It doesn’t matter how many good photos you see. A surf trip to New York still feels like a novelty.
And that’s fine. If you have time and money that you’re willing to invest in surf travel, logic would put the Empire State close to the bottom of your list — sandwiched somewhere between China and nixing the whole idea of a trip and instead buying, I don’t know, two new boards, a rotisserie chicken from the grocery store and a handle of Jack Daniels. Logic would instead put a place like Indonesia at the top of the list. Among it, there would be more wave-sopped safe bets in regions very far from the Brooklyn Bridge. But New York has something that nowhere else has. It has New York.
There’s something about the city. Something that drew a guy like Bob Dylan to it in 1961, something that draws German tourists to the tip of the Empire State Building today — it’s the same something, I think. And it’s something that everyone should experience at some point in their lives. Might as well experience it with a surfboard.
For the sake of simplicity, let’s declare Long Beach as the capital of New York surfing. Sorry I’m not sorry Montauk — can’t run a state if everyone’s busy grooming their beards and trying to decide which single fin to buy next. Long Beach, though. That’s where it’s at.
There are a few ways to get there from the city. If your NYC travel plans include a car rental, you’re doing it wrong and stop. Grab one of those snazzy little Zipcars for half a day if you want to drive. Getting from Manhattan to Long Beach will take anywhere from an hour to four years depending on traffic.
Or there’s a train. Long Beach is about an hour from Penn Station and a ride will run you $20 roundtrip off-peak or $26 if you’re going both ways at rush hour.
Or, if you’re rich, you can Uber or teleport or ride a thoroughbred horse there in your stupid little Brooks Brothers shoes. Yeehaw!
So that’s how you get from there to there. Now let’s talk about how you get from here to there.
If you’re flexible, watch the forecast and wait until you see a swell perk up in the Atlantic. The most obvious and easiest way to do this would be to track a hurricane swell. They’re relatively predictable — at least within a few days — and massage Long Beach’s jetties like a masseuse who, in poor English, promises that the ending will be anything but sad. See this photo gallery for proof.
However, if ease isn’t what you’re chasing, I’d recommend striking New York for a Nor’easter. A Nor’easter is one hell of a storm. Born when (relatively) warm air over the Atlantic clashes with arctic air from a cold front, they can produce a blizzard of snow and create wind like a hurricane. They can make New York truly shine.
But you know what’s the trouble with scoring a storm like that? Almost everything. You’d have to take a chance — a Nor’easter can be unpredictable and the airports are usually shut down by the time a storm of that nature is a guaranteed wave-maker. But if it all works out, getting a swell like that is truly something to experience. The rambling through the snow in your wetsuit, the inevitable beating after failing to make the drop on your first wave — you always fail to make the drop on your first wave on a real winter day — the empty crowds, the perfect everything. It offers the type of reward that you flat-out won’t find anywhere else in the world, an almost primal sense of satisfaction. You’d have to feel it to believe it.
That pretty much says it all. If you’re a psychopath, go for a Nor’Easter. If not, go for an autumn hurricane. If you’re incredibly lucky and planning a non-surf related trip to New York, check the forecast before you go. Even a chest-high day is worth chasing in New York. And even if it’s freezing, changing in and out of your wetsuit in the cold will give you no illness a well-made hot toddy can’t fix. —Brendan Buckley