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

Video Miami Cubans Divided on New US Policy

While older, more conservative Cuban Americans have promoted anti-Castro political movement for years, younger generations say economically, it is time for change More

2014 Sees Dramatic Uptick in Boko Haram Abductions

Militants suspected in latest mass kidnapping of over 100 people in Gumsuri, Nigeria on Sunday More

Video Cuba Deal Is Major Victory for Pope

Role of Francis hailed throughout US, Latin America - though some Cuban-American Catholics have mixed feelings 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.
Sudan School Becomes Target of Aerial Attacksi
X
December 19, 2014 12:45 AM
The school dropout rate is at an all-time high in Sudan's South Kordofan state because many schools have been destroyed during the three-year civil war between the government and SPLA-N rebel forces. Adam Bailes visited Sudan's Nuba Mountains' region and reports many children are simply too scared to go to school
Video

Video Sudan School Becomes Target of Aerial Attacks

The school dropout rate is at an all-time high in Sudan's South Kordofan state because many schools have been destroyed during the three-year civil war between the government and SPLA-N rebel forces. Adam Bailes visited Sudan's Nuba Mountains' region and reports many children are simply too scared to go to school
Video

Video VOA Reporter Tours Devastated Peshawar School

Islamist militants wearing military uniforms and strapped with explosives attacked a military run school Tuesday in the northwestern Pakistani city of Peshawar. At least 141 people were killed in the horrific attack, most of them young students. VOA reporter Ayaz Gul visited the devastated school and attended the funeral of the principal who courageously tried to save her students from the deadly attack.
Video

Video Nigerians Fleeing Boko Haram Languish in Camp Near Capital

In its five-year effort to impose Islamic law in northeastern Nigeria, the Boko Haram extremist group has killed thousands of people and forced hundreds of thousands to flee. Some of those who ran for their lives now live in squalor on the edges of the capital, Abuja. Chris Stein reports for VOA.
Video

Video Putin Says Russian Economy Will Emerge Stronger

Russian President Vladimir Putin has said his country's sinking economy will not only recover but also become stronger, despite falling oil prices and Western sanctions over Ukraine. VOA's Daniel Schearf reports.
Video

Video Detained Turkish Journalists Follow Teachings of US-Based Preacher

The Turkish government’s jailing of critical journalists has sparked international condemnation and is being seen as an effort to undermine the followers of an ailing Turkish preacher based in the United States. VOA religion reporter Jerome Socolovsky has more.
Video

Video ‘Anti-Islamization’ Marches Increase Tensions In Germany

Anti-immigrant rallies in Germany have been building in recent weeks, peaking Monday night in the city of Dresden where tens of thousands of people turned out to demonstrate against what they call the ‘Islamization’ of the West. Germany has offered asylum to more Syrian refugees than any other country, and this appears to have set off the protests. Henry Ridgwell reports from London.
Video

Video Aceh Rebuilt Decade After Tsunami, But Scars Remain

On December 26, 2004 there was an earthquake in the Indian Ocean so powerful it caused the Earth’s axis to wobble a few centimeters. Onshore on the island of Sumatra, the resulting tsunami was devastating. A decade later, VOA Correspondent Steve Herman reports from Banda Aceh, Indonesia, where although there is little remaining evidence of the physical devastation, the psychological scars among survivors remain.
Video

Video Refugees Living in Kenya Long for Peace in the Home Countries

Kenya is host to numerous refugees seeking safe haven from conflict. Immigrants from Somalia face challenges in their new lives in Kenya. Ahead of International Migrants Day (December 18) Lenny Ruvaga has more for VOA News from the Kenyan capital.

All About America

AppleAndroid