By David Dowd
Growing up in northern New Jersey, 100 miles from the ocean. I never really dreamt of being a surfer until one day when my parents bought a house on the Jersey Shore.
My uncles were both avid surfers in the 70’s so when they learned of our move, they sent two surfboards to our house. When I was 10 years old at the time and I can vividly remember during the first summer of our move I would take the two-block walk to the beach with this surfboard under my arm. The surfboard was way too big for me, but I was determined to learn how to surf. Every day I would go out to the ocean and practice. I was going to be a surfer.
I’d surfed in New York occasionally over the years but it was more of a novelty for me. My wife had lived in Brooklyn while we were dating and had always dreamt of moving back. I, however, was a Jersey boy and never wanted to leave.
But… reluctantly, I agreed to move. I wasn’t nervous about where to live or anything like that. I was nervous about what it would mean for my surfing. Was my “career” over?
I knew the beaches of New Jersey best, but they would now be about an hour and a half away from me. It wouldn’t be convenient, but I knew that I could still get to the beaches I loved when the waves were good if we kept our car when we made our move to Brooklyn.
Of course, I knew that I would have to hit the waves New York brought. So, the first time the waves hit that year, I took a ride out to the Rockaways and I was struck by a few things:
The drive. It only took me thirty minutes to get there (what a relief!).
The wave was primarily a left hander which is the preference for goofy footers like myself. Now, I know that’s surfer jargon, but it means I surf with my right foot forward.
I thought for the first time that my surging career was going to be alright after all.
The crowds did shock me though. These spots were jam-packed based on the rising popularity of surfing and the proximity that the beaches had to one of the worlds biggest cities.
Sure, I had dealt with crowds in surfing my whole life, but this was definitely different. While there were some talented surfers, these lineups were mainly filled with adult beginners.
For a surfer, competing for waves isn’t the problem. The problem is competing for waves with someone who doesn’t know any better and goes in front of you and interferes with a wave, causing them to lose their equipment which can put themselves and others in danger.
I don’t begrudge anyone learning to surf. Surfing is amazing but it’s just one thing that can be frustrating when it comes to crowds.
A silver lining of these crowds though, is that a guy like myself who is admittedly average, really stands out in these lineups. I’m often told what a good surfer I am and am cheered on by the crowds. I’d be lying if I didn’t say it’s always a bit of an ego boost.
Fast forward 25 years and I’m now 35 living in Brooklyn with my wife. I work in a wood shop, but am still obsessed with surfing that it’s practically my second career. To this day, I still surf Rockaway every time the waves and conditions are best. I also make the occasional pilgrimage to New Jersey when surfing conditions favor there.
If you would have told me I’d consider myself a New York surfer as much (okay, almost as much) as I do a New Jersey surfer back in the day, I know I wouldn’t have believed you. One thing I do know though is that I’ll always be a surfer no matter where I live.