News / USA

Documenting the Rockaways in Photographs, Before and After Sandy

Before, After Superstorm Sandy, Documenting the Rockaways in Photographsi
X
August 16, 2013 11:12 AM
New York isn’t often thought of as a beach town, but the city’s southeastern edge is all coastline. Surfing aficionados can get on the subway train in Times Square with their surfboards, and be riding the waves off the Rockaways peninsula in Queens an hour or so later. Carolyn Weaver reports.
Photographer and surfer, Susannah Ray
Carolyn Weaver
New York isn’t often thought of as a beach town, but the city’s southeastern edge is all coastline. Surfing aficionados can get on the subway train in Times Square with their surfboards, and be riding the waves off the Rockaways peninsula in Queens an hour or so later.
 
That was what first drew art photographer Susannah Ray there in 2004. She moved from Brooklyn to the Rockaways to have more time to surf, sharing a small, poorly heated wooden bungalow with 15 or so others.
 
“Sometimes we would spend winter nights out here just freezing, and go surf as soon as the sun came up, walking through snow, and paddling out,” Ray said.
 
She has lived ever since at Rockaway Beach, a working-class neighborhood that is also home to many New York firefighters and police officers. Now married to a fellow surfer, Ray lives with her husband and their two-year-old  daughter in a small brick house a short walk from the ocean.
 
The surfing community in the Rockaways is almost as diverse in its racial, cultural and economic make-up as the rest of the city, she said. Ray says she hears Spanish, Portuguese and even Japanese among those paddling out.
 
“It’s become large enough at this point that there really is a niche for every kind of person, you know. Then there’s this huge hipster wave, which is a lot of young people from Brooklyn, Manhattan, maybe parts of Queens, who come down on the train for the day and surf. Then there’s sort of this middle ground, which is people like myself and my husband, some other surfing families on the block.”

Before and after
 
Some of Ray’s most striking photographs are of that community, including many who surf through the winter. The project, titled Right Coast, after surfers’ nickname for the East Coast, has dramatic images of wet-suited men and women hauling their boards under gray skies, through snow and even blizzards. Ray says that’s because most of the year, the waves in the Rockaways are small.
 
“So, when those good waves come, if you’re really dedicated and you want to be out year-round, you have to say, it’s snowing outside, it’s a 20 mile-per-hour northeast offshore wind, and I’m going to get my board and go surf,” she said.
 
Her quiet community was upended when Superstorm Sandy hit the Rockaways last October, wrecking some buildings, and flooding many others. Ray’s latest work, “What Are the Wild Waves Saying: Storm Stories from the Rockaways,” at Manhattan’s Bonni Benrubi gallery, documents the aftermath with portraits of residents and their ruined homes and possessions. A new sports car mired under sand and debris is the signature image.
 
“It’s kind of that dream cherry-red car, I think it’s a symbol of a little bit of luxury and fun, and it’s being completely crushed by the boardwalk,” Ray said.
 
The work is exhibited with an audio montage by radio producer Jen Poyant.“I saw the water running down the driveway. It started to come under the door, and I remember Clare going, oh my god, the water’s coming under the door,” a male speaker says. A female interviewee remembers: “And I wrap up in the blanket like this, and all I’m saying, ‘Lord, save me, save me Lord, don’t let my house go.”
 
One portrait is of an older man, Steiny Ludford. “He weathered the storm within his ground-floor apartment,” Ray said. “He became trapped inside as the water came in very quickly. He perched on a shelf for the duration of the flooding, until the waters began to recede.”

Future uncertain
 
Now, Ray said, the future of her community no longer feels secure. Hurricane season is nearing, and no one can be sure that another storm like Sandy won’t hit again.
 
“I don’t know what’s going to happen to us,” she said. “I have many moments when I wonder why we redid the basement the way we did. I think if I were a scientist at Columbia University, it might be easier for me to say, ‘Okay, you people, you need to just pack up and go.’ But because my life is here, I live here, it’s hard to take that viewpoint. So I’m conflicted. I don’t know the answer.”
 
On the other hand, she said, the community is rebounding in some ways. Beach concessions are being rebuilt, and weekend beachgoers are back. And the mood of some residents has lifted.
 
After Sandy, Ray said, “It really felt like something had been permanently lost. What is kind of terrific is that now that it’s summer, I realize it hasn’t been lost completely. Hopefully, we will regain a lot of what the community, in the days after the storm, a lot of what we thought was gone forever.”

You May Like

On Everest, Helicopters Rescue Stranded Climbers

Choppers transport some of more than 100 mountaineers trapped after deadly quake, avalanches More

Video Ten Years After Riots, France Searches for Answers to Neglected Suburbs

In 2005, a Paris suburb exploded into violence after two teenagers were electrocuted as they hid from police; since then, somethings have changed, others not More

US, Japan Announce Historic Revision of Defense Cooperation Guidelines

Nations say new guidelines will be 'cornerstone for peace and security' in Asia-Pacific region while also serving as 'platform for a more stable international security environment' More

This forum has been closed.
Comments
     
There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
‘Angel of the Migrants’ Helps Desperate Syrians Arriving in Europei
X
Henry Ridgwell
April 26, 2015 10:36 PM
Waves of migrants are continuing to arrive on the shores of southern Italy from North Africa. After their dangerous journey across the Mediterranean, they face an unknown future in Europe. In the Sicilian city of Catania there is an activist dedicated to helping the refugees on their journey.
Video

