Ramblings & Photography: A Long Beach Walk




The equivalent of a 79 block walk on the beach, from Rockaway Park right down to 37th street, started off as a day taking photos and catching up with a friend who had never been to the Rockaways before, and turned into a day full of adventures. It’s amazing what the imagination can do… Shipwrecks! Secret treasure troves hidden under the sand! Volcanoes! The remains of witchcraft rituals in the sand!


It all started right between 116th and 90th streets, in the sand, while contemplating the vast variety of odd jellyfish that had washed up onto the shore, what appeared to be a tugboat seemed to be heading directly for the shore, the closer it got, the more worried I was that it was going to be beached in the sand, unable to move again. That is, until it dawned on me that the boat wanted to be shipwrecked on the shore! It had been stuck on a remote island for years and was so excited to see civilization that it was heading directly towards us, and the Caterpillar diggers working on the beach to fix the pipelines damaged by the previous hurricane. Land at last! However, I don’t think that the version of civilization that the captain was approaching enchanted him that much, because he turned around after a while and disappeared back to where he came from… 


A little bit further along I nearly tripped over a piece of rusty metal wiring that was slightly sticking out of the ground. The low tide had revealed the hiding place of what could be an ancient treasure trove, locked way down under the sand, the evidence that it was there soon to be erased by the incoming tide. I wonder if this is what the captain of the tugboat had come back for, and realizing that there were too many people to witness his arrival, turned back, to come back at a later date, maybe during the winter months when the beach is deserted apart from the random person playing with their metal detector? He could anchor the boat of shore and swim inland with divers, dig out the treasure and take it back to the deserted island without anyone seeing him!


After nearly being decapitated by fishing lines pulled taut along the sand we bumped into a shaman, seemingly dropped from the sky right in front of us. A parrot on his green hair, followed by a green and pink poodle, walking towards the water, smiling at us, waiting for us to talk to him. I imagine him walking on the water, connecting with nature and the sparkling sunlight on the waves, collecting more pets and followers along the way. I wish I had managed to capture his essence on camera but I was a little nervous about his reaction. What if he decided to send his parrot to take my eyes out? He didn’t seem completely benevolent to be honest.


Walking on, we managed to avoid any more appearances for a while, until we came across what seemed to be an abandoned film set on part of the boardwalk that was still intact (all along the way parts of the boardwalk have disappeared and have not been fixed yet). We rushed over to it and found that it had actually not been abandoned, but was guarded by strange individuals who let us take photos but wouldn’t let us touch anything. We were taken back to the Prohibition era that Boardwalk Empire is set in, surrounded by billboards for Atlantic City, and an inhabited house in the sand that obviously used to be grass and road until the storm surge brought the sand inland… After removing ourselves from the 1920’s we pushed through heavy dunes of drift sand and found evidence of witchcraft rituals held in the sand at some point not so long ago. There is nothing better than a remote beach surrounded by dunes for a nighttime ritual, is there?
And then for the last discovery, before making our way back to the reality of the A train: volcanic rock hidden in the sand! The glitter of the rock in the sun, half covered by the sand, lead to a larger piece of rock, maybe the last remainder of what used to be a volcano, thousands and thousands of years ago, before the world was what we see it as today. A little reminder of what and where we come from…


All in all, the walk is really worth it, especially on a beautiful day in September, just before it really gets cold. There is so much to discover and see along the shoreline, and so much to imagine…
For the full set of photos taken please see below or HERE 


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Rockaways Sept 2013, a set on Flickr.

Ramblings: The beach in September


I love the beach in September. Just after Labour Day the beaches are much quieter, and there is more room to spread out and enjoy the sound of the waves breaking on the shore (as opposed to people shouting and blasting music from every side). September has always been my favourite month in NYC (even though it signifies the end of summer and the beginning of autumn which is always followed on by cold, cold winters…): the air is cleaner and les muggy, the sun is still shining and warm and the nights are cooler. There really is nothing like walking barefoot in the warm sand, relaxing right by the water and soaking up the sun, never knowing if this will be the last time you will make it to the beach before the cold sets in.


The Rockaways have always been my favourite part of NYC. I’ve written many times about my trips to the beach, to Rockaway Park or Fort Tilden (when you could still go there before Sandy). A 45 minute subway ride from my home in Bushwick finds you in the middle of a lovely beach community, with miles of beaches to choose from, a perfect place to get away from the oppressiveness of the city and the humidity that coats everything through-out the summer. There have been years when I have spent at least a day per week on the beach, and then other years when I have struggled to make it out there more than a couple of times a month. I have to say that I have done better this year than I did last year, and mainly because I felt the need to support the place that I love so much after all of the devastation that happened there during Sandy. The first time I walked down the street towards the beach the boarded up places (especially the Sand Bar, a regular stop-off place for my friends and I), made me sad, although the fact that so many businesses were back open and ready for customers surprised me and made me realize how hard people had worked to go on with life even after part of it was destroyed. The beaches themselves were completely different. Smaller, with only partial boardwalks, the rest swept away during the hurricane. Fort Tilden closed for the foreseeable future, but beaches that were still accessible, comfortable with all of the amenities that one would need. I’ve always preferred the Rockaways to Coney Island – it’s more laid-back and less noisy (and there is always Pickles and Pies deli where you can buy sandwiches and fruit, not just places where you can only get fried food like hot dogs and fries). Coney is fun, but the Rockaways are my real place to go to, to relax and swim and be in the sun. 



