Surf’s up in Rockaway! Here’s what it costs

The author surfing in Rockaway

The equipment isn’t cheap, but the ocean is free. Hurricane season means bad swimming but good surfing, and the city’s prime surf spot is just a subway ride away. Take the Far Rockaway A Train (not Lefferts) to Broad Channel, then transfer to the S shuttle to Beach 90 Street. The surfing beach is located a few blocks from the Beach 90th Street subway stop on 91st.

There you’ll find weekend escapists, pre-work warriors and weekday shredders hitting the surf, along with a handful of shops offering lessons, board rentals and loaner wet suits to the sport’s newest practitioners. If you’ve been considering trying this one-time outlaw pursuit—legal only since 2005, when the non-profit SurfRider Foundation defeated the laws prohibiting surfing at Rockaway—here’s an idea of the costs, along with a few other basics.

The Cost to Paddle Out
Rent a board for $25 for a half day, or $40 for the full if you feel like hanging out. To get a feel for the fundamentals and avoid a day of falling down, ask for a funboard, popular among beginners for combining the maneuverability of a shortboard with a longboard’s ease of catching waves. At Rockaway, longboards are better suited for an average-wave day (3-4 ft being a good average for Rockaway, as opposed to the 8-10 ft average at historic Pipeline in Oahu), but the few days of big waves that come each year are a thing of bliss for those riding short.

If you get hooked, you’ll want to buy your own board.  A used board is the least expensive route, with Craig’s List, eBay, and local ad bulletins viable options for shopping.  A great example is this 7’2′ funboard for sale in Bay Ridge for $380, or for a (like new) 6’6” Billabong board in Williamsburg for $450. For new and like-new boards expect to spend upwards of $400.

How you hit the water depends on the time of year. Toward the middle of the summer, some think the ocean warm enough for board shorts and a rash guard, but mostly it’s cold.  If you buy a board, a wet suit is a needed investment; otherwise a suit comes with the board rental. An entry-level weather appropriate suit (at least a 4/3mm) runs between $150-250 at most surf shops.  You can save by going used, like this Xcel wetsuit for $85 in Brooklyn—washing it first goes without saying.  Shipping a wetsuit is easier than a board, so you’re not limited to regional shopping and eBay’s wetsuit section is awash in bargains.

When To Go
The most consistent waves come in the late summer and through fall, particularly late September to early November.  Many days are flat. MagicSeaweed offers surfing forecasts and SurfLine posts daily conditions with a live webcam stream. Fearful of sharks? Spend your time worrying about lightning instead.

Surf Shops and Lessons
Rockaway Beach Surf Shop
is near the subway stop; but I give the nod to Boarders—a surf shop championing city surf culture.  They offer much needed changing rooms and lockers (with hot showers for fall riders), gear and boards, and a renovated deck for lounging.

If you’re a beginner, lessons will shorten your learning curve considerably.  I attempted to start surfing on my own, observing the technique of other surfers and replicating it on my board.  I was standing at times, but I never quite felt the pleasure of a full ride. While traveling, I took a few classes, which turned out to be money well spent.

Locally, New York Surfing Lessons is a popular choice. A $20 deposit reserves your spot, and the lesson includes the board and wet suit rentals. They offer classes seven days a week weather permitting (9 a.m.-6 p.m.).  A 2-hour private lesson is $110, but the priced is scaled for for groups: $90 per person for 2-4 people, $80 per person 5-7 people, and $65 per person for eight plus. It’s better with a friend anyway, and you can use the forum at New York Surf to find partners and other beginners.

Getting Started
On September 7, Rockaway Beach hosts a memorial paddle out for the 4th annual Richie Allen Memorial Surf Classic. Allen was a native Rockaway surfer and FDNY firefighter who died on 9/11. For interested newbies, the event will be a great introduction to the city’s thriving subculture of surfers.

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