Video ‘Angel of the Migrants’ Helps Desperate Syrians Arriving in Europe

Waves of migrants are continuing to arrive on the shores of southern Italy from North Africa. After their dangerous journey across the Mediterranean, they face an unknown future in Europe. In the Sicilian city of Catania there is an activist dedicated to helping the refugees on their journey.
Video

Video Ten Years After Riots, France Searches for Answers to Neglected Suburbs

January’s terrorist attacks and fears of more to come are casting a spotlight on France’s neglected suburbs. Home to many immigrants, and sometimes hubs of crime, they were rocked by rioting a decade ago. Lisa Bryant visited the Paris suburb of Clichy-sous-Bois, where the 2005 violence first broke out, and has this report about what has changed and what has not.
Video

Video Gay Marriage Goes Before US Supreme Court

This week, the U.S. Supreme Court will hear arguments on whether gay people have a constitutional right to marriage. VOA’s Michael Bowman reports, the case could lead to the nationwide legalization of same-sex marriage, or a continuation of the status quo in which individual states decide whether to recognize gay unions.
Video

Video Study: Insecticide Damaging Wild Bee Populations

A popular but controversial type of insecticide is damaging important wild bee populations, according to a new study. VOA’s Steve Baragona has more.
Video

Video Data Servers Could Heat Private Homes

As every computer owner knows, when their machines run a complex program they get pretty hot. In fact, cooling the processors can be expensive, especially when you're dealing with huge banks of computer servers. But what if that energy could heat private homes? VOA’s George Putic reports that a Dutch energy firm aims to do just that.
Video

Video Cinema That Crosses Borders Showcased at Tribeca Film Festival

Among the nearly 100 feature length films being shown at this year’s Tribeca Film Festival in New York City are more than 20 documentaries and features with international appeal, from a film about a Congolese businessman in China, to documentaries shot in Pakistan and diaspora communities in the U.S., to a poetic look at disaffected South African youth. VOA’s Carolyn Weaver has more.
Video

Video UN Confronts Threat of Young Radicals

The radicalization and recruitment of young people into Islamist extremist groups has become a growing challenge for governments worldwide. On Thursday, the U.N. Security Council heard from experts on the issue, which has become a potent threat to international peace and security. VOA’s Margaret Besheer reports.
Video

Video Growing Numbers of Turks Discover Armenian Ancestry

In a climate of improved tolerance, growing numbers of people in Turkey are discovering their grandmothers were Armenian. Hundreds of thousands of Armenians escaped the mass deportations and slaughter of the early 1900's by forced conversion to Islam. Or, Armenian children were taken in by Turkish families and assimilated. Now their stories are increasingly being heard. Dorian Jones reports from Istanbul that the revelations are viewed as an important step.
Video

Video Migrants Trek Through Western Balkans to Reach EU

Migrants from Africa and other places are finding different routes into the European Union in search of a better life. The Associated Press followed one clandestine group to document their trek through the western Balkans to Hungary. Zlatica Hoke reports that the migrants started using that route about four years ago. Since then, it has become the second-most popular path into Western Europe, after the option of sailing from North Africa to Italy.
Video

Video US Businesses See Cuba as New Frontier

The Obama administration's opening toward Cuba is giving U.S. companies hope they'll be able to do business in Cuba despite the continuation of the U.S. economic embargo against the communist nation. Some American companies have been able to export some products to Cuba, but the recent lifting of Cuba's terrorism designation could relax other restrictions. As VOA's Daniela Schrier reports, corporate heavy hitters are lining up to head across the Florida Straits - though experts urge caution.
Video

Video Kenya Launches Police Recruitment Drive After Terror Attacks

Kenya launched a major police recruitment drive this week as part of a large-scale effort to boost security following a recent spate of terror attacks. VOA’s Gabe Joselow reports that allegations of corruption in the process are raising old concerns about the integrity of Kenya’s security forces.
Video

Video Japan, China in Race for Asia High-Speed Rail Projects

A lucrative competition is underway in Asia for billions of dollars in high-speed rail projects. Cambodia, India, Indonesia, Malaysia Thailand and Vietnam are among the countries planning to move onto the fast track. They are negotiating with Japan and the upstart Chinese who are locked in a duel to revolutionize transportation across Asia. VOA Correspondent Steve Herman in Bangkok has details.
Video

Video Scientists: Mosquitoes Attracted By Our Genes

Some people always seem to get bitten by mosquitoes more than others. Now, scientists have proved that is really the case - and they say it’s all because of genes. It’s hoped the research might lead to new preventative treatments for diseases like malaria, as Henry Ridgwell reports from London.
Video

Video Bible Museum Coming to Washington DC

Washington is the center of American political power and also home to some of the nation’s most visited museums. A new one that will showcase the Bible has skeptics questioning the motives of its conservative Christian funders. VOA religion correspondent Jerome Socolovsky reports.
Video

Video Afghan First Lady Pledges No Roll Back on Women's Rights

Afghan First Lady Rula Ghani, named one of Time's 100 Most Influential, says women should take part in talks with Taliban. VOA's Rokhsar Azamee has more from Kabul.

VOA Blogs