanking stock indexes.

“I just like to move, man,” says Mitch Schubiger, a boxer working out with his trainer, Josue Romero. “If you’re quarantined, you can’t move. Sun isn’t going to give you coronavirus. Running isn’t going to give you coronavirus.”

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That’s the beach speaking, not just Schubiger. It’s a recreational athlete’s fiery vernacular, and doesn’t sound so different from a Gwyneth Paltrow wellness pitch. It sounds like a call to arms ... and legs, and shoulders.

“I think it’s more important than ever to keep the immune system healthy,” says Jeffrey Hopkins after a yoga session.

“We’re moving our bodies, helping our lymphatic systems, purging toxins,” adds Andre Bolourchi, his instructor.

“It’s a beautiful time to observe the fear,” Bolourchi says. “I’m aware of the situation — I do have a few extra potatoes at home. It’s a great time to choose your own story.”

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A man rides a bike at Dockweiler State Beach on March 15.
A man rides a bike at Dockweiler State Beach on March 15.
(Jason Armond / Los Angeles Times)

“It’s mind, body, spirit on another level,” adds student Josefine Wissenberg as she cools down in the warm sun.

Who are these people? Should I be afraid? How would I recognize one if he or she sat near me on a bench?

They’re Angelenos being Angelenos, youthful even when no longer very young. Reflective. Wise. A little weird sometimes.

Most of all, as we spoke last week amid an unsettling health crisis, surprisingly candid and kind.

And, dear God, do they need this.

When they’re done, they get that pudding-eyed, post-workout daze, a feeling of conquest. It gives them a soothing sense that life goes on, even when illness and contagions hover everywhere.

The UCLA women’s tennis team had just proved worthy of being an NCAA title contender when the coronavirus outbreak ended its season.

They’re raking at rainbows, in the words of writer Laura Foley.

“This is a lot healthier than staying in the house,” says Stan, who won’t give his last name, but hangs out with John, who also won’t give his last name. If you see John, you see Stan, and vice versa. They’re old. They ride bikes 30 miles. They’re a long way from finished.

“You can’t sleep under your bed for a month,” Stan insists.

Sure you can, Stan. Weren’t you ever in college?

But you get the drift, and here on the lawns, trails and bike paths — from Hawthorne to Burbank to the beach — it’s become a prevailing ethos: You can’t hide under your bed.

Even Superman gets it.

One of the original fitness buffs, he’s now strolling the strand near Santa Monica Pier, begging photo ops from tourists for chump change.

Life is different now for everyone, even faux superheroes.

A man dunks on the basketball courts at Venice Beach on Thursday.
A man dunks on the basketball courts at Venice Beach on Thursday.
(Jason Armond / Los Angeles Times)

“I might just drive Postmates for a while,” Superman confesses, now that business is down and nobody wants to get that close. “Dude, I was making 50 to 100 bucks an hour in Hollywood.”

That’s another story for another day. Two weeks ago, weren’t we all doing better?

Yet, as the afternoon passes, and the sun begins to nod, this beach Superman squints into the sea breeze and says he’ll just have to persevere.

Like we all will.


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