Surf's Up, NYC
by Erin O'Hara, 06/05/2013
We know what you're thinking: Surfing? In New York City? OK, while it's not quite the equal of Hawaii's, the local scene is growing fast. There are only two beaches in the City where you're allowed to surf (both part of Rockaway Beach), but a few places just a short drive or train ride away offer some of the best swells on the Eastern Seaboard. NYC's also got real-deal surf-centric stores, bars and restaurants—even a film festival. So whether you're a kook (slang for "beginner") or an expert, strap on some board shorts and hit the waves.
Where to Go
For the day: Take the A train out to Broad Channel, from where you’ll continue one more stop on the line or switch to the S shuttle, depending on which part of Rockaway Beach you’re hitting. The two designated surf spots, open year-round, are between Beach 67th and Beach 69th Streets (A to Beach 67th St.) and between Beach 87th and Beach 92nd Streets (S to Beach 90th St.). Queens may not be known as a top destination for surfing, but it attracts an ever-growing crowd. And don't underestimate the tide here—the waves are known to get pretty big at times, and beginners should prepare for a few wipeouts. Check out the surf beach rules before you go.
For the weekend: Make the trip to Fire Island. This barrier island creates perfect conditions for surfing, with ideal currents during the peak of hurricane season, in August and September. And since it's less than two hours outside of Manhattan, it's close enough to go for a day or two without wasting too much time in transit.
For the week: Head to Montauk. More famous as a fishing hotspot, Montauk is also a popular surfing site. Waves that rival those of the most famous Cali beaches have brought more and more surfers to Ditch Plains Beach, toward the very end of Long Island's southern shore. The trip, at least two and a half hours outside of the City, calls for at least an overnight stay, but you'll realize it's well worth it once you get in the water.
Get Your Gear
Before you ride the tide, you're going to need the gear—board, wet suit, wax and more. Boarders, a Rockaway Beach surf shop a couple of blocks from the sands of Beach 92nd Street (there's also a pop-up outlet, BOTB, at Beach 68th Street), carries all of that and more. Surfers rent lockers here to store their boards, wet suits and other items so that they don't have to keep transporting them to and from home. There's also access to a changing area and showers. Surfboard rental is available for out-of-towners and those who are deciding which type to purchase.
The store Pilgrim Surf + Supply is located in Williamsburg, which may not seem like an ideal place for a surf shop (since you can't legally surf anywhere in the borough of Brooklyn), but the venue, carrying boards from makers like Anderson, Gary Hanel and Mandala along with a selection of shirts, shorts and jackets, is legit. Elsewhere in Brooklyn, the shop Aegir Boardworks is fittingly situated on Water Street in DUMBO just a block from the East River. The store, known for its attentive staff, has a nifty seasonal concept, shifting its offerings to focus more on snowboards in the winter and on surfboards during the warmer months (with both varieties as well as skateboards available year-round). The team at the loftlike shop also repairs boards and sells accessories.
Meanwhile, in Manhattan, Saturdays, a shop specializing in surf gear, men's clothing and, naturally, coffee, is bringing its own laid-back vibe to the City's bustling streets. In its Soho and West Village locations, Saturdays carries superior equipment for surfing City dwellers, but the clothes are just as suitable for landlubbers who appreciate the relaxed surfer style. Stop in to peruse the stylish assortment of men's fashion, or just grab a cup of joe and enjoy the relaxed atmosphere.
If you surf up an appetite in Queens, head to Rockaway Taco, the favored hangout—open each year from May through October—for starving surfers, just a few blocks from the larger of the two beaches. The menu of authentic Mexican fare is short and sweet, composed mostly of various tacos and quesadillas, plus fried plantain chips and fresh guacamole. The folks at Rockaway Taco have obviously chosen quality over quantity, and that format has attracted customers from the boroughs and beyond.
You don't have to be a surfer to hang (ten) at Surf Bar in Williamsburg (although it might help if you dress for the beach, since a thousand pounds of sand cover the floor). But surf fanatics will love the place too—local surfing photos and newspaper clippings cover the walls and surfboards hang overhead. The venue has a full menu that leans toward seafood and includes a much-admired New England clam chowder along with more substantial seafood dishes, such as lobster rolls and conch fritters, that evoke summer days on the beach. In fact, the owners have insisted that they have "a more authentic surf bar than you have in most surf towns." And from the looks of things, they may be right.
Watch and Learn
When the surf season wanes, don't let the dropping temperatures get you down. Keep chasing the endless summer, and attend the New York Surf Film Festival, held September 17 and 18 at Nitehawk Cinema. It's a film showcase devoted solely to surfing, featuring movies from both experienced and amateur filmmakers and from all genres and corners of the world. The event includes panel discussions, meet and greets, lectures on surf history and Q&As with the stars of surf and film. The fest will make you want to grab a board and paddle out, whether you're a surfer or not.