In the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy, Long Island still stands, but as damaged goods. The ocean showed its true strength, causing billions of dollars worth of destruction to the East Coast. Boardwalks were removed from their beachfront foundations and tossed into flooded, sand-filled streets. Dunes were completely destroyed and ocean front roads were taken to sea. Waterfront homes were flooded, and left barely salvageable in some cases. What were once popular beach locations are now remains of natural disaster. Still, Long Island surfers have been anxious to get back in the water.
“I just want to surf,” said local surfer, Mike Garite, 20, of Seaford, NY. “I’ve been surfing Long Beach all my life, nothing like this has ever happened before.”
In the past, the south shore of Long Island has provided surfers with a fair amount of surf throughout the year. Whether it’s a hot summer day, or a snowy winter morning, surfers have always came together to surf their local beaches when a solid swell comes through, giving them their own little taste of the California surf lifestyle. Places like Rockaway, Queens; Long Beach, Jones Beach, Fire Island, and other spots further east all the way out to Montauk, have all served Long Islanders as surf spots for generations. Suddenly, access to these beaches has become harshly restricted.
“I looked at the surf report, and saw there were waves, then I realized I would have to drive out to Montauk,” said Garite, who realized, when attempting to surf just a week after Sandy hit, that surfing Long Island would not be quite the same or nearly as simple. Still, he was willing to make the two-hour drive out to Montauk, the furthest point east on the south shore of Long Island, but again the storm set him back–he needed to fill up his gas tank before he could make the drive. “By the time I got there, it was already dark because I had to wait to get gas.”
Garite, like many other surfers from Nassau County, usually surfs beaches on the Long Beach barrier island. These include beaches in the city of Long Beach, and other public beaches such as popular Town of Hempstead beaches, Lido West and Point Lookout, which are well known for their quality breaks. However, the damage caused by Sandy left the barrier island in shambles, and restricted local surfers from accessing the island all together, let alone the beach. Until the week of Thanksgiving, only residents of Long beach were allowed to enter the city.
Naturally, surfers looked to other beaches, perhaps Jones Beach or Gilgo Beach, which are directly east of Long Beach. The Jones Beach barrier island was also severely damaged by the storm, particularly Ocean Parkway, which runs the entire length of the island, connecting the Meadowbrook State Parkway to the Robert Moses Causeway Parkway, and also the Wantagh State Parkway. South of Merrick Road, the first exit north of the beach, these parkways were all restricted to emergency vehicles only, and closed to the public, including surfers, due to the damage. Not until November 17, did the Wantagh State Parkway and the Meadowbrook finally open up completely. The dunes separating the beach and Ocean Parkway were completely deteriorated, and two of the three eastbound lanes on Ocean Parkway suffered severe damage, leaving the roads in a state that could not be driven on by the public. Further east, Fire Island suffered just as much damage, and there was no way to even get there.
“I really wanted to check out what happened to the beach,” said local surfer, Michael Shiwnath, 24. A Jones Beach lifeguard for eight years, Shiwnath has developed a very special connection to Jones Beach and Long Island beaches in general. “I couldn’t even drive down to my beach and see what happened, it was really sad for me,” continued Shiwnath. Many of the structures at Jones Beach were wiped out by the storm, including the lifeguard shacks, in which the lifeguards kept their equipment and shared many memories together. “My shack, which was like my second home every summer, is completely gone.”
Besides the difficulty of getting to the beach, there was also the issue of water quality. The damage caused by Hurricane Sandy resulted in many sanitation issues in cities such as Long Beach and Rockaway. The sewage system in Long Beach was heavily damaged by the storm, and caused sewage to spill directly into the ocean. Just the week after Hurricane Sandy hit Long Island, a nor’easter hit, which mustered up some waves in the Long Island region. Still, the surf report on Surfline.com warned surfers that it might be best to stay out of the water, and wait until the next swell, due to the water conditions. “Everyone was telling me it was too dangerous to go out, and the water quality was unsafe, but I still went out,” said Mark Dowling, 21, resident of Long Beach, and Jones Beach lifeguard. “They were right though,” continued Dowling. “The water was a dirty brown and there was definitely some sewage floating around, but I was happy to be out there.”
Some Long Islanders may have already started to forget about Sandy, as they have their electricity restored, and things are coming back to normal. The surfers are still recovering from the disaster, as they start to get their beaches back. “It’s a whole different process now,” said Dowling. “As we get back to our old spots, we realize they are not the same as they used to be. All the sand was moved around and everything’s working differently now. It’s a whole new world for us to discover.”
“Upload Images.” Ocean Parkway. N.p., n.d. Web. 12 Dec. 2012.
“Google Maps.” Google Maps. N.p., n.d. Web. 12 Dec. 2012.
All other images, videos, and reporting conducted by Patrick Campbell