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Lifestyle Editor Shayne Benowitz takes us on her journey as a surfer and to Long Beach, Long Island from Manhattan for a morning session. Want to know more about surf culture in New York? She’s rounded up some rad spots to check out.
I’ve been a wannabe surfer for approximately seven years.
This summer, I decided to change that by heading to Costa Rica for a week of instruction at Witch’s Rock Surf Camp in Tamarindo. My goal was to gain enough confidence in the water to grab a board and hit the waves on my own when conditions were right. It was a successful trip and I left more stoked on surfing than ever.
The problem? I live in Miami, and while the beach is literally in my backyard, we haven’t had swell since I’ve returned from Costa Rica at the end of June. It took me exactly one week to get grumpy about not being in the saltwater paddling into a sweet little wave.
My next trip on the books was a week in New York in early August. A few of my surfer friends in Miami are from the tri-state area and they helped me realize that there are indeed waves in New York. I considered the Rockaways and Ocean Grove, New Jersey, but ultimately decided on Long Beach, Long Island thanks to some solid advice from a friend who grew up surfing there.
Planning For Surf
Part of becoming a surfer is learning how to read the surf forecast (and then obsessively checking it and fantasizing about what the waves are like around the world) and I checked Surfline.com and Swellinfo.com to see what conditions would be like in Long Beach. Lucky for me, they looked best on the day I wanted to go. High tide was around 10 a.m. and conditions looked best from early morning until about 1 or 2 p.m. with waves about knee high—perfect for this surfing newbie. From what I’ve learned, shore breaks are typically best on an incoming high tide and morning is better than afternoon when an onshore wind has a higher chance of messing up the waves.
The next step was figuring out where I’d get a board. I found Long Beach Surf Shop conveniently located steps from the train stop and a quick phone call informed me that they rent boards and open an hour earlier (9 a.m.) than what their website indicated (10 a.m.). I also learned that the water temp would be about 73 degrees and I’d be okay without a wetsuit. If you’re more wannabe than newbie, another option is lessons with Skudin Surf.
Taking the LIRR From Penn Station To Long Beach
I was staying with a friend in West Chelsea just a few blocks from Penn Station and the Long Island Rail Road (LIRR). It’s best to enter Penn Station on the south side of 33rd St. close to 7th Ave. where the entrance to the LIRR can be accessed directly. I checked the train schedule ahead of time and planned to catch the 8 a.m. with a transfer in Jamaica to arrive in Long Beach at 8:55 a.m., five minutes before Long Beach Surf Shop opened.
The fare was $21 off-peak roundtrip, which included my beach pass (yes, there’s a fee to use the beach) and a discount card for local shops and restaurants. The lady at the window was friendly and gave me a tourist map, too, which proved helpful. Once you buy your ticket, you stand looking at the board waiting for it to display what track your train is on. It was all very simple and the train was uncrowded and departed exactly on time. Transfer in Jamaica was also foolproof and I made it to Long Beach without a hitch.
In Long Beach
The smooth sailing continued as Long Beach Surf Shop was easy to find across the street from the train station. I had my heart set on an 8’6” epoxy board, but the guy at the shop convinced me that the 8’0” soft top was basically like an epoxy. I knew that it wasn’t—they’re too floaty and the nose dives when I try to pop up. However, the longer epoxy boards looked unwieldy when I considered I still had to carry the thing four blocks to the beach. I rented my soft top for $40 bucks for the day. “Just have it back by seven,” the shopkeeper told me. And I was on my way.
It was a quiet morning and the walk to the beach is through a mostly residential neighborhood with pretty New England-style homes and neatly manicured yards. Traffic was quiet as I made my way, transferring the heavy board from one arm to the other, trying to look like a cool surfer chick.
