Mid Summer Melville

Sea Lovers! 

What a stellar summer so far! We just passed the mid mark and recently experienced perhaps one of the weirdest weeks of weather in a while.  It was the first time all summer that we had a few days that were simply too flat and onshore to surf. But because the ocean doesn't like to do the same thing for too long, we were welcomed with a bunch of fun waves the past few days. Andrew and I have paid witness to many fantastic breakthroughs in the past week, and we want to give a shout out to those of you who recently took your surfing to a new level, you know who you are! 

We have a bunch of fun stuff on the horizon: Many people have signed up for the Newsletter and we're currently working on the first one. Should be out some time next week. We've got the retreat dates up for Costa Rica Winter 2016/17. Go have a look and try to book early as we imagine that after last year's awesomeness these will fill up fast. As for our local business, we are starting to be pretty booked for August (especially weekends) but still have a few openings (especially weekdays). Since purchasing our van, our mobile operation has really taken off this year, and we have had tons of full beach days all around the NY/NJ area. We are starting to firm up some short trips to Montauk, Rhode Island, and Cape Cod for the fall, so stay tuned for those! 

I will also admit right now that is is my second attempt to write this blog post. In my first attempt I was desperately trying to interpret this fantastic Melville quotation from Moby Dick:  

Go visit the prairies in June, when for scores on scores of miles you wade knee-deep among Tiger-lilies—what is the one charm wanting?—Water—there is not a drop of water there! Were Niagra but a cataract of sand, would you travel your thousand miles to see it? Why did the poor poet of Tennessee, upon suddenly receiving two handfuls of silver, deliberate whether to buy him a coat, which he sadly needed, or invest his money in a pedestrian trip to Rockaway Beach? Why is almost every robust healthy boy with a robust healthy soul in him, at some time or other crazy to go to sea? Why upon your first voyage as a passenger, did you yourself feel such a mystical vibration, when first told that you and your ship were now out of sight of land? Why did the old Persians hold the sea holy? Why did the Greeks give it a separate deity, and make him the own brother of Jove? Surely all this is not without meaning. And still deeper the meaning of that story of Narcissus, who because he could not grasp the tormenting, mild image he saw in the fountain, plunged into it and was drowned. But that same image, we ourselves see in all rivers and oceans. It is the image of the ungraspable phantom of life; and this is the key to it all.

— Herman Melville, Moby Dick, "Loomings"

What happened was that like everything in Moby Dick, there was simply too much to say about it and I got stuck. Here Melville nails a description of our magnetic attraction to the sea — the ocean and the water that comprises it beckons us both consciously and unconsciously. It is the simultaneous source of great fear and great bliss — "the image of the ungraspable phantom of life."  As the religious historian Mircea Eliade once said, the sea is the fons et origo (fountain and origin) of all being. Those of us who have dedicated our lives to it know this to be the case in a visceral way. This is also what is so astute about connecting this aboriginal attraction to water with the myth of Narcissus: a deep part about what attracts Narcissus to himself in the water is the fact that he is made of that same water in way that is not just a mere hallucination or trick of light. What Narcissus also teaches, however, is that if you do not respect the power of the water over you, you risk dying from your own ignorance. Narcissus forgets too quickly that the same self love that preserves him can also destroy him. It is always crucial to remember that we are all bound together in this watery world.

The other thing that really strikes me from this passage is the mention of Rockaway Beach. It is of interest to learn that literary scholars are at a loss as to the 'true identity' of the "poet from Tennessee" who forewent a coat in lieu of a trip to Rockaway Beach. The best answer anyone has come up with is that it is one of Melville's weird inside jokes or innuendos. Beyond this it just makes me wonder what Rockaway Beach must have looked like in the 19th century. Surely there weren't any jetties or piers. A brief internet search yields some telling photos. By the mid 19th century Rockaway was already a bustling hub of beach activity. Old post cards show that just as many people visited there then as they do today. But of course the area itself looked nothing like it does now. There was once a big hotel called the Rockaway Beach Hotel and lots of open land and dunes. Now is not the time for me to write the history of Rockaway Beach, but I have a huge hunch that Robert Moses has a lot to do with why it looks how it looks now (I still need to read The Power Broker by Robert Caro). From the images alone it looks as though it was as popular in 1851 as it is in 2016. The waves and sandbars had to be different without the jetties, but I also imagine that for an unmeasurable amount of time there were plenty of epic A-frame beach break set ups going unridden from one swell to the next. 

There is a lot more I can say about contemporary Rockaway: they did end up taking away 61st and 62nd streets as surfing beaches. It would almost be a bummer but this summer it has been so polluted with weird nitrogen growth kelp and plastic bags and leftover weekend trash that we have tried to surf there only when absolutely necessary. The politics of surfing beaches and lifeguards and waste management is so deeply entwined and entangled in daily politics that I am wary of touching it with a ten foot pole. But it is certainly there in the back of my mind always wanting to be mulled over and grappled with more actively. I still think that if you live in New York and you have not visited the Rockaways you are missing out — it's wild to see that there is really such a vibrant beach scene so close to the mother of all modern American cities.  

And don't get me wrong, despite the plastic bags, crowds, and closed beaches, there is still great surf at the famous Rockaway Beach. I always say that it is one of the best places to find a barrel on all of Long Island. The short distance between the jetties focuses the swell (when there is some), and the shallow sand causes the wave to jack up and throw out rapidly. In terms of scenery, the new boardwalk is a welcome addition to the landscape of high rise condos, churches, and other urban markers. And you can always see Long Island, Manhattan, and New Jersey off in the distance as the huge box ships make their way into the harbor.

Furthermore, in just one month all of the rules and regulations placed upon surfers to avoid swimming areas in Rockaway, Long Beach, and New Jersey will be null and void. Any die hard surf fan of the NY/NJ area will tell you that Labor Day is the official start to our real surf season, and we here at CSC are psyched for it!