Film: Surfing After Sandy – Rebuilding Rockaway Beach, NY

The film Beach 87th St. / Surfing After Sandy tells the story of surfing and recovery at the closest wave to New York City. Focusing on the stories of two surfing families who weathered Hurricane Sandy and are now rebuilding their lives and homes in Rockaway Beach, Beach 87th St. exposes the depth of the damage and the strength of the local surfing community.

The film by writer-director team Jesse and Lukas Huffman, which includes image contributions from the East Coast’s most talented surf media creators—Mikey DeTemple, Nick Lavecchia, Joe Carter, and Ryan Struck.

We caught up with the Huffman brothers to find out a little more about their new film and how to help.

Adventure: How did you find this angle on the Sandy story? Were you some of the “outsider” volunteers coming out to help the Beach 87th neighborhood?

Lukas: I helped a friend of mine who is a surfer out on Rockaway. He, his wife and 12 month old moved out there just over a year ago. They also were a young, middle-class family, who could only afford to purchase a house in Rockaway. Five days after Sandy, a group of us helped him pull all the sheet rock out of his basement.

The angle on the story came from hearing about how the Rockaway Beach Surf Club was on the scene, organizing volunteers and donations days after Sandy. They were able to move quickly, while larger organizations such as FEMA and the Red Cross couldn’t get their relief systems on the streets until more than a week after the storm hit. So, as a surfer, I was immediately drawn to telling the story of how surfers helped give aid to the Rockaway community—a town that means so much to surfers from all over New York.

A: Tell us a little about the two surfers who are featured in the film?

Jesse: Keone and Scott are both members of the Rockaway Beach Social Club, and Beth is a board member. Scott is animator by trade, and Beth is a freelance photographer. They are all wonderful individuals with diverse backgrounds and a love for the ocean, and they have worked hard to integrate themselves into the Beach 87th neighborhood.

Lukas: Keone is an illustrator. He moved to New York City from the Big Island of Hawaii about 20 years ago to go to art school. Beth and Keone lived together in the East Village, and eventually they couldn’t afford to live in the East Village anymore. They moved out to Rockaway, where they could actually afford to own a house. This is the story of many young middle-class families who live in Rockaway now.

A: Do you think the surf community will stay more harmonious since the hurricane brought people together?

Jesse: The goodwill will hopefully last a long time, and folks will certainly retain a heightened sense of community and responsibility. That said, my sense from personal experience is that surfers are inherently territorial and that won’t entirely go away… If I lived there, I’d feel the same way!

Lukas: One can’t say for sure. For one, the surfers such as Keone and Scott do have a new personal connection and appreciation for out-of-town surfers. And, given that the Rockaway boardwalk and community suffered so much damage, my feeling is that the surfers in the water can all agree that things get much worse than having a crowded break. Just driving through the town of Rockaway—and seeing the damage—puts things in perspective. So, while the devastation is so visible, my hope is that the harmony in the water will persevere.

A: How can people—surfers and nonsurfers—help or get involved?
Jesse: At this point, a lot of what people need is just money and help navigating the complicated process of getting financial aid from the government and large organizations. These organizations are directly helping on the ground and are a great place to point people toward.

Lukas: That’s right. The area needs money. It’s very simple.

A: Are people surfing again at Rockaway?

Jesse: Yes! Surfing gives the locals a sense of normalcy in the post-storm chaos.

Lukas: Keone and Scott’s bit in the video is true; they went surfing a little over a week after Sandy. And it was a much needed session, just to feel the stoke. As Keone says, it helped “wash the storm off” him. People have been going surfing in Rockaway when it’s good over the past month. The sands have moved quite a bit, so the breaks are a little different. But, you can look up and down the beach easily to see where it’s breaking better now.