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Inside Rockaway Beach Surf Scene

New York surfing community thrives year-round – no matter how cold the waves may be

Rockaway Beach Surf Scene

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Hard-core surfers get to the beach before dawn to hit the waves at Rockaway Beach in Queens. They aren’t afraid to jump in during a blizzard, or squeeze into a bungalow for warmth after surfing. We visited the community of surfers to find out why they’re so dedicated to catching a wave.

Rockaway Beach Surf Club, is one of the main hubs for the community, and is decorated with colorful murals, photographs and paraphernalia. In the back of the bar is an outdoor patio with tall, painted lockers where “transplant” surfers can store their surfboards and gear to use for early morning sessions. Owner Brandon D’Leo says seeing the boardwalk rebuilt after Hurricane Sandy was a huge step for revitalizing the Rockaways. “Before this winter, if you went out in January, you would see five or six people in the water,” he says. “This past winter, you would see 90 people on a good day.”

Ryan Struck for Rolling Stone

Early Morning Waves

In the early mornings young local and transplant surfers head to the beach to catch a few waves before starting their day.

Ryan Struck for Rolling Stone

Surfboard Shaper

Native Rockaway surfboard shaper Joe Falcone shows us a few of the interesting surfboards he has acquired over the years. The pack of surfers quickly shift as a set looms out the back during a recent wintertime swell in New York. Most cold water surfers on the East Coast are riding traditional shortboards for bigger swell events with thruster or quad setups. The key is getting to your feet quickly and having enough speed to pump through any critical sections. You could get the wave of your life on the right day out there..

Ryan Struck for Rolling Stone

Joe Falcone’s Garage

Joe Falcone, working out of his garage has seen a huge influx of new young surfers in the Rockaways after Hurricane Sandy. He finds that most of the boards he makes now are for beginner surfers who are looking to get into the sport.

Ryan Struck for Rolling Stone

Rockaway Beach Surf Club

After surfing in the mornings, some surfers head to the Rockaway Beach Surf Club to dry off. 

Ryan Struck for Rolling Stone

Inside the Club

The club is decorated with images of local surfers, original graffiti and mural art all done by local artists.

Ryan Struck for Rolling Stone

Brandon D’Leo

D’Leo says seeing the boardwalk rebuilt after Hurricane Sandy was a huge step for revitalizing the Rockaways. “Before this winter, if you went out in January, you would see five or six people in the water, this past winter you would see 90 people on a good day,” he says.

Ryan Struck for Rolling Stone

Surf Code

The “Surf Code” is displayed behind the bar at the Rockaway Surf Club. With the vast amount of surfers in the Rockaways being beginners things can get messy in the water with surfers going for the same wave and colliding. D’Leo hopes that displaying it at the bar will get more surfers aware of “surfers etiquette”

Ryan Struck for Rolling Stone

Surf Lockers

The Rockaway Surf Club has tall lockers in the back where hobbyists can store their board and gear not only for the day but long term. The club allows anyone who rents a locker to enter at any hour to get their stuff. This makes surfing at the Rockaways convenient for anyone who takes the train in from Manhattan for a quick session.

Ryan Struck for Rolling Stone

Jimmy Dowd

Local native and owner of surf shop Boarders, Jimmy Dowd had dreams of going to California or Hawaii to surf but he was just as happy as hanging out in his own backyard. He’s seen the community grow over the years, with new businesses, attracting bigger crowds and adding to the surf scene every year at the Rockaways.

Rockaway Beach Surf Scene Gallery

Desiree Melendez

Desiree Melendez considers herself a beginner and is one of the four women in a surf group called Club 98. Surfing in the winter is the best time, Melendez explains. “As soon as it starts to warm up, it flattens out.” That means, for surfers at the Rockaways, there is no off season.

Ryan Struck for Rolling Stone

End of the Day

Some surfers do “two a days” if they can. They wake up in the morning and get a quick session in before work and return for another fix before the sun goes down.

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