Surf the City

When I started this story-before local grocery stores in New York City sold out of flashlights, batteries, and bottled water in anticipation of Irene-surfing in the Big Apple remained somewhat under the radar. In a city where sunbathing often means spreading a towel on a chunk of concrete pier off the West Side Highway, riding the waves seems an unlikely pursuit. And yet as storm hysteria swept the city, surfers took center stage.

Mayor Bloomberg gave a direct warning to New York’s surfing community on Saturday morning, warning them not to head into the water. The day before, the New York Daily News covered the surf scene at Rockaway Beach-the city’s only designated surfing area-as thrill seekers took advantage of a swelling sea and uncharacteristically large waves.

If hurricane Irene didn’t thrust local surfing into the spotlight, then certainly news of an upcoming pro surfing championship did. This is what initially sparked my curiosity. I sat down on the subway one day and saw a tidal wave looming above an elderly man’s head. Plastered to the wall of the downtown A train, there was a poster advertising the Quiksilver Pro New York surfing competition, which begins this weekend in Long Beach, NY. While the competing surfers will come from all over the world, the existence of a major competition nearby got me thinking, what does surf culture look like in NYC?

I started in SoHo where a shop on Crosby called Saturdays deals in coffee, clothing and surfboards. Of course, Saturdays isn’t only for surfers. Walk by on a weekday afternoon and you may see sales associates from nearby shops ducking in for a drink, or a group of chefs from the adjacent French Culinary Institute lounging on the bench outside. However, one surfer you will see there is co-owner Josh Rosen, who has been surfing for 20 years.I asked Josh what characterizes New York surf culture and he mentioned its less visual side. “It’s not as exterior in New York,” he said. “You don’t see cars with boards on top or surfers walking down the street in board shorts. A guy in a suit may be a surfer or a gal in a dress and heels heading to her PR job.” I realized this could be why the local surf scene has eluded me for so long. Another reason? Most New Yorkers are barely waking up by the time Josh and his friends are peeling off their wetsuits. They often meet at the shop at 4am, drive out to Rockaway and catch some waves before heading back to Manhattan so they can be at their desks at 9:30am.

Next, I hopped on the L train to check out another city surf shop, Mollusk, which sits near the quite un-surfable Williamsburg waterfront in Brooklyn. There I caught up with store manager Johnny Knapp, who further explained the qualities of a New York surfer. “We’ve got a tougher skin here,” he said. “In California they want the wave at the end of the street. We have to take cars and subways to get to the wave.”

Before stopping at Mollusk I had noticed a kitschy spot in Williamsburg called Surf Bar on North 6th Street. I couldn’t wait to ask Johnny about it and secretly hoped we’d head over there to dig our toes in the bar’s sandy floor (real sand…in the city!). But when I mentioned Surf Bar he only smiled and said, “Oh I’ve never stepped foot in there.” I then remembered that Josh Rosen had warned me about theme bars-they usually don’t draw the true surfing crowd. A better bet for a surf hangout, he said, is Epstein’s Bar on Manhattan’s Lower East Side.

I got a taste for NY surfing’s more edgy side, when I chatted with Epstein’s owner, Pat Conlon. “Pat the Rat,” as he was called growing up (he was a water rat from the beginning), was born and raised in Rockaway. When I asked if he’d be checking out the Quiksilver competition this weekend, he said, “Sure, I’ll be there. But I don’t stand in line, I don’t sit in the cheap seats, and I don’t pay for shit.”

After we cleared up his seating preference and established that I’m not a hipster (Pat is not a big fan, so of course I vehemently denied it), we got to talking about surfing in Rockaway. “It’s a mixed bag of nuts,” he said. “Visitors from all over the world surf there-men, women, old and young.” And like Johnny Knapp, Pat took a certain amount of pride in the toughness of a Rockaway surfer. “I’ve earned it,” he said. “I’ve been out there in the winter with Vaseline on my face so that it doesn’t freeze.”

I had to see Rockaway for myself, so that weekend I took the A train from Manhattan. Immediately I gained appreciation for guys like Pat who surf year round because I couldn’t even get my Manhattan friends to venture out on a sunny day in August, let alone in the dead of winter. “Rockaway? It’s too far. And what if it rains?” one friend moaned. So, I went alone. The trip to the Beach 90th St. stop was actually a relaxing one on a Sunday morning. It took just over an hour and the whole time I thought of a poem by Lawrence Ferlinghetti in which he travels all over the country, but always pines for “a Sunday subway for some Far Rockaway of the heart.”

At the Rockaway Boulevard stop two guys carrying boards got on and a gaggle of girls squealed excitedly, “Oh my god! Surfers!” I followed the guys off and watched them maneuver their boards through the subway turnstile-definitely not a skill required for surfing in Hawaii.

Once I got to Rockaway Beach, the surf scene became very apparent, very quickly. On my way to the boardwalk I passed Boarders Surf and Skate Shop where you can store your board and take a shower before jumping on the subway. The shop also rents boards ($35 for a half day or $50 for full day) and can arrange for a lesson.

On the boardwalk I discovered plenty of good bites for surfers looking to refuel-arepas at Caracas Rockaway, fish tacos at Rockaway Taco, and Thai food at Ode to the Elephants. There’s also Thai Rock just up the street from the boardwalk on 92nd. The restaurant sits on Jamaica Bay and has live music at night. But a Rockaway must, according to Pat Conlon, is a frozen piña colada with a floater of rum on top at Connolly’s on 95th Street.

Finally, I made it out to the beach to see the main attraction-the surfers. When I saw the dozens of heads rhythmically bobbing in the water and the artistic turns of a surfer riding a wave, I was surprised to find the sport as graceful as dance performances I’ve scene at Manhattan’s Lincoln Center. There was no doubt in my mind-surf culture is alive and well and very much a part of NYC.

