Far from the bright lights of Manhattan, surfers have found a home in New York City. Around the city's Atlantic shoreline, though, surfable crests are far from a sure thing, so when those curling waves do come, New York surfers will ride them no matter the time, weather, or season. Nobody's waiting around for summer.
On the Jetty, 2005. | (Susannah Ray)
Beach, 2011. | (Susannah Ray)
Photographer Susannah Ray's surf pocket is on the Rockaway Peninsula in Queens, where she lives with her husband and 5-year-old daughter. A college photography teacher by trade, the New Yorker started surfing religiously in the early 2000s, heading out to a shared bungalow on the Rockaways most weekends. In 2004, she was inspired to turn her camera on to this little-known surfing community.
"There were all of these moments that I would see […] these kind of jarring visions that were out of sync with how we normally perceive life in an urban environment," she told The Week in an interview. "It was everything from people surfing in the snow to people changing out of their wetsuits in the street between two cars."
Ray would spend the next eight years photographing her wave-chasing friends and neighbors, picking those discordant symbols out of the landscape: surfboards raised against subway rails in the distance, men in swim trunks and winter caps, and waves frosted over with ice.
Danny, 2009. | (Susannah Ray)
Ray's resulting series, Right Coast, delights in the inglorious makeshift culture of East Coast surfing. Through her lens, apocalyptic landscapes — a dusting of snow on a desolate beach, murky waters meeting low gray skies — are populated only by alien-like surfers in the full-body wetsuits they need to survive the colder seasons, when strong breaks are more likely.
Her embrace of the flaws — the aging equipment, broken bodies, and unfriendly terrain — highlights these surfers' near-religious commitment.
BK, 2010. | (Susannah Ray)
"Surfing here is really a measure of dedication to the sport because the effort-to-reward ratio is kind of low," she said. "If you really wanna surf, you have to be willing to put on the wetsuit and go out. […] These are people who do it for the love of it."
Ray's project came to an abrupt end in 2012 when Hurricane Sandy ripped across the East Coast, decimating most of the beach town and shores she had captured. Five years later, the Rockaways are booming once again, even experiencing a bit of a surf renaissance, with seasonal surfers crowding its beaches in the hot summer months. But the other 10 months of the year are for the Right Coast's devotees. Below, see them in all their unsung glory:
Wags, 2010. | (Susannah Ray)
50-50 Hansen, 2008. | (Susannah Ray)
Red Rockey, 2006. | (Susannah Ray)
Kui, February Swell, 2005. | (Susannah Ray)
Nate, Elie, and Nungwe, 2010. | (Susannah Ray)
Lei, Winter, 2005. | (Susannah Ray)
Flea Bungalow, Winter, 2005. (Susannah Ray)
Red Board (Alex K), 2008. | (Susannah Ray)