It’s August! Already! And after so much talk about the one and only Coney Island I found it to be at order to mention another fine beach of New York: Far Rockaway or the Rockaways!
Briefly touched upon on Ocean, Sand, and Fun, I have now had more time to extensively explore the (unlimited) possibilities offered out in Queens. This year as well as last, Far Rockaway has been my go-to choice, especially after the month of June has passed. Coney Island and Brighton Beach might be easier accessible by public transportation but this also brings one huge disadvantage with it: Many people go there. Huge crowds equal a more disgusting environment, especially when you are talking about a public place. After catching a nasty rash after swimming in the murky waters of Coney, I decided it was time to spend an extra hour on the train to get a beach that is still decently clean. Ergo, a trip to Far Rockaway became a must!
The best way to get there is if you hop on the A-train towards Queens. And here is where it could get tricky: 3 different A-trains lead to Queens! Make sure you don’t enter the one that goes to Lefferts Boulevard. This will catapult you to a housing area nowhere close to the water. If you hop onto the one leading up to Far Rockaway, be aware that you are approaching the numbers B67th St and less. If you are in the one riding up to The Rockaways (very similar in names) you are approaching the numbers B90th and up. There is no train between B67th and B90th St but the distance is easily walkable.
If you happen to be on A-Train number 2 and want to go to the higher numbered streets, get off at Broad Channel to catch a Shuttle towards the Rockaways.
As you can tell, many ways lead to the same destination. B67th Street is designed towards surfing and surfers. A separated area has been designated for the sports freaks and two great surf schools. I had the chance to take a lesson myself last summer and it was a blast. This summer I have been quite busy during the weekends and not been at the beach as many times as I would like to. My tan is practically non-existent and my bathing suits are dusting in the closet.
So yesterday was one of those rare occasions I took the train up to the shore again. It turned out to be a fantastic day! Past the surfer boys and girls, I found a nice spot right next to the lifeguards around 70th St. I always plant my colorful yellow-orange towel and hideous Whole-Foods-beach-bag next to those folks whenever I am by myself. It’s the best way to make sure your stuff does not get stolen by random thugs. Certain gigolos also do not see a reason to bother you with annoying flirt approaches once you are next to these red and orange coated heroes.
Today I even got to talk with two of them while they were routinely checking up on swimmers not getting too close to the rocks. “Last week we pulled some surfers away from those” one explains. “I cut my leg and another lifeguard was badly injured when his shoulder hit the rocks and was sliced open.” He bends down to proudly show me his battle wounds and then goes on. “Them surfers who take the lessons once or twice and then go out there with their own boards are the ones we have to look out for! They don’t have the experience and underestimate the currents.”
I also learn that a beginning lifeguard gets paid $13.50/h when starting out, with chances to increase up to $17.00/h depending on experience and years of service. Not bad for 8 hours of summer work, enjoying the outdoors and tanning non-stop. “I might have to consider working there next summer,” I thought, as the two guards ran off to help a child in the water.
The ocean behaves differently out there. While Coney Island is protected in its bay-shaped area, the Rockaways are open, letting huge waves form, especially towards the end of the summer. You also find more crabs here that like to pinch your foot if you stand in one spot for too long when being in the water.
Brooklyn has a flamboyant beach culture with is cheerful Luna Park and other fantastic rides, not to mention restaurants and bars right next to the action. In comparison, Queens’ beach culture is more subtle and evidently more relaxed. Of course you have some spots right on the boardwalk. If you walk up to 86th St you can grab your first set of burgers and even listen to a band jamming it out on Saturday afternoon. Walk up ten more blocks and around 96th St you have 5 different food joints catering to the needs of the hungry beach folks. My friends and I happened to stop by here sometime in June. After a taco dish, ice cream, glazed fruits and a plastic cup filled with beer, we had thought this to be one of the best beach days in New York.
Turns it the food is way better only two blocks down. I am talking about the one and only Rockaway Taco. Hyped by the press (see an article in the Times on this) and of course word-to-mouth propaganda, this little shack has become a big shot within the past two to three years. As a lifeguard nostalgically remembers, the menu used to consist of “two items and I kept the small square in my pocket”. Now they added quesadillas, chips and guac, corn and cukes, and a few other items to their initial selection of fish tacos. While the tacos cannot motivate me to go there another time, the quesadilla is very good and the Mexican corn was also satisfying enough. Hopefully I’ll be able to try out more of their choices before the summer comes to an end. Of course the line can get crazy busy during certain peak times. I found 7 PM on a Saturday night to be a great hour to stop by. It only took me 5 minutes of waiting and then I was happily munching away. Yesterday I went around 5:30 PM and had to wait altogether a good 15 mins until I had the food in my lap. Luckily, they offer an outdoors area with benches and more Taco nuts to meet.
I am sure there is so much more to explore but as of now, these are the places I was able to check out. I am curious to see what the local bars are made of and I am eager to try out more dishes around the block. It is a splendid location for swimming, tanning, and socializing and at this time of the year it makes out for the better alternative to the overcrowded Coney Island. Let’s just hope this area will not become as hipsterised as Williamsburg and Bushwick already have…