The Quiksilver Pro New York competition takes place September 1-15 in Long Beach, NY.

[flickr image via jarito]

Surfers in Tahiti ride waves so big they cancel contest

For those who don’t know very much about the world of pro surfing, it isn’t very often that a professional contest gets cancelled because the surf is actually too big. That’s exactly what happened in Tahiti, however, when a massive swell generated by hurricane force winds in the southern latitudes rendered the surf too powerful for any human to possibly paddle in to.

With the 2011 Billabong Pro Tahiti on hold due to the exceptional surf conditions, many of the world’s top surfers instead opted to whip into the aquatic monsters via tow-lines attached to the back of jet skis. In case you’re unfamiliar with the sport of tow-surfing, this video should be a nice little introduction.

Taking place on the ridiculously shallow reefbreak known as Teahupoo (or simply “Chopes” to those in the know), the spot is renowned for having a wave shape that more resembles a dark, bulbous pit of death than a casual, inviting day at the beach. It’s the same place where Laird Hamilton in August, 2000 rode the wave that forever changed big wave surfing history.

While the contest has since resumed, this is a glimpse into the types of days that professional big wave surfers consistently travel across the globe attempting to conquer.

Video of the Day – Tarp surfing

Some surfers travel to the ends of the Earth in search of the perfect barrel. When the swell isn’t picking up, others get creative and only have to go as far as their front yards. Today’s Video of the Day from is a look at a few groms from San Juan Capistrano, California that started the unique sport of “tarp surfing”.

Avid surfers Dodge Wyrath and Wyatt Brady came up with the idea after a gust of wind blew a tarp off of the family boat, and they wondered what it would be like to surf through a “barrel” created by pulling the tarp over a skateboard. The result is visually captivating and makes for a great video segment.

Have you found any wild improvisations of extreme sports during your travels? Share them with us! Leave a comment below and it could be our next Video of the Day.

Photo of the Day (10.01.10)

We’re nearly two weeks into autumn here in the Northern Hemisphere, but I had put off officially saying farewell to summer. I mean, it had been mild here in New York. But, this week brought rain, wind, cooler evenings and all the trappings of autumn. Kids are fully entrenched in the new school year, football season is hitting its stride and, yes, the foliage is getting ready to be peeped. Heck, it’s now October. Summer, my friends, is over.

This picture by Flickr user snowjumpr seems like a fitting goodbye. However, let us not mourn Summer’s loss. As the sun sets on the season of vacations, beach weekends and picnics, let’s enjoy the comfortable temperatures, pick some fresh apples and find our fat pants that make Thanksgiving oh so comfortable. Autumn has plenty of perks, not the least of which is the food. It’s pie season, folks!

Have a picture that shows you chasing summer? Or, even better, just some great travel photos? Submit your images to Gadling’s Flickr group and we might use one for a future Photo of the Day.

World Cup: other things to do in South Africa

While the World Cup is currently taking center stage in South Africa, the country has plenty of other things to offer travelers who venture away from the stadiums to take in some of the amazing culture and adventure there. Here are five other suggestions for things to do while your favorite team isn’t taking the pitch.

Go on Safari
If you’re going to visit Africa, you simply have to go on safari of course, and South Africa has some of the best game preserves on the continent. Chief among them is Kruger National Park, which is home to lions, elephants, zebras, and the famous cape buffalo. If you’re lucky, you’ll also catch a glimpse of the rare black rhino and the elusive cheetah. The park has a variety of lodging options as well, including everything from staying in a tent to a fancy, upscale lodge.

Go Surfing
South Africa sits on the far southern tip of the African continent, where the Atlantic and Indian Oceans come together at Cape Agulhas and the Cape of Good Hope. This unique confluence of two oceans generates gigantic waves, and world class surfers from around the globe converge on Cape Town, and other South African cities, to ride the supertubes the region is famous for. Whether you’re an expert or beginner surfer, you’ll find plenty of great surf along South Africa’s spectacular beaches.

Go Scuba Diving
Scuba divers will find plenty to love in South Africa as well. The country’s ample coastlines offer some very diverse dive options for those who prefer to play beneath the ocean. For example, in Sodwana Bay you’ll find a beautiful array of coral reefs and bright tropical fish, but if you head further south to Protea Banks, you’ll get a dive of a completely different kind, complete with sharks and ship wrecks that are sure to get the adrenaline going.Go for a Hike
South Africa has amazingly diverse wilderness areas to explore some of which are best seen on foot. If you get the urge to take a walk, the Drakensberg Mountains offer up spectacular views of the surrounding countryside and trails even pass by primitive cave art that has been around for thousands of years. For an equally challenging hike closer to civilization, stay in Cape Town and make the trek to the top of Table Mountain, the 3550 foot tall, flat-topped mountain offers some great views of the city below and the ocean beyond

Go to the Winelands
When you’re done exploring the adventure travel aspects of South Africa, it’s time to relax and savor some of the other things that country is famous for. SA has become famous for its fine wines, which are exported around the globe, as much as its fantastic natural resources. There are multiple routes through the South African wine country, which is located east of Cape Town, and the region is famous for its breathtaking views and fine dining, as well as the amazing wine that is produced there. Whether you go for a day or for a week, you’ll be enchanted with region, that is a bit of a hidden gem in a country that is known for adventure.

Of course, at the moment South Africa is engulfed in a football frenzy, with travelers arriving from around the globe to watch the World Cup matches. But when those visitors are looking for a little escape from the craziness, they’ll certainly have plenty of options to choose from.