2013-07-05 / Community

The Surf Club Offers More Than Surf

By Dean Hickey

It’s a surf club at heart, but far from just that. The Rockaway Beach Surf Club is a hidden gem to its surrounding community. A deeper look into the club’s history, work and motto will testify to that statement. A visit to the Beach 87th Street club allowed for a first-hand look at the true magic that goes on inside the colorfully decorated premises. Three of the club’s ambassadors, Bradach Walsh, Beth Perkins and Brandon d’Leo, were on hand to express their views on the club’s growth, the devastating events of Sandy and also the future ambitions and plans for the club.

“We are an all-inclusive club for the whole community to use, hang out, be yourself and have fun,” Walsh said. “It is a creative work space for the whole community to immerse themselves in. The space allows literally anyone and everyone with an idea and a passion a chance to express themselves in a creative way.” d’Leo also explained that anyone with a passion or idea can come and showcase their event or project, no matter how small, different or bizarre. The club has showcased various events such as birthdays, art exhibitions and even a mud wrestling contest. “What we have here is so unique. Very rarely can you find a place like this in New York whereby your event has an open space to be showcased. Regardless of how ridiculous it may sound. If you’re passionate and willing to make it work, the space is yours,“ explained d’Leo.

A glimpse inside the club’s walls still shows scars of superstorm Sandy. The club’s interior, along with the other business tenants previously on the location were completely gutted. Members and some 5000 volunteers it assembled over two months after Sandy were pivotal to so many during the recovery period.

Very few spaces in Rockaway were used to such effect for aiding those in need like the Surf Club. After Sandy its premises was turned into a non-profit aid location providing anyone in Rockaway with essentials they needed. d’Leo also explained the snowball effect of their extraordinary help to those in need. “People’s needs were specific. We would simply ask them for a list of what they needed and we would then reach out through various social media to help. The simple idea took off and snowballed into a full relief effort.”

Donations were received from various stores and organizations which they then distributed to those in need from their premises.

Furthermore, the club also helped gut hundreds homes in the area. Volunteers from all over the country came, joined forces with the club, and helped people clear their basements of Sandy’s destruction.

Beth Perkins told some heartwarming stories, including one of how people drove some 19 hours from Nova Scotia, helped for two days with their families and then drove back. “Although the devastation was so unfortunate, the best in human nature really shone through.”

The club was so efficient in their aid shop and grid mapping of housing that even FEMA and the Red Cross learned and piggy backed on a lot of the club’s ideas.

Once stores started reopening in Rockaway and people were getting back on their feet, it was time for the Surf Club to get back on theirs. Around January the club members were left to ponder and re-establish the prospects of their own premises.

The four on-site businesses who kicked in a couple of bucks each month to cover the rent were no longer there. Still, funding concerns, renovation headaches and grant delays were still not enough to dampen the optimistic spirits of the three as to what the 2013 summer could bring.

Plans for a liquor license, a fully renovated site and new and improved ideas put the club back on the progression ladder. Plans for free Wi-Fi, coffee mornings and a new and untraditional bar for all are in the works.

A final word on the club was left to d’Leo who noted “our visions for this club can only go so far without community involvement.

We need people to get involved for it to come to life, reach its full potential and for this club not to die on the vine”.

Members have a real passion unlike any other and their response to help those in need before themselves, during what was an incredible time for this community, is nothing short of remarkable. The Surf Club, like Rockaway is rebuilding and will be back stronger than ever. Stop by and say hello, you might become part of Rockaway’s creative and fun community. (Beach 87th Street, just off the Rockaway Freeway.)

The writer of this piece, Dean Hickey, is an intern from Dublin, Ireland.

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