I showed my beach pass to the people guarding the entrance and then lugged the board one block farther to a designating surfing zone. I made my approach, excited and a little nervous. This was my first attempt surfing on my own and my first time in Long Beach. I didn’t want to stick out like a sore thumb, or worse, be considered a “kook” (the term used for inexperienced surfer who don’t respect the local scene and get in everyone’s way). I mean, who can forget the fight Anthony Kiedis and his crew picked with Keanu Reeves in Point Break?
As I approached the surfing section, I noticed that everyone was in wetsuits and there were no other girls in the water. I stashed my bag near the lifeguard stand (the beach was uncrowded and felt safe and everyone I asked said my stuff would be fine, and it was). I did a few stretches as I assessed the waves and psyched myself up. They looked manageable and not too crowded. There were definitely some shredders out there (mostly under the age of 12).
After a few minutes, I put my rash guard on, strapped on my leash and hit the waves. Yes, the water was cold, but I charged on. It felt good to have my belly on a board again and paddle out. First, I headed right where the waves looked best and I quickly realized that that’s where all the best surfers were. I was out of my league. I remembered some advice from surf camp, when you’re new, set yourself up a little ways down from the very best spot.
I paddled to a less crowded part of the surf, sat on my board and watched the waves roll in. Patience, grasshopper, and timing is a huge part of surfing, and so is trusting your gut and committing. It took me a solid hour to get my confidence out there. Silly stuff, like thinking the lifeguards were laughing at me or the other surfers could tell I didn’t know what I was doing got in my head. By the time I finally popped up and caught a decent wave, it was a swift reminder that I’m not completely clueless.
I eventually met a few surfers in the water, and guess what? They were all friendly. One old timer with a bald head and snowy white mustache asked me, “How long have you been surfing?”
“Not long,” I laughed. “What about you?”
“Since I was six,” he told me, as he surfed past me down the line, making it look really easy. His name was Charlie (but in my head he was the Big Kahuna). He was from Long Beach and in his 50s. We chatted about how he always wanted to move to California (“I felt like I was missing out on something by not being there.”), how he’d spend months at a time in Hawaii and how his daughter had recently gotten into surfing and loves it, before catching a wave back to shore, “Nice talking to you. Gotta get back to work!”
I spent two hours in the water, doing my best to time out my waves and catch a few. When I realized I was shivering uncontrollably sitting on my board, I took that as a sign to get out, and my best wave of the day happened to be the last one that I caught. I was tempted to turn right back around and go for another one, but I decided I’d finish strong. The sun was bright, but the air was cool and I bundled up sitting on the sand watching the surfers. I knew if I had another day to surf in Long Beach, I’d be that much better. Wouldn’t you know it, as I was getting out, another girl with an even bigger soft top board was getting in. The place really is friendly to surfers of all stripes.
I stopped for lunch at Sutton Place near the train station before heading back to Manhattan. It was funny sitting at a sidewalk café in a surf town and hearing heavy Long Island accents. I’m more accustomed to the “dudes” and “gnarleys” of SoCal surf speak. I loved how it reoriented me to where I was–in New York, surfing. Isn’t that what we love about travel, encountering the unexpected? I had a ball that day discovering a surf culture that I barely knew existed.
More Surf in the City
If you’re into the surf scene like me (wannabe, newbie, pro, whatever), here’s some other cool spots in the city to check out.
Rockaway Beach Surf Club, Queens – I’m dying to check this place out. It’s a bastion of surf culture (some call it “hipster beach”) complete with a restaurant, bar, lockers to store your board and plenty of chill space on the sand. Dude, The New Yorker even made a video about it.
Saturdays Surf, Manhattan –Minimalist surf apparel meets cool coffee bar with a back patio at this unexpected oasis in SoHo
Flklr Surf, Brooklyn – Custom board shapers out of Brooklyn with a showroom on Orchard St.
Token Surfboards, Brooklyn – Custom board shapers out of Brooklyn with an online shop (coming soon).
Unsound Surf, Long Beach – Surf apparel and boards
Do you have any secret surf spots in New York or beyond? Tell us about them!
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