rush | 2 february 2018
For Ōtepoti photographer & surfer ted black, Surfing in his adopted city of New York is one of the strangest surf-cultures he has experienced.
words & photographs: ted black
Rockaway Beach is a buzzy place, it’s literally the end of the road for those in the New York City bubble. 45 minutes from Downtown Manhattan makes it the most accessible surfing from the city and a place where a strange group of humans congregate with something in common. There are days where you could be working in Harlem and still surf in the evening, or alternatively ride the train at 4am to surf beforehand. There are days of surfing solo, and days where the saturation of people make surfing pointless.
"There are days of surfing solo, and days where the saturation of people make surfing pointless."
Arriving in New York from Ōtepoti, I was familiar with the cold pacific, yet the north Atlantic ice-cream headaches were next level. Winter in Rockaway is quiet. Snow covers the beach, along with frozen rocks and slushy waves. Surfers are the predominant occupant of the sand. Come summer, it is difficult to find a section of sand to stretch out your towel. The water was a consistent brown with a friendly mixture of wildlife such as turtles, dolphins, whales and the native plastic bag.
"Winter in Rockaway is quiet. Snow covers the beach, along with frozen rocks and slushy waves."
The waves aren’t the most consistent on the planet, yet Rockaway picks up nor’easters in winter and hurricane swells in the summertime from the Caribbean, which bookend each season. Recent destruction from Hurricane Sandy (2012) has punctuated an additional urban renewal to the area, adding to the strong pre-existing surfing population. Surfing has been in Rockaway since around the 1960s, and there are plenty of locals who surf good. There is a friendly surf club with tacos in summer and ramen in winter. They also host bands, film nights and even TheTrailblazers web surfing competition.
"The waves aren’t the most consistent on the planet, yet Rockaway picks up nor’easters in winter and hurricane swells in the summertime from the Caribbean, which bookend each season."
Since colonisation, the name given by the people of Canarsie was changed from Reckouwacky. By the sounds of it, the place has had a long and wild history, changing culturally and economically while time and time again always remaining eclectic. In the 19th and early 20th century it was both the epicentre for the rich to holiday in the summer with multiple beach resorts and as an early Irish settlement. Later in the 1950s and 60s, it became less popular for holidays and became a place where people lived all year round. With housing in Manhattan deteriorating, Rockaway was described to me by an elderly local as “New York’s dumping ground” for other areas going through urban renewal. People were displaced involuntarily, like apartment-musical-chairs into the dilapidated former resorts and affordable housing projects. A woman I spoke to on the train said her apartment in the Bronx went up in flames and she was pissed she got relocated to Rockaway Beach. I get it too, some people don’t care about surfing and they are in need of services, instead compromised being put out in the sticks.
"By the sounds of it, the place has had a long and wild history, changing culturally and economically while time and time again always remaining eclectic."
The general vibe of surfers in Rockaway is super chill and welcoming and I noticed a lot less surly locals as I encounter in Dunedin. Mostly, surfers are global creatures and share a similar language that is parallel to surfers everywhere, I don’t think New Yorkers are any different if not only more committed and frothy. Living in Brooklyn without a car meant the travel element of surfing in Rockaway took some adjustment. For the most part being restricted to the train became a meditative and relaxing time, particularly not having to deal with all the hassles that come with owning a car. Comparing Dunedin to New York, firstly is funny, secondly is pointless. Everything about the surf quality and variety in Dunedin is better, yet Dunedin is a long way from NYC.
Other facts about Rockaway: it was a former Naval Air Base, it has the most caucasian neighbourhood in New York (Breezy Point), a memorial for the 2001 American Airlines Fight 587 crash, it has a parking lot which can handle 5000 cars, an art deco bathhouse and is home to Patti Smith.
Ted Black: Website
Rockaway Beach Surf Club: Website
Ted Black: @ted.black
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