Rockin' the Rockaways
You don't have to be a pro surfer to have fun at this beach
Urban Walk nr. 1:
new york – The Rockaways
BY SARAH SCHWARZ
The sun is shining, spring is in the air and my personal summer season started a few minutes ago with the swipe of my subway card. I won’t be heading into Manhattan from Brooklyn today, but in the opposite direction: The Rockaways are part of the borough of Queens in New York City - and mostly a beach. The subway goes straight to the sea breeze, open water and sand on your feet.
Forty-five minutes in, the air starts to smell salty: The subway runs along a slightly elevated bridge through the Jamaica Bay, a vast body of water that seems unreal after the density of the city. I catch a last glimpse of the blurry Manhattan skyline in the distance. Each subway stop from now on is within walking distance of the beach. I leave the train at Beach 90th Street, just a few steps away from the legendary Rockaway Beach Surf Club.
The club originated as a local hangout for surfers to store their boards. Now an event space that supports local artists and musicians, it features an outdoor BBQ where locals mingle with the young crowds coming from Brooklyn. As a community institution, it proved its high value after Hurricane Sandy: The club organized one of the biggest relief actions in the area, drawing large crowds of volunteers from the city. If you are at the club, make sure to ask people about the story - it’s worth every second of your time.
I chat and relax in a hammock in the colorful surf-style backyard, having a drink. I’m tempted to get one of the famous fish tacos from the Rockaway Taco, who relocated here from the beach boardwalk.
Instead I head to the beach as large clouds start covering the sun. But the weather doesn’t matter a few streets down at Beach 67th Street. Year-round you will most likely find hardcore surfers here - and a few brave students taking their surf lessons with the Locals Surf School. Today Coach Mike is instructing a small group of beginners, city-dwellers like me by the looks of it.
Everybody seems in a pretty good mood, even though the water is rough. “Waves are high; it’s actually a bit tricky today, but they’re doing good,” Mike says. The warm wet suits will soon stay in the box, since temperatures are rising. And when the heat hits New York, you want to wear as little as possible - and preferably be precisely here: At the beach.
I stroll up the boardwalk. Longboarders pass me as well as bikers. Especially in summer, coming all the way from Brooklyn or Manhattan by bike is a popular alternative to the subway. I pass a musician who is facing the sea and deeply focused on playing his cello. The ocean and the wind perfectly accompany his melodies. What’s that additional sound? A few youngsters are showing off impressive tricks in the skate park across the boardwalk.
I keep going and come across a group of people who set up an area of colorful wind streamers and wind hoses at the beach. The mighty wind installations mingle with kites and other toys like windmills and balloons. “It is a wind parade,” explains one of the guys, taming a kite. His name is Karl and he came up with the idea a few months ago. He and his girlfriend Carolin, also an artist, just finished sewing the colorful creatures last night. Accidentally running into “pop-up events” like these is what makes New York, well, New York: It can happen any time and all the time. This vibe of sudden surprise will follow you wherever you go - even to the beach.
I reach the Playland Motel on the Rockaway Beach Boulevard at 97th Street. In case the urban escape should last a few days longer, it offers charming and simple rooms to rent. Their website says it best: “Due to the fun nature of Playland Motel, during the summer months it is a loud environment, please be mindful of this when choosing to stay with us.” Today, the restaurant is packed. The motel is a popular spot to have brunch with a mimosa or two. I order a fish sandwich with sweet potato fries from the bearded barman, who has a genuine smile.
One block down the boulevard I meet “Missy” - a pretty little lady that flirts with everyone. The cute Chihuahua belongs to Erin Silvers. She runs the vintage shop Zingara. Two rooms full of treasures for the hunters of rare clothes, furniture and jewelry. Erin is one of the people who found a new home at the beach. “I used to come here every weekend in the summer,” Erin says, friendly dimples appearing with her smile. “Then I decided to move here. I love the Rockaways.”
I end up buying a green vintage suitcase for a fraction of what the shops in Manhattan would charge. I have to smirk as I sit in the subway home and think about the day: The seemingly empty suitcase is actually full of the joy and memories of this trip to the beach.
1 Rockaway Beach Surf Club
The club originated as a local hangout for surfers to store their boards. Over the years, it became an event space that supports local artists and musicians, and it features an outdoor BBQ.
2 Locals Surf School
Year-round you will most likely find a few brave students taking their surf lessons with the Locals Surf School. “Waves are high; it’s actually a bit tricky today, but they’re doing good,” says Coach Mike.
Longboarders, bikers, runners, musicians - everyone loves the boardwalk. The ocean and the wind perfectly accompany the melodies of the cellist I pass.
4 Pop Up Events / Wind parade
Mighty wind installations mingle with kites and other toys like windmills and balloons. Artists Karl and Carolin were sewing until last night to create this pop-up event.
5 Playland Motel
Their website says it best: “Due to the fun nature of Playland Motel, during the summer months it is a loud environment, please be mindful of this when choosing to stay with us.”
6 Vintage Shop Zingara
Two rooms full of treasures for the hunters of rare clothes, furniture and jewelry. Erin is one of the people who found a new home at the beach.