2015-08-21 / Top Stories

Official Point Of View

By New York State Senator Joseph P. Addabbo Jr.

I can’t believe it’s been 10 years since the beginning of designated surfing beaches in Rockaway. Back in 2005, when I was a member of the City Council and former chair of the Parks and Recreation Committee working on this issue, I didn’t realize how popular and important surfing beaches were to become.

When this surfing access was first opened, it secured a place in our city, and most importantly our peninsula, for surfers who, for safety reasons, needed a designated area where they could enjoy their boards. Since 2005, these stretches of water have served as our city’s lone surfing beaches and have solidified the importance of this pastime to the future of Rockaway.

Much has changed in Rockaway over the last 10 years. The past decade has brought with it a new influx of beachgoers who are passionate about surfing, and we have watched the popularity of this sport grow exponentially. Rockaway has even become home to three surfing schools that are now more popular than ever. But this year, as we celebrate the 10 year anniversary of surfing areas here being opened, we must not ignore the fact that as the surfing population grows and the need for safer surfing conditions increases, serious consideration must be given to expanding the designated surfing areas, while also protecting beach access for swimmers.

Those who frequented the beach when the surfing area first opened can tell you that on any beautiful summer day, the sections of beach where surfing is currently permitted – between Beach 67th and 69th streets and between Beach 87th and 92nd streets – consistently attracted between 30 and 40 surfers daily. Today, a headcount for the same two sections will show more than 100 surfers, all trying to use this grossly undersized area at once – because it is all the city will allow them to currently use. Access to surfing beaches has remained stagnant, while more people than ever before are coming to use them. While the current space was sufficient when it was opened a decade ago, it has become a dangerous condition due to its increase in popularity.

Let’s forget for a moment about how uncomfortable it must be trying to surf in such a small and crowded space, and instead focus on safety. With so many surfers now sharing this confined area, beachgoers are witnessing constant collisions, with many surfers suffering from head contusions and concussions.

For a community that has worked so tirelessly to recover from the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy, the economic boost that increased surfing access has brought to Rockaway is something that should not be taken lightly. There are certainly stretches of this beach that are in dire need of revitalization, perhaps in the form of new shops and restaurants. If we are to maximize the promotion of what Rockaway has to offer, certainly the use of its beaches, both for surfers and swimmers, then we must take measures to ensure the safety of all individuals.

Despite recent proposals seeking to rectify the crowdedness of Rockaway’s surfing area, pushback from the community has criticized the city for considering expanding surfing beaches without first giving more access for swimming. The solution to this is simple: why not expand both? There is enough space for all; we just have to work together in figuring out the most efficient way to use it.

Rockaway Beach is a one of a kind place that has much to offer both tourists and residents alike. When surfing access was created, we proudly made the beach even more unique and welcomed the thousands of surfers who now visit this beach every day, and contribute to what makes Rockaway so exceptional, with open arms. Now, it is our duty to ensure that we keep surfers safe, just as we keep swimmers and other beachgoers safe, and work at expanding surfing access.

The growth of surfing should be celebrated, not contained, and I look forward to my continued efforts in working with the city to take our request for expansion, beach access and safety seriously.

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