I realised this week, listening to the Psychedelic Furs and contemplating the future while lying in the sun on Beach 106, that this is probably my last summer in NYC and that my future visits to the Rockaways may just be that – visits. There are oceans and beaches all over the world but this one will always have a very, very special place in my heart. Today some of the beaches are “closed” (although if you listen to the construction workers they will just tell you to walk over the dune and hang out on the beach – that no one is going to stop you from going there), but only because there is still so much work to be done to clean up after Sandy. I just worry that we will get hit by another super storm again this year… Or next year. Hopefully the work done will help avoid the extent of the damage that we all suffered last year. Right now a huge man-made dune has appeared all the way down the beaches, exposing a large pipeline (carrying water?), and the beach is even smaller, especially at high tide. But the same feeling is still there, it will always be the same place, no matter what the natural and man-made changes are… And it will always be a place that represents freedom, happiness and beauty in my heart. Hopefully I will still make it out there a few more times until the end of the month as I still want to finish a photography project I started using film earlier on during the summer. Fingers crossed that the weather will hold out until October. 



Ramblings: Summer in the city

It's summer, my favourite season of the year (closely followed by early autumn, spring and then, last of all, winter). We didn't really have a winter this year, and spring was a strange one too, but this summer has already been a scorcher, and we are only half way through July. I've already had my holiday this year, so I will be spending the rest of the summer in NYC, working and hoping to make it to the beach as often as possible. I love the heat. Granted, I prefer dry heat, desert heat, but I would much rather be sitting around the humid heat in the city than having to climb over piles of snow that a blizzard left behind in the winter. I'm not working as much as I was before I went to California, so I am planning on making the most of my time off and going outside.


I hear people complaining about being "stuck in the city" over the summer months. I don't know how you can be stuck here. If you want to get out of the heat the nearest beaches are only a subway ride away. There are Coney Island and Brighton Beach for those who don't mind tons of people and not-so-clean beaches, as well as a really cool boardwalk and amusement park (everyone needs to ride the Cyclone at least once in their lives, although once is probably enough). My preference has always been the Rockaways and in more recent years, Fort Tilden. If you need shops and bars and restaurants and public restrooms nearby you should probably stick to the Rockaways (Rockaway Park, the last stop on the A shuttle train being my favourite), but if you prefer wilder beaches where nobody is going to bother you (i.e. where you can drink, smoke, bring dogs, go topless etc), then Fort Tilden is just a short 10 minute bus ride from Rockaway Park. Just remember to bring food and water, because there is nowhere to buy it there. Fort Tilden starts just after Jacob Riis, and you can walk all the way down to Breezy Point if you want to. It seems to have become more and more popular over the past few years, but I tend to go during the week where it's more bearable than the weekends. I even slept on the beach overnight last year - not really allowed and to be honest, a little scary - and I probably wouldn't do it again, but it was definitely an experience worth its while - see my blog post about that night HERE. Outside of the city beaches there are many, many others that are only an hour or so away on the LIRR, my favourites being Smithpoint and Montauk.


I'd rather go to the beach than to a pool in the summer, seeing as there is nothing better than jumping in the waves and running in the sand, so I've never really checked out any of the public pools in the city. Now that the McCarren Park Pool is open again (and it's free), I suppose that would be a place to go if you want to swim (although it's probably going to be packed and full of screaming kids on summer holidays so I am going to give it a miss). I wish public pools were open at night - I love swimming in the dark, even if I tend to freak myself out with irrational thoughts of great white sharks hanging out in the pool, just waiting to bite my legs off. The shark thoughts are a recurring theme in my life - every time I am in water I think about sharks following me. I should probably avoid going to any location where sharks really tend to hang out... Although I still dream of going to Hawaii one day, and living in a garden full of hibiscus flowers by the beach...

Summer is always going to be the time when you can walk around in as little clothing you want without feeling self-conscious, dive into cool bars to get out of the heat, stay up until the sun rises and watch it from your rooftop, have BBQs on rooftops and in tiny back yards, sunbathe in the parks, jump through open fire hydrants with the neighbourhood kids (yes I do do that), make summer playlists and listen to them on the way to the beach, eat loads of fruit and vegetables because it's too hot to face any heavier foods, eat tons of ice cream and gelato and walk around the city during a summer storm, jumping in puddles and hoping that the rain will bring a slight relief from the oppressing humidity (it never really does). It really is my favourite time in the city which is why I will always continue to go on holiday before or after the season starts.

