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Sundial

South Beach Vs. Spring Break — And The World Of Freediving

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Miami Herald
Patrons waiting outside of Mango's Tropical Cafe in Miami Beach which is temporarily closed due to COVID-19.

On this Tuesday, March 23, episode of Sundial:

South Beach Vs. Spring Break

Every year thousands of young people flock to Miami Beach to celebrate spring break. This year, even amid the COVID-19 pandemic, is no different.

Over the weekend, tensions heightened and the city issued a curfew in some areas, also closing eastbound traffic on the causeways to visitors. Police reported that over a thousand arrests were made.

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“We were confronted with really large crowds that were getting out of hand ... our police department deemed it necessary to take more restrictive measures to protect public safety and property. Something none of us like to do. I certainly do not like curfews in general. I've fought against them even during COVID. But when our police department is really concerned about public safety ... it is one of the tools we had to impose,” said Miami Beach Commissioner Ricky Arriola.

Making Miami Beach a destination for art and culture is a hope that Commissioner Arriola shares with Mayor Dan Gelber. They are trying to rebrand the entertainment area of South Beach into more of an art deco cultural district.

“We are becoming a much more cosmopolitan, sophisticated city. We got world class performing arts centers, museums, shopping, great hotels, restaurants and things that when I was a kid we didn't really have. And we are evolving as a community," Arriola said.

South Beach Vs. Spring Break — And The World Of Freediving
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But while Miami Beach officials are trying to find solutions to this yearly pilgrimage to the city, local businesses may be suffering due to the imposed curfew.

“From the perspective of businesses, [they have] felt really disappointed.They have no business at those hours,” said WLRN health care reporter Verónica Zaragovia, who followed some of the past weekend's developments. She said restaurants and bike rental shops were upset about the potential cancellations and lack of patronage.

“They're getting worried that Miami Beach has become like a frenzied zone, but when I was walking around, it was perfectly fine and safe, and people were having a nice time," she said.

Even — and maybe especially — among spring break crowds, COVID is still the main issue. Zaragovia said that she was mostly worried about the health problem that came with so many people not wearing masks.

“From business owners to officials to medical experts say the problem is this 'open for business' policy that Governor Ron DeSantis has said that you can't penalize anybody for not following the safety rules,” she said.

According to Zaragovia, local residents aren’t so much concerned about the tourists as they are about the virus, “[residents] like tourists to come, people understand that if you live here, this is a tourist area. And that's not the problem. The problem is that now it's just unsafe, especially during a pandemic.”

WLRN’s Danny Rivero spoke with Glendon Hall, the chairman of the newly created Black Affairs Advisory Committee of Miami Beach, about the rising use of force against people of color to clear them out of South Beach.

“We're trying to calm things down and then the SWAT truck shows up and it starts escalating. These guys come in their gear and their AR-15s walking around. It doesn't help. And it follows this narrative that when we have the events that have Black folks there you call in the heavy machinery. What are you going to engage in doing right now? What does the SWAT team do? I'm seeing deadly force for twerking,” Hall said in an interview.

The SWAT truck that he was speaking about was not from the city of Miami Beach but from Coral Gables. Rivero said that the Miami Beach Police Department has brought in different police forces across the county and the region to help increase police presence during this time.

And while over the weekend Mayor Gelber said that there were more people showing up to Miami Beach this year than in previous years, Rivero stated that it would be difficult to fact check that statistic.

However, this spring break is definitely different from others in past years, according to Rivero — all thanks to the pandemic.

“There's a countywide curfew. A lot of big name venues are not operating right now. So what might have been a lot of smaller parties over this weekend turn into one huge party in one very concentrated area,” he said.

And yet, this still doesn’t change the way spring breakers feel about Miami. Zaragovia spoke to many tourists who said that they still love Miami and will come back for sure.

South Beach Vs. Spring Break — And The World Of Freediving
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The World of Freediving

Claire Paris-Limouzy started freediving at the age of 50. As a professor at the University of Miami Rosenstiel School of Marine and Atmospheric Science she teaches on how to use free diving in the field of marine biology.

She defines it as “being under water without a breathing apparatus like scuba. And you can have a gear, but basically you only take your own breath. This is why it’s free — as soon as you leave the surface, you're a free diver.”

The world record for freediving is more than 700 feet with ther person holding their breath for more than nine minutes. Paris-Limouzy, a member of the United States freediving team, is able to hold her breath for more than six minutes and can go deeper than 600 feet in one breath. She is among the top 20 free divers in the world.

“When you’re starting a dive the most difficult thing is to just go but then just laying down and floating at the sea surface with my head up and looking at the sky, smiling. And this is an adventure because every dive is different, and every dive has different sensations. When you resurface, it’s like taking your first breath, it’s like being reborn,” she said.

South Beach Vs. Spring Break — And The World Of Freediving
The Bajau are adept free divers. Some of them spend up to five hours a day under water, searching for food and other creatures for trade.

Leslie Ovalle produces WLRN's daily magazine program, Sundial. She previously produced Morning Edition newscasts at WLRN and anchored the midday news. As a multimedia producer, she also works on visual and digital storytelling.