After a long day in Manhattan I made the trek across the water to the narrow peninsula that sits just southeast of Brooklyn; Rockaway. If you’ve never been to Rockaway it can be a bit of a culture shock. Roughly 3 blocks wide, this beach is home to some of the richest culture in all of New York City. The bay is situated on the north side and the south side opens up directly to the Atlantic Ocean. Modern Rockaway isn’t as much of the rough-and-tumble telltale that you’ve likely heard about. The Rockaways were met with Hurricane Sandy in October of 2012, devastation ensued for the tiny peninsula in a way that no one could imagine. “We heard there was going to be flooding, but this street had never really seen more than about 4 inches of water.” This is Thomas Brookins, New York surfer, filmmaker, and de facto ambassador for his home of Rockaway. I was told there were houses floating up the street, pieces of the boardwalk thrown blocks away, carnage. Among the structures lost, memories went with them. Pictures, keepsakes, family heirlooms; entire lives and history were gone.
In the wake of the storm, the community was met with the difficult task of rebuilding not only their homes, but their lives and culture. Today, Rockaway is blooming. While the community is nowhere near finished restoration, things are different now. Around the corner from Brookins’ place there are blocks of new restaurants, and galleries opening up, some of the best Latin fusion you can find in the city recently moved in. Walking through the streets with Thomas was an experience. His passion for community and history are abundantly apparent. After taking a glimpse at his new film in the making, Fire and Water, the lifeblood and inspiration behind our New York Surf Series boards, I was more pumped and inspired than ever! We stopped in at the Rockaway Surf Club. One of the hidden treasures on the peninsula, a bar built around aesthetics and the local haven for the surfers here. The back of the club opens up to an outdoor patio and a storage container that has been repurposed into a taco shack (let me tell you, these tacos are legendary). The owner of the club is, like everyone that I encountered in Rockaway, eclectically creative. Being an ironworker, he built the backbar furniture by hand with recycled wood from the wreckage of Hurricane Sandy. Every piece is beautifully lacquered and adorned with large iron fixtures. Moving on to the fund raiser block party just next door, I really got to see how tightly woven this community is.
It was here that we met J. Scott Klossner, legendary surfboard shaper, though this is only one of many of his talents. Scott was kind enough to invite me into his home and give me the grand tour (I passed the test by being a compatriot cat lover). Seeing his shaping bay where he handcrafts his surfboards was an experience to be remembered. A fresh shape was still on the table and the walls were lined with every shape and size board you can imagine. Old Alva skateboards were hung above the racks; this is surfing.
I can’t thank Thomas and Scott enough for welcoming me into the Rockaway culture. If there is one thing that I can take away from that trip, it’s that the people of Rockaway are strong. The easy way out would have been for most of the people there to leave after the onslaught of Hurricane Sandy, but Rockaway is their home, and nothing can take it from them.