I'm going kayaking down the Delaware River later this week, and we will probably camp by the river too. I will hopefully not fall in and be unable to pull myself back into the kayak again, and will also hopefully not be eaten by a bear (although I would love to see one). I'm more likely to be eaten alive by mosquitoes though! I think I have already decided to leave my phone in the car on this trip - it will be quite nice to not be reached for a day... 


Camping sauvage aka sleeping under the stars

Yesterday morning I woke up to a thunder storm and pouring rain, and started getting ready for the Sunday night before Independence Day plans - sleeping on the beach and waking up to the sunrise over the ocean. Rain or shine we had said, so that's what we did...
Michelle and I were the only ones brave (or is it stupid) enough to do this, but we always knew that we could come home if it really wasn't going to work out! We made our way to Fort Tilden Beach, grabbing food at a couple of delis along the way (notably Mr Kiwi by my house for "healthy" stuff and Pickles and Pies by Rockaway Park subway station for sandwiches). Fort Tilden Beach is actually pretty easy to access - just grab a bus on 116th street right down to 169th street. It starts just after Jacob Riis Park (the federal beach) and goes pretty much all the way to Breezy Point. It's an unprotected beach, so no lifeguards, no amenities (unless you count the stinky portaloo by the abandoned buildings), just raw, uncleaned beach against a backdrop of dunes and woods.


The pros: not crowded, lots of driftwood to make tents with, beautiful views and pretty much the right to do whatever you want (even sunbathe topless if you are so inclined).
The cons? Only one I can really think of, and that is that the beach is not kept clean. There is a lot of garbage that comes IN from the ocean (it doesn't appear as it was left there by beachgoers).


When we got there it was drizzling. Not many people on the beach (mainly a fisherman and a couple of swimmers). We set up camp by an elaborate wood sculpture, and went to explore. We found a big piece of plastic, half of a huge container of some sort, surrounded by logs. The plastic was aptly named "Piece of white trash" and set up like a little hut - perfect for us when the rain started really coming down (the back and forth between old and new camp in the rain was quite exhilarating). The rain finally stopped, but the sun didn't come out (although we did get a beautiful reddish-pink sky at sunset) - and then the tide came in... and rolled right up to our camp. So we just moved back to the dunes, got into our sleeping bags and watched the stars light up, the fishermen's flashlights a few beaches down, and the fireworks over the ocean.
I slept OK, despite the fact the I wasn't 100% sure someone would scare us during the night. There's nothing quite like falling asleep and waking up to crashing waves...

Sadly there was no amazing sunrise, but nevertheless, something no less spectacular: a white fog coating all of the surroundings, rolling in from the ocean and giving everything an eerie and strange look - you couldn't really see too far around you, especially when you went in the water. Good job it cleared up around 10am, because that's when we (and the few groups of people who had turned up on the beach) saw a shark! Not a huge one, but it was definitely slithering around very close to the shore! It disappeared after a while, but that really put me off swimming for the rest of the day (needless to say I had dreamt that a shark bit my foot off the night before, so I wasn't going to risk that becoming reality!).
And then the people started to arrive. And arrive. And arrive. In droves. To quote Michelle Hel's words directly it was "like Williamsburg just vomited all over Fort Tilden". Groups and groups of hipster/tattooed/fake-rockabilly/country/loudmouthed/annoying people. To be fair, there were a few families, and not everyone was annoying, but it was so lacking in diversity, that I was beginning to feel a little uncomfortable. I'm used to a super diverse crowd in the Rockaways - and I felt like Michelle and I had missed the memo that if you were from Williamsburg you needed to go to fort Tilden on July 4th. Maybe it was that terribly-written article that appeared n the New York Times a few weeks ago? We stayed until about 3pm, but the crowds, the hot sun and the lack of caffeine started to get to me, so we made our way back home on the subway, a little sunburnt, tired, but happy that we actually made it through the adventure.


I will definitely be going to Fort Tilden again - I love the beach itself, the ruggedness, the lush greenery in the park behind, the wilderness. I have a feeling that it won't be as packed next time we go, but it's definitely a place to get to early, rather than late.

If you want to sleep on the beach keep a few things in mind:
1). Camping is prohibited on all beaches (federal and state) - so don't go pitching a tent
2), Choose your beach wisely - I doubt you will get a peaceful sleep on Coney Island, but you may on Breezy point.
3) Bug spray!
4). Water - we took two gallons with us. And used it all.
5). Fruit, snacks and diet coke (for the caffeine addicts out there - I regretted not bringing any)

More pictures to come when I get my film developed :)