A Family Trip to Surf the Rockaways in January

Surfing in Queens, New York City

Rockaway Beach was quite something in the early 1900’s. As the primary summer destination for city folk, Rockaway in 1900 looked more like a small New England surf town today complete with densely stacked bungalows. But this all changed in the 1930’s when New York City’s Parks Commissioner, Robert Moses came to town and decided that the land would be better used for those in poverty and those with disability’s.

The scars of Moses’ planning are still overhanging the Rockaways. Looming 13 story projects guard the northern entrances, beach front homeless shelters and multiple storied group homes lay vacant and boarded up. There is no real central part of this city besides the boardwalk, which has been beautifully restored after Hurricane Sandy, whose affects can also still be felt today.

Arriving at 10:30 PM after getting shoed off the parkways for fear of our roof rack being ripped off our van with ultra low bridges was a little nerve racking. We weren’t certain if it was the low bridges or the proximity of the projects for our first real night out in the van that had the stress levels peaking. Regardless, at day break, all seemed normal and our dear old friend Jimmy met us with a huge smile and showed us the place he’s decided to call home.


Over three cold days we got a local's look into a part of the city few people visit and a look into Jimmy’s life as a shaper of surf craft for the waves that break just a block from his house. We were treated to quite possibly the best pizza in NYC at Whit’s End. We ran the board walk in arctic conditions. We hosted Jimmy and his girlfriend Mckenzie in the van for our first proper meal. We took the ferry to NYC, got lost in the subway like tourists, checked out the Dinosaur Bones in the Natural History Museum and returned exhausted by the urban lifestyle so many live. Our van persevered the arctic nights and the four of us snuggled under numerous layers of down and wool proving to ourselves that we were up for it. We were up for living in a van - even in brutal outside temperatures.



Yet the highlight of the trip was receiving a gift that Jimmy shaped for me under his company, Poem Surf Craft. A 5’8” twin fin shredder that he wanted to be strapped to this van no matter what seas we were surfing. With our luck, a swell arrived on our last day and Jimmy and I suited up together, something we hadn’t done since our first trip to Nova Scotia nearly 15 years prior. We had a memorable session surfing those perfect heavy NY barrels. It felt like life couldn’t get any better. Again the universe nudging us forward on the path before us. We left feeling nourished, having experienced an utterly different trip to New York City by sleeping just a block away from the last vast wilderness left on planet Earth.

Published: January 31, 2019

Always practice Leave No Trace ethics on your adventures and follow local regulations.

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