photo: courtesy union surfboards

the right boards, beaches, and bars for surfing nyc

bright lights, big waves

Everyone in this town has a “Welcome to New York” story about their first days here. Jeff Schroeder’s is maybe a little bit different than most. “My first week in the city, I jumped on the A train to Rockaway and scored some great waves at 90th street.” Yeah, a little bit different.

Over the last few years, and perhaps right under your nose, a surfing community has grown in New York City. Since as far back as the '70s, there always were a couple of crazies out there who would suit up and brave the low temperatures, unpredictable currents, and rocky shores of Brooklyn and Queens. But in recent years, their numbers have swelled and a new tide of likeminded entrepreneurs and surf-friendly drinking spots is rising along with them.

Granted, NYC weather and culture ensures that there’s always going to be a hardscrabble flavor to local wave riding. But with more dudes with board bags on eastern-bound subway trains and young, surf-targeted businesses like Saturdays Surf NYC and Schroeder’s own Union Surfboards in Greenpoint, the sport of kings is certainly having somewhat of a moment here.

“The NYC surf scene has evolved quickly over the past five years,” says Schroeder, remarking about the differences between this nest of riders and the communities on more, shall we say, inviting beaches in Cali, Hawaii, or Australia. “What separates our scene are the surfers in the water. The dedication and patience required to surf good waves here is reflected in the community of surfers. The same can be said for the everyday New Yorker. It breeds strong individuals.”

Photo: Jameson Posey

And they’d have to be. According to Schroeder, who shapes boards for our surf along with his partner Chris Williams, even our best spots offer a gritty, urban experience as hard as any of our sidewalks. “Rockaway is unique from any other beach in the world,” he says, “The combination of the cityscape, accessibility by transit, and the constant flow of planes in and out of JFK makes it an experience.”

But it’s not all jets and subways in this tough town, provided you’re ready for a longer ride. “Further east, Long Beach and Lido can be world-class beachbreaks when the swell and conditions are right,” Schroeder says.

Of course, New York’s local surf calls for its own kind of board, one Schroeder and Williams work on perfecting every day. “A board from a major California surfboard manufacturer may look great on the rack and under your arm,” he says, “but often times it’s not doing you any favors in East-Coast wave conditions. Our boards tend to be a bit beefier, with more volume and a flatter rocker.” He continues, “With fickle conditions and gutless waves you want a board that is suited for less than ideal situations.” Essentially, you need a board as tough as this town, one that allows you to, “have the most fun in all types of conditions.”

Photo: Beth Perkins

And like any town that welcomes riders, many of the best things about the NYC surf scene happen away from the beach (a lucky thing given that it rains about 50 days out of the year and the temperature is maddeningly inconsistent). “It’s truly a tight-knit community,” says Schroeder. “Each crew in each borough is unique, but for us here in Greenpoint we frequent the spots where our friends bartend. Black Bear in Williamsburg and Max Fish on the LES do a great job of supporting the local surf-and-skate scene. Toward Rockaway it's Playland, Rockaway Surf Club, and Rippers. Local surf shops are also hubs.” 

So much like the right waves here, the local surf-scene spots are a bit harder to find than a shack on the beach, but no less inviting. “From the Rockaway local to the Manhattan Wall Streeter,” Schroeder says, “everyone is just stoked on the opportunity to get in the water just a few minutes from the city.”  Surf City U.S.A. it ain’t—but the right beaches, boards, and bars are out there waiting for you. Hang 10.