It’s hard to imagine that just a few months ago, the Rockaway was bustling with 40-plus surfers vying for waves at a single peak on a Sunday morning. Today, the home to more than 115,000 people and the sanctuary to thousands of New York City surfers, looks like the ravages of a massive war-torn town. No one is in the water and no one will be for a long, long time.
House after house, muddied floorboards, splinters of furniture and piles of waterlogged photo albums and once-plush toys are piled up in front yards, along sidewalks and spilling out into streets. Cars are upended against each other and trees and living-room walls appear in Tetris-like formations. Sand has accumulated in massive mounds in and along the ocean. And the 5.5-mile-long boardwalk that once defined the resort town, that became a working-class neighborhood and a première surf spot for all five boroughs, has been completely erased with only pairs of concrete pillars standing bare, with chunks of planks scattered in their shadows.
It’s been two weeks since Sandy, and life (or destruction) in the Rockaways looks better than it did a week ago, when sand and debris filled streets blocks away from the ocean, and residents feared leaving their homes after sundown as looters ransacked liquor and clothing stores. But it’s still has a long way to go. Everyone on the peninsula is still without electricity and heat, and no one official, not the electric company or the city, is giving answers as to when those basic comforts will be restored.
The only solace this community has is that everyone is trying to take care of each other with what little they can give. Neighbors offer each other gas, which is impossible to come by in this two-state, panic-ridden shortage. Others open up their working bathrooms to strangers, as many sewage lines were ruptured in the flood. Some share generators to dry up basements or simply survive in the 30-degree temps that a Nor’Easter, which arrived only a few days later, left in its wake. Anyone who is from this community, or has surfed this community, finds it hard not to turn around and run into someone she knows, someone who is on their way to get plastic gloves, contractor bags, free pizza at the shelter, or someone who has a story that needs to be shared about the recovery process.
Churches, firehouses and many local businesses, including the Rockaway Beach Surf Club, have opened their doors to dole out supplies and hot meals to the hungry and desolate, and Graybeards, whose president is the owner of Boarders Surf Shop, is helping to fill residents’ ever-growing and ever-changing needs. And while volunteers from all over the country are pitching in—the vet-comprised Team Rubicon; Occupy Sandy, one of the largest and most effective organizers of after-storm cleanup, led by a group of members from the Occupy movement and 350.org; as well as busloads and busloads of people of all ages and NYC neighborhoods hell-bent on giving a hand—the area still needs work, and will continue to for an indefinite amount of time.
Photography by Jennifer Eggleston. Special thanks to Chris Spadazzi for putting this story together.