Even NY Surfers are on Top of Each Other

There’s no room
No space to rent in this town
-U2

We all know NYC is crowded. There are millions of people everywhere: the streets, the subway, the restaurants. Developers need to acquire the “air rights” above a low-rise building before the construction of something taller on top of it. The cemeteries are crowded. The garbage dumps are full so so we send our trash to another state. No space on the land, in the air, and even in the ocean, which I only discovered today.

La Ingeniera (and fellow surfer chica) & I decided to go to Long Beach this weekend and test our recently learned surfing skills from Costa Rica. So we get up early to catch the 8:48am LIRR train out of Penn Station to Long Beach. It’s a pretty good deal: $10 for a round trip ticket and $7 entry fee into the beach with only an hour commute. In fact, I was really surprised to see fellow Gothamists at Penn Station with their boards! It made me want to have a board too. Check out this one guy’s really long board in an army fatigue bag! I suddenly felt reassured, at least there were going to be some beginners at the beach too. I imagined all these pros who would be yelling at me because I wasn’t practicing proper surfer etiquette.

We rented boards at LB Surf, across the street from the train station. La Ingeniera rented what looked like a 6′ board…and I chose a Soft Tops surfboard that looked about 8′ in length. I had never seen a this kind of board before because it had a foam top, kind like the texture of a yoga mat but much thinnner, which meant that I did not need to use any wax. As a beginner, it felt stable and great under my body. For $40 we had our boards all day. I’m toying with the idea of buying a used surfboard, which goes for about $200-300. If I go out 4-7 more times, it would’ve paid for itself.

We walked the quarter of a mile to the beach and designated area for surfers. When we were on the board walk, we looked onto the school of surfers and were disappointed with what we saw. The ocean was FLAT! Flat like a pancake, flat like my chest. There were noooo waves except the ones that crashed right up at the shore. It would’ve been a perfect day to swim because the ocean was so calm but the water was COLD! A little dismayed but still excited, we picked our spot on the beach to park our stuff and quickly got in the water. It was big reality check when the cold water hit my body for the first few minutes that I was no longer in Costa Rica AND that it was the middle of August when the water was supposed to be the warmest.

With teeth chattering after a few minutes, I got up on my board and paddled out. I’ve never really successfully paddled out before but then again, I never had been in a flat ocean before. I told myself that if I wouldn’t catch waves, here was my opportunity to get comfortable paddling, balancing on the board without rocking too much, sitting up, and learning to turn the board with my hands and feet. There was one time when I sat up on my board, fell off it, and flipped my board over. I panicked. I’m still not completely confident in the water (not to worry, I’m working on it) so when I discovered that my feet couldn’t touch the ground and I had to somehow swim AND flip my board right side up, I freaked! After several seconds, I managed to correct myself but not without notice of a fellow surfer nearby. He asked me if I could flip my board as he laughed. I told him that I was figuring it out. And I was. I tried going under it and flipping it but that didn’t work. So I held it aside and grabbed the other end and pulled it towards me but that meant another dunk under the water. Besides the bozo surfer who laughed, the other surfers were nice. I just warned them that I was a beginner and they softened up and even gave me tips. One guy who was giving a surf instruction even stopped to recommend that I sit back on the board. Another guy showed me the fastest way to spin the board around. All in all, a friendly group of surfers who returned my smile whenever I paddled by. I noticed a lot of Japanese surfers too, something I never would’ve expected.

After that incident where I felt mocked, I sat on the board and stared out into the horizon like a pro (even though it was all a facade) with 20 other fellow surfers, on the lookout for the next decent wave to catch. If a Martian fell onto the beach at the moment, it would probably wonder what was it we were looking at so mesmerized as we sat still on these 6-8 foot pieces of fiberglass. The really frustrating part was that there were just too many people and too few waves. So when a decent one comes along, after at least 5 minutes of waiting, EVERYONE paddles and tries to catch it. And I’m talking an average of 7 people on 1 wave, with only a foot separating them.

I managed to catch two waves but didn’t stand up on the board. Both times, there was another surfer to my right a mere foot away! Again, I freaked out because I am too much of an amateur and can’t control my board and I’m never sure how good the person next to me is at controlling his/her board! One guy crashed into me. And when it happened again, I had had it. I was freezing, my fingers were numb and my teeth were chattering.

This afternoon was an introduction to NY surfing. I definitely picked up some quality tips and felt more comfortable in the water with the board. La Ingeniera and I decided to take our boyfriends next time in early September. And after September, I’ll be surfing again in the wonderful warm waters of Maui!

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