Surf festival brings a celebration of creativity and community to Rockaway

Kaniela Stewart setting up a nose ride on day two of competition. Photo via @jimmicane courtesy of Vans.

Kaniela Stewart setting up a nose ride on day two of competition. Photo via @jimmicane courtesy of Vans.

By Rachel Vick 

Surfing in October might seem far (out) to the average New Yorker, but for a community in the knows, waters warmed after a long summer, swells influenced by hurricane season and crowds deterred by the onset of fall make it a prime moment. 

Last weekend, surf icon and long time advocate of fun Joel Tudor brought The Vans Duct Tape Invitational to Rockaway Beach for a weekend of art, innovation and logs.

Despite some rainy and blustery days, the competition brought out members of the Rockaway surf community and drew in unsuspecting passersby with bright yellow accents and music piped through speakers around the Beach 92nd Street boardwalk.

A group of 32 surfers were hand picked by Tudor to participate in the competition element of the event, judged on their skill and style as they danced across surfboards over nine feet long. Several participants had last surfed NY waters at the World Surf League Longboard World Tour event in Long Beach, including Kaniela Stewart, Chloe Calmon and Honolua Blomfield.

Tudor, who spent time living and surfing in New York after 1994, expressed that hosting the event in Rockaway wasn’t even a question. 

“New York became like an escape for me from California, from Hawaii — from all the places that I was used to going to — there was no culture like that. We could’ve done it in Long beach or in Jersey or we could’ve gone back to Montauk, but that’s not a New York City beach,” Tudor said. “[Rockaway] is also a town that doesn’t get the love that it needs for beach culture, and after the hurricane and all the other stuff we felt that if anybody was gonna get the love it’d be Rockaway.”

Ice Balloons performs at the Rockaway Brewing Company during the premier event for Alex Knost’s “Tan Madonna.”

Ice Balloons performs at the Rockaway Brewing Company during the premier event for Alex Knost’s “Tan Madonna.”

Organizers repeatedly expressed gratitude to the community’s open reception, cracking jokes about how annoying it must be for a huge group of longboarders to descend on their break.  Although historically territorial, the local community supported the fest, citing already overcrowded beaches as already eliminating the threat of an influx of outsiders

“It’s pretty cool that there’s finally something big here; everyone’s been [in Rockaway] for so long,” said Cinco, a Rockaway local. “It’s too late to worry about keeping it a secret — it already gets so packed on a summer day we might as well get some recognition.”

The Rockaway community showed up to participate in the various events, like watching local shapers — the people who hand-craft surfboards — including Joe Falcone and Paul Schmidt. Saturday and Sunday brought local vendors to the boardwalk and Surfrider NYC’s first back-to-school beach cleanup.

Some beach-goers took advantage of the opportunity to try hand shaped boards made by Karina Rozunko, Andrew Allen, Alex Knost and resident New Yorker Pat Schmidt. The boards were all donated to Bunger Surf shop, memorializing Brooklyn-born Charlie Bunger, who died in July of 2018 and was well-known throughout the community.

Friday night closed with a series of screenings at the Rockaway Beach Surf Club, where the films and live music from local bands were played against a backdrop of the Beach 90th street A train. The edits showcased the creative minds of Vans team riders Ainara Aymat, Hanna Scott and Rozunko . 

A final public celebration took place with the screening of Alex Knost’s “Tan Madonna” to a full house at Rockaway Brewing Company, complete with craft beer, a slew of blonde wigs and a mosh pit that opened up to Brooklyn-based punk band Surfbort. 

For competitors like Justine Mauvin, the festival provided an opportunity to explore a different, more authentic side of New York City through Queens. Mauvin turned to hair culture in order to familiarize herself, and after following a recommendation for a shop on Jamaica Avenue for fresh braids, she felt at home with a Nigerian stylist.

“We talked for an hour and a half while she did my hair and it felt like home. You have to be aware of the culture, humble and respect the rules of where you are,” Movine said. “It was such an experience and I got to see Queens in a bit more reality.”

Australian Harrison Roach won the men’s competition, and Kirra Seale won in an all-Hawaiian women’s final.

Other participants were Andy Nieblas, Chad Marshall, David Arganda, Dean Petty, Grant Noble, Ian Gottron, John Angiulo, Justin Quintal, Kai Takayama, Kevin Skvarna, Mikey Detemple, Ryan Burch, Troy Mothershead, Eva Levy, Haley Otto, Hallie Rohr, Hanna Scott, Kassia Meador, Kelis Kaleopa’a, Lola Mignot, Makala Smith, Margaux Arramon-Tucoo, Summer Richley and Victoria Vergara.