Birdwell Blog

Ice Cream Headaches - A Plunge into the NY/NJ Surf Scene
Dazzling Blue #85

 

I moved to New York in 2001 to get away from surfing. I’d grown up in Southern California, surfed on the pro tour for five years, and worked as Executive Editor of Surfing magazine. I was saltwaterlogged to the point of disgust. I wanted new experiences. If there was a lesson learned from a life in waves, it was to think fast, stay loose, bend knees. I hit the city with big dreams. 

 

     I vowed to play my surfing background down. I was certain that it would mark me as the dumbest guy in the room. Among my Yale- and NYU- and Columbia-grad friends I felt deeply inadequate. Though I’d surfed hard, I knew no serious rigor, certainly not on the intellectual front. But the surfing life, I discovered against the backdrop of the city, is a venerable one. Built into it is travel, adaptability, the getting out of comfort zones. It charges you with bounce. It keeps you dancing. To my surprise, I found a distinct parallel between wave riding and the NYC hustle. During long walks in the city, in fact, I found myself buzzing with something that felt like surfing.

 

     I found this at the dinner table as well. As a surfer I’d fly to Capetown or Sydney and in the course of a day ride a warbly beachbreak, a slamming reef, a ricocheting wedge—all unfamiliar and strange. As a New York resident I’d meet a friend for dinner and suddenly find myself at table with, say, an Australian documentary filmmaker, a Venezuelan hat maker, an English investment banker, and a Norwegian model, all of whom I’d never met before. There was a pulse to the city that electrified me the same way the ocean did. One was stirred by distant storms, wind on water; the other was whipped up by people who came to the city with passion and ambition and deep engagement with the world.

 

     I loved watching folks break into song on the subway and in the streets. At first I thought this was about abandoning self-consciousness—and to some degree it was—but over time I realized it was really about space. In such a densely populated city it is hard to find privacy. You learn how to be yourself in public in NYC. No matter how weird or strange, there will always be someone out-weirding and out-strange-ing you. This was a kind of personal growth I was interested in. 

 

     People double for nature in New York City. I came to this conclusion after several years of living downtown. There were no blue horizons to ponder, no rustling trees out the window, no birdsong to wake up to. But there were over eight million warm bodies, beating hearts, inhalers and exhalers. The more I embraced this, the better I felt. Human contact assuaged the coldness of concrete and steel.

 

     And there was real surf, too. One fall day in 2002 I paddled out to roiling and thunderous 90th Street in Rockaway Beach. I was out of shape, my timing was slow, and the double-overhead teepees heaved me over the falls and ground me into the sandbar time and time again. Short-interval southeast swells had serious whomp. They were less consistent than their west coast counterparts, but when they came they came with fanged lips.

 

     Ice Cream Headaches is a book that captures the NY and NJ surf experience. Written by Ed Thompson and photographed by Julien Roubinet, from England and France respectively, it is much like my own impressions above: an outsider’s view into a scene comprised mostly of outsiders. Thompson and Roubinet worked on it for over four years, interviewing and photographing luminaries like Pilgrim Surf + Supply founder Chris Gentile, Pulitzer Prize-winning author William Finnegan, and acclaimed photographer Michael Halsband. They spent a lot of time chasing swells, chasing surfers, and chasing the essence of this unique world, and the results are splashed across the book’s 192 beautiful pages. Here are a few highlights—

 

 

 

 

 

For more Ice Cream Headaches click HERE.

 

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