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

Photogallery Strong Words Start, May End, S. African Xenophobic Attacks

President Jacob Zuma publicly condemned rise in attacks on foreign nationals but critics say leadership has been less than welcoming to foreign residents More

Video Family Waits to Hear Charges Against Reporter Jailed in Iran

Reports in Iran say Jason Rezaian has been charged with espionage, but brother tells VOA indictment has not been made public More

Video Overwhelmed by Migrants, Italy Mulls Action to Stabilize Libya

Amnesty International says multinational concerted humanitarian effort must be enacted to address crisis; decrepit boats continue to bring thousands of new arrivals daily 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.
Are Energy Needs Putting Thailand's Natural Beauty at Risk?i
X
Steve Sandford
April 17, 2015 12:50 AM
Thailand's appetite for more electricity has led to the construction of new dams along the Mekong River to the north and new coal plants near the country's famous beaches in the south. A proposed coal plant in a so-called "green zone" has touched off a debate. VOA's Steve Sandford reports.
Video

Video Are Energy Needs Putting Thailand's Natural Beauty at Risk?

Thailand's appetite for more electricity has led to the construction of new dams along the Mekong River to the north and new coal plants near the country's famous beaches in the south. A proposed coal plant in a so-called "green zone" has touched off a debate. VOA's Steve Sandford reports.
Video

Video Overwhelmed by Migrants, Italy Mulls Military Action to Stabilize Libya

Thousands more migrants have arrived on the southern shores of Italy from North Africa in the past two days. Authorities say they expect the total number of arrivals this year to far exceed previous levels, and the government has said military action in Libya might be necessary to stem the flow. VOA's Henry Ridgwell reports.
Video

Video Putin Accuses Kyiv of ‘Cutting Off’ Eastern Ukraine

Russian President Vladimir Putin, in his annual televised call-in program, again denied there were any Russian troops fighting in Ukraine. He also said the West was trying to ‘contain’ Russia with sanctions. Henry Ridgwell reports on reactions to the president’s four-hour TV appearance.
Video

Video Eye Contact Secures Dog's Place in Human Heart

Dogs serve in the military, work with police and assist the disabled, and have been by our side for thousands of years serving as companions and loyal friends. We love them. They love us in return. VOA’s Rosanne Skirble reports on a new study that looks at the bio-chemical bond that cements that human-canine connection.
Video

Video Ukrainian Volunteers Search for Bodies of Missing Soldiers

As the cease-fire becomes more fragile in eastern Ukraine, a team of volunteer body collectors travels to the small village of Savur Mohyla in the what pro-Russian separatists call the Donetsk Peoples Republic - to retrieve bodies of fallen Ukrainian servicemen from rebel-held territories. Adam Bailes traveled with the team and has this report.
Video

Video Xenophobic Violence Sweeps South Africa

South Africa, long a haven for African immigrants, has been experiencing the worst xenophobic violence in years, with at least five people killed and hundreds displaced in recent weeks. From Johannesburg, VOA’s Anita Powell brings us this report.
Video

Video Sierra Leone President Koroma Bemoans Ebola Impact on Economy

In an interview with VOA's Shaka Ssali on Wednesday, President Ernest Koroma said the outbreak undermined his government’s efforts to boost and restructure the economy after years of civil war.
Video

Video Protester Lands Gyrocopter on Capitol Lawn

A 61-year-old mailman from Florida landed a small aircraft on the Capitol lawn in Washington to bring attention to campaign finance reform and what he says is government corruption. Wednesday's incident was one in a string of security breaches on U.S. government property. Zlatica Hoke reports the gyrocopter landing violated a no-fly zone.
Video

Video Apollo 13, NASA's 'Successful Failure,' Remembered

The Apollo 13 mission in 1970 was supposed to be NASA's third manned trip to the moon, but it became much more. On the flight's 45th anniversary, astronauts and flight directors gathered at Chicago's Adler Planetarium to talk about how the aborted mission changed manned spaceflight and continues to influence space exploration today. VOA’s Kane Farabaugh reports.
Video

Video Badly Burned Ukrainian Boy Bravely Fights Back

A 9-year-old Ukrainian boy has returned to his native country after intensive treatment in the United States for life-threatening burns. Volodia Bubela, burned in a house fire almost a year ago, battled back at a Boston hospital, impressing doctors with his bravery. Faith Lapidus narrates this report from VOA's Tetiana Kharchenko.
Video

Video US Maternity Leave Benefits Much Less Than Many Countries

It was almost 20 years ago that representatives of 189 countries met at a UN conference in Beijing and adopted a plan of action to achieve gender equality around the world. Now, two decades later, the University of California Los Angeles World Policy Analysis Center has issued a report examining what the Beijing Platform for Action has achieved. From Los Angeles, Elizabeth Lee has more.
Video

Video Endangered Hawaiian Birds Get Second Chance

Of the world's nearly 9,900 bird species, 13 percent are threatened with extinction, according to BirdLife International. Among them are two Hawaiian honeycreepers - tiny birds that live in the forest canopy, and, as the name implies, survive on nectar from tropical flowers. Scientists at the San Diego Zoo report they have managed to hatch half a dozen of their chicks in captivity, raising hopes that the birds will flutter back from the brink of extinction. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Exhibit Brings Renaissance Master Out of the Shadows

The National Gallery of Art in Washington has raised the curtain on one of the most intriguing painters of the High Renaissance. Mostly ignored after his death in the early 1500s, Italian master Piero di Cosimo is now claiming his place alongside the best-known artists of the period. VOA’s Ardita Dunellari reports.
Video

Video Sidemen to Famous Blues Artists Record Their Own CD

Legendary blues singer BB King was briefly hospitalized last week and the 87-year-old “King of the Blues” may not be touring much anymore. But some of the musicians who have played with him and other blues legends have now released their own CD in an attempt to pass the torch to younger fans... and put their own talents out front as well. VOA’s Greg Flakus has followed this project over the past year and filed this report from Houston.
Video

Video Iran-Saudi Rivalry Is Stoking Conflict in Yemen

Iran has proposed a peace plan to end the conflict in Yemen, but the idea has received little support from regional rivals like Saudi Arabia. They accuse Tehran of backing the Houthi rebels, who have forced Yemen’s president to flee to Riyadh, and have taken over swaths of Yemen. As Henry Ridgwell reports for VOA, analysts say the conflict is being fueled by the Sunni-Shia rivalry between the two regional powers.

VOA Blogs