Surfers Get Their Own Piece Of The Shore (Officially)
Surf guitar music blared from a Parks Department sound system, and faux surfboards with “Rock, Rock, Rockaway Beach” painted on them stood on the boardwalk near a podium. The rock jetties and shoreline in the distance made for a perfect backdrop.
The surfers, ever laid back and un-phased by the inhospitable weather, seemed at home. The politicians and officials, with their jackets and ties or skirts and scarves whipping about, and the wind mussing their hairdos, appeared to be completely out of their element. But they were joking and smiling, too.
“This is not southern California weather,” mused Parks Commissioner Adrian Benepe last Thursday as he led the dedication of the city’s first-ever “surfing only” beach, located between Beach 87 and Beach 91 Streets.
While surfers have flocked to that area for decades, the movement to make the spot a safe haven got under way about three years ago in response to sudden, strict enforcement of the city’s beach rules.
“The main message here is that surfing is not a crime,” Benepe said, referring to the days when taking to the ocean with a longboard could earn the even the chillest dude a summons.
State Assemblywoman Audrey Pheffer and City Councilman Joseph Addabbo Jr. led the effort to change a provision in the state’s health code that the city cited as the “final obstacle” to establishing an area exclusively for surfers. The 155-year-old provision was on the books even before Duke Kahanamoku’s legendary visit to the Rockaways.
Benepe, perhaps reflecting on the oddity of a beachside press conference in April 2005 when the provision was officially changed on June 23, 2004, said, “It took a while to catch on that we wanted to help them do it.”
Beach sand, it appears, is perfect for burying hatchets; it was a day to smile for the camera and to congratulate surfers.
Jonathan Gaska, Community Board 14 District Manager, may have said it best. “You guys are legal, you’re legit. It’s great,” he said.
Despite the weather and imminent rain, surfers geared up and eagerly hit the “surf” following the press conference.
Surfrider NYC Chapter chair Joel Banslaben jokingly described the conditions as “flat to near flat,” but the frigid, waveless ocean could not deter surfer’s spirits on such a historic occasion.
“Our wetsuits are pretty thick and summer is right around the corner,” Banslaben said.