Meet a wildcat who gives free surf and ocean safety lessons to any kid who swings by the beach…
Make a wrong turn at any NYC corner and you can quickly go from sunny side of the street to sudden disembowelment in the flash of a homeless pan.
The City will flip you that way.
A stroll down Fifth Avenue can lead to secret bends where light-fingered larcenists will free you from the weight of your wallet. Within each borough, inside its own little section, down isolated blocks, there are enough lines of demarcation to make a Rubiks’s Cube dizzy.
And the Rockaway Beach (yeah, Ramones Rockaway Beach) section of Queens County is no different.
The Rockaway peninsula technically runs from 9th street in the east to 126th street in the west. (The surf really cuts off around 35th street, blocked by Long Beach Barrier Island.)
The west end (Belle Harbor, Neponsit) are what your local housewife fingering a 12:01 afternoon Chardonnay would call “affluent.” Multi million-dollar homes. No subway access. No public boardwalk. Parking permits for residents required. Lifeguard stands every 150 feet. They say this section is protected by the old guard, Irish fireman and cops who’s lineage in the force can be traced to the “Gangs of New York” time in the five boroughs.
As you roll further east (Far Rockaway) you approach the Mason/Dixon line of 74th street.
Within this area you will find the Edgemere and Hammell projects. And, as ODB of The Wu would say, they ain’t nothing to fuck with. A point proved during a surf check by two surfers around 62nd street. While walking back to the car the two surfers are greeted by two Dodge Chargers parked in a “V” blocking the street.
The president of the Welcoming Committee of Hammell sincerely asks “DA FUCK YOU DOIN HERE!”
Surfers walk to the car silent and drive towards the road-block. A curb hop and zig-zag navigation through street signs and local solders yields an escape, but not before a bottle is hurled and cracks the cars back window.
Welcome to the Old Rockaways, east end.
It is in this section of the Rockaways where the drownings occur.
Mostly teenage children of Latin and African American decent from the east side of the Rockaways. The side where there are four lifeguard stands for seventy blocks of beach. There were seven drownings this summer alone. A national study released by USA Swimming says six out of ten black and Latino kids can’t swim. Most of these kids have no knowledge of the ocean and its currents and have never heard of a riptide.
Ask anyone who’s read a book and they will tell you this dates back to the segregated pool days.
Enter Lou Harris.
He is the founding member of Black Surfing Association Rockaway, a division of the Black Surfing Association, that operates in Queens.
Lou gives free surfing and ocean safety lessons to any kid who stops by.
“I don’t care if you’re black, white, Asian or Muslim,” he says. “If there’s five of you, and you’re hanging out on the corner with no job, you’re going to get into trouble.”
Of course, it’s a non profit.
Check out their Instagram here.
And, if you wanna help cut a path to a kids enjoyment of the ocean, hit the GoFundMe here: