Long Island Surfing Subculture: An Inside Look

Long Island Surfing Subculture

Long Island Surfing Subculture
The water is choppy and rough at Lido Beach this Tuesday evening in August, but that isn’t stopping Jess Stallone from trying to catch a few waves.

She makes her way onto the sand with her 7S—a light, 5-foot-long fishtail surfboard personalized with myriad stickers. She analyzes the ocean once she gets onto the vacant beach, scanning the shoreline for a window of opportunity.

“It’s kinda hard to find an entry point,” she says, her eyes fixed on the water.

Still optimistic, Stallone settles on the bench of a dismantled yellow lifeguard stand and sets her board down in front of her. She digs out a bar of Sticky Bumps surf wax from her pink-and-black checkered backpack and begins to rub it over the surface of the 7S. The wax will keep her feet from slipping when she stands, she says.

The 21-year-old patiently waits for the water to calm before she plunges in. There are a lot of waves, but none that are really surfable.

“There’s really nothing out there,” she says. “The waves are breaking late.”

But persistence prevails—she tries anyway.

Jess StalloneAs the sun begins to descend, creating streaks of pink and orange across the sky, Stallone slips on her dark gray Body Glove wetsuit over a sports bra. She doesn’t wear a bikini when she surfs. (“Guys will literally fall off their boards because they’re staring at your ass,” she says.) She doesn’t make use of the thin black hair tie on her wrist and instead keeps her wavy, sun-kissed locks down.

Stallone paddles out. She is a lone surfer at Lido this evening, her only company being a small group of seagulls and piping plovers, along with the occasional passersby walking on the beach. Tonight, just 10 minutes away from her home in East Meadow, the vast open sea belongs to her.

Whether it’s at Lido in Long Beach or Ditch Plains in Montauk, Long Island is a haven for surfers. Those who surf make up a tight-knit community of about 1,000 people that is only a few generations old; and almost everyone knows each other. They live their lives just like all surfers do—multiple trips to the beach every week, immersing themselves in every aspect of the sport—but circumstances that come with living in this part of New York make for an unusual subculture defined by LI’s odd geography and suburban atmosphere.

This particular lifestyle, unbeknownst to many Long Islanders, got put in the spotlight last summer when the popular brand Quiksilver brought its international Pro surf competition to Long Beach—not Long Beach, Calif., but Long Beach the barrier island south of LI. For two weeks, the seaside city was the buzz of all things surfing as pros like Kelly Slater and Owen Wright ripped and shredded waves at one of Nassau County’s busiest beaches.

Now Quiksilver is back this week presenting Unsound Surf Shop’s Right Coast Cup, an annual competition held in Long Beach specifically for East Coast surfers—and just in time for contestants to catch swells from Tropical Storm Leslie. With more than 60 competitors and a $20,000 purse, Unsound owner and Long Beach resident Dave Juan says Quiksilver’s name is sure to bring more light to surfing in this region.

“It shows continued support for East Coast surfing,” he says.

LI’s surfing culture is one that has to be sought out, and when people do find it, they will see members of the 9-to-5 workforce, dozens of great surf spots, a city that looks like it belongs on the West Coast, and a surfer who shapes and sells boards for his company that boasts an international presence.

For the people who still find it hard to believe that the Island is a hot spot for surfing, those who live the lifestyle prove otherwise.

“There still are the people that say there are no waves on Long Island,” says Mike Becker, the local surfboard shaper. “There’re more people that surf now than you think.”