2011-04-08 / Community

‘Our Hawaii’ Here In Rockaway

By Nicholas Briano

“Our Hawaii,” the new documentary from filmmaker Kryssa Schemmerling, about the Rockway surfing scene and its history. “Our Hawaii,” the new documentary from filmmaker Kryssa Schemmerling, about the Rockway surfing scene and its history. NYU instructor Kryssa Schemmerling moved here from California to pursue a career in filmmaking. While attending Columbia University Film School she began to develop an interest in the Rockaway peninsula and all of its unique personality traits. While she always had an interest in surfing she had no idea people surfed in Rockaway. Upon learning about the surfing scene in Rockaway it immediately became apparent to her that this is the subject she would love to tackle for her first documentary film.

As a result, “Our Hawaii” was born. The one-hour documentary explores the inception of Rockaway’s surf culture told through a group of middle-aged men who recount what it was like to surf on Rockaway Beach before it was socially accepted during the 1960s and ’70s. These working class men, one a sanitation worker, two construction workers, and two firefighters, reminisce about the birth of the Rockaway surfing scene and all its cultural attributes. Even though it was far from the mystical and sun drenched shores of California, these men tried to imitate that culture in the crime-ridden, urban environment that Rockaway had gradually become since the glory days of summer vacations, amusement parks and bungalows. Schemmerling says that, like most natives already know, Rockaway quickly declined in the 1970s to feature a mass of vacant lots, abandoned or torn down bungalows which were replaced in favor of sprawling high rise public and subsidized housing buildings. People stopped coming to Rockaway and only recently has the peninsula begun to recover and became a desirable place to be once again, not only for surfers but residents as well. Surfing in Rockaway has become a subculture of New York City which only recently designated beaches along the peninsula exclusively for surfing. “Our Hawaii” chronicles the rise of the surfing scene in Rockaway through the eyes of these five men who are credited with giving birth to the scene and watched it grow to the community it is today. In addition to this documentary, Schemmerling has made a few short films and written several screen plays. She became captivated by the Rockaway peninsula and its surfing scene relative to what she has seen back home. “The main difference between California surfing and Rockaway is that you must not only be tougher, it’s cold and not nearly as many waves. The beaches aren’t as nice as those in California. And coming from California where surfing is universally accepted, I was surprised at how unreceptive the community was at first,” she said.

One thing she was surprised to learn in making the film is that these five men, despite being older and middleaged, have managed to keep surfing through all these years. Even if the conditions, both environmental and social, didn’t always welcome them. “I was always interested in surfing, being from California. I love surfing movies. When I found out people surfed in Rockaway, I was really surprised as most people are. At the same time I was intrigued by the area as well.” For more information on the film and future screenings visit www.ourhawaii.net.

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