New York City…surf destination? That’s not quite what came to my mind when I first moved here 5 years ago. As a young kook moving to the big city I was prepared for the worst, glorifying my last few California surf sessions while floating in the Malibu summertime lineup, wide eyed during a booming sunset; downloading content for the potential dry spell to come.
I spent a whole year in the concrete jungle, oblivious to the occasional barrel fest that would slam the coast in the wake of hurricanes that had developed over the Atlantic. Throughout the course of time, I would find myself slowly falling head over heals for this “little” surf break in Queens. However, it wasn’t the surf that won me over. Rockaway is very temperamental. I’ve seen her light up for 2 weeks at a time as was seen when Hurricane Jaoquin lit up the quick left hand jetty break in the dying breaths of September 2015. Many sick days were called during that sweet, sweet run of swell. But then, she went flat.
New York surfers were left in a daze, much like the trance one experiences at the loss of a transcendental love, once sublime and now…empty.
So what about Rockaway so vividly captured my attention? Simple. The experience. Many factors intertwine to create the episode that is Rockaway Beach. It IS actually quite the experience, after all, you’re in New York City! The early AM drive, bombing the belt parkway before the mob of cubicle slaves hit the road. The stretch of town surrounding beach 92nd, stocked with just enough to satisfy the needs of any surfer, pre or post session. The backdrop, with vivid views of houses on the beach front and sky scrapping apartments piercing the clouds. It’s just…not normal. And I like that. Finally, the people. I’ve truly saved the best for last here and in the case of Rockaway Beach, was a factor that really caught me by surprise. No aggros in the water here, not many at least. The lineup, thinned out on bigger, colder days, is warm and alive with the sound of stoked surfers, hollering and clapping at the epic rides of friends and random strangers. You get barreled, you’re getting the full ovation.
Rockaway Beach, surprising to individuals that have yet to surf it, goes on my list of top breaks in the world. Amidst the chaos, I’ve experienced some of the greatest moments of bliss in my life surfing here. You can too. Here are a few tip and details to help you make the most of your day the next time a solid swell sweeps the east:
Get There: Dedicated city surfers are known to take the train. Surfboards can be seen on the Rockaway bound A train as you near the Beach 90th stop. This is a great option in the summer time, if however you want the good wintertime waves, I recommend a car. Changing out of a 5mm wet suit in the snow is better done next to a heated Jeep with a bucket of warm water waiting close by. Drive the belt parkway and take exit 11s for Flatbush Blvd. Head for the water.
What to wear: On a hot summer day, board shorts and a T-shirt are the way to go. Although the weather can be really nice that time of year, the east coast changes quite rapidly with the passing months. As fall comes around, a quality 3/2 will get you through, while winter through early spring requires the thick rubber, full 5mm with a hood, gloves, and booties are essential.
Quiver: A Long board should be part of any east coast quiver. Some days at 2-3ft, the waves really promote a long cruise to the shore. However, Rockaway gets GOOD, as you can see in the pictures. On the best days, anything from a well sorted fish to a high performance short board will fly here.
Surf It: On a day when the off shore winds combine with a long period hurricane swell, you better prepare yourself for the ride. These waves move fast and require a good eye and careful timing, or else you’re going over the falls. “If you can surf Rockaway, you can surf anywhere in the world” – Some local. The waves break off of the 92nd Street Jetty, the best being off the first stretch of rock, but good surf can be found in “the box” directly to the main breaks left. Walk yourself out along the Jetty wall, straight into a dive, then paddle like hell. See you in the line up.
Best Memory: I paddled out on a good day at Rockaway. It was late spring and the water was numbing my face. It was my first time surfing in cold water and I was fully suited. This alone got me excited. As I was making my way to the lineup, a set was coming through. I raced to make it out before the lip ate me and almost as if time had slowed down, I looked up to see the most beautiful product of the elements, thundering yet graceful in its movement.
It was the most hollow wave I had seen in my life, a gaping hole leading to a whirl of darkness; the powerful lip slapping the calm surface created a sound effect much like a roaring freight train running over panels of lightly laid glass.