Rockaway Is New York’s Surf City,
All Year Long
South African surfer Matt Daniel made a splash just a short walk from the Beach 90th Street stop on the A train as part of the first ever Duke Kahanamoku Surfing contest last weekend.
Tribune Photo by Ira Cohen
As an ear-numbing breeze blew hard down a cloud-covered oceanfront at Beach 90th Street, Matt Daniel, a 22-year-old surfer from South Africa, clutched his surfboard and grinned from ear to ear.
“The waves are good,” he said as he shrugged off the chilly temperature of the waters he just emerged from and the fact that he had traveled halfway around the world to surf in New York City.
The pilgrimage to surf the Big Apple was the name of the game on Oct. 4’s Duke Kahanamoku Surfing Tournament at Rockaway Beach.
Although the mere mention of a surfing contest might leave some scratching their heads as to why a person in their right mind would jump into the Atlantic Ocean as winter approaches, Rockaway locals and those from afar were quick to answer — the love of an ancient Hawaiian sport.
The sunny sentiment was shared by a carefree “20-something” surfer named Lulin Martinez of Brazil.
Martinez, who makes his living as a shaper of surfboards in his South American homeland, said of his Queens surfing expedition, “It’s alright. It’s been a new experience.”
And although surfers like Martinez and Daniel had traveled great distances to be a part of the contest, it was surfers from a little closer afield that exuded the most excitement.
Barbara Ott, a 17-year-old surfer who lives in Rockaway, exclaimed, “This is my contest.”
An enthusiastic Ott, a Beach Channel High School student who has been participating in surf contests for the better part of the past five years, bubbled with excitement at the heat just ahead.
For Ott surfing in Rockaway is a way of life – a life that she is far from alone in living everyday.
“Rockaway has been pushed down but this is some beautiful stuff,” said William Acosta, a retired NYPD officer who has opened a surf/dive shop called Tsunami next door to his Rockaway Beach Private Investigation firm.
Although not a surfer himself, Acosta realizes the important role that surfing plays in the Rockaway community.
“I’d rather see 30 kids becoming pros than see 30 kids on drugs,” he said. “A lot of people are saying we don’t believe in this community hosting a big tournament. [But I say] we can make Rockaway the surf capital of the East Coast and tomorrow we will start planning for next year.”
The popularity of surfing in the area made the idea of a contest to raise money for important programs a no-brainer, according to Acosta.
“This is a non-profit tournament with revenue going to programs the community needs,” he explained
Those community needs include construction of a new Broad Channel firehouse and to the “100 Precinct Explorer Program to give young people a chance to see police work and show them that police officers can be their friends and not the enemy.”
Money raised from the contest was to be generated through the contest’s entry fee and a raffle for two surfboards.
Rockaway’s Surfing Heroes
“Today’s contest is [also] dedicated to people like Fireman Richie Allen who was a surfer at this beach,” Acosta said.
The contest’s crowd included Gail Allen, mother of Firefighter Richard Allen, who was helping people out of the World Trade Center’s Tower One when it collapsed on Sept. 11.
“This was his beach. Beach 91st Street is where he used to surf. If he were here, he’d be right out there with them,” she said.
Richard Allen was a surfer like several of the firefighters who call the Rockaways and the surrounding area home – surfers like Firefighter Stephen O’Sullivan whose eyes welled up when asked what the contest meant to him.
“It’s a good idea, ” said O’Sullivan who has been riding Rockaway waves for the past 35 years.
The Legend Of ‘The Duke’
Saturday’s contest was named for Duke Kahanamoku, the father of modern surfing who left an impression on the people of Rockaway that has lasted since the year the Titanic sank.
Kahanamoku, a Hawaiian native and Olympic swimmer, visited the Rockaways in 1912 to put on a swimming exhibition. He also surfed as part of the demonstration. Rocakway residents were hooked and began a tradition of surfing, long before the days of the Beach Boys and Annete
Kahanamoku was born in 1890 and was 22 when he won his first Olympic gold medal representing the United States. He is also credited with popularizing surfing throughout the world.
Although he was a champion swimmer, he surfed for the fun of it, long before the sport became competitive.
In the 1990s, a section of street in the Rockaways, Shorefront Parkway at Beach 38th Street and the boardwalk, was renamed “Duke Kahanamoku Way.”
Catch A Wave
Rockaway Beach has yet to be declared the East Coast’s mecca of surfing but if you can get a
MetroCard, you can get there.
Some of the most well known sections of beach to surf are between Beach 90th and 92nd Streets and Beach 116th Street.
For more information concerning surfing in the Rockaways, give a call or log on to:
• Tsunami Surf Shop, 192 Beach 92nd Street, (718) 945-5223.
• Rockaway Beach Surf Shop, 177 Beach 116th St., (718) 474-9345
•Surfrider NYC: http://www.surfrider.org/nyc/index.html