The 10 Commandments of Surfing in New York City

Listen to former world longboard champion Schuyler McFerran or risk a lifetime of kooking it on the L Train

The 10 Commandments of Surfing in New York City


Schuyler McFerran


Watercolor illustrations by Schuyler McFerran

Believe it or not, New York City is a beach town. Anyone with $2.75 in their pocket can jump a train from Work Island (aka Manhattan) or Brooklyn and find themselves at a number of beaches in just an hour’s time. Because of this, and because a decent wave can be found most year round, NYC has developed a rather prominent surf scene. But like all things in the city, surfing here isn’t easy. It can be heaven or hell, depending on the route (literally and figuratively).

To help steer the uninitiated in the right direction—and because there are endless opportunities to wind up tagged #kookoftheday if you’re not careful—we present the three commandments of surfing in NYC.


1. Know Thy Driver

While the majority of New Yorkers are content navigating the city using public transportation, there are the few brave souls that choose to face endless parking tickets and banged up bumpers in exchange for the freedom afforded from owning a car. These few have chosen to forego the “convenience” of the train with all of its accompanying charms (packed rush hours, delayed trains, missed connections, smells previously unknown to man, “showtime”) and instead traverse the boroughs on their own timetable. As a surfer, it’s absolutely essential that you not only befriend one of these people, but that you look after them.

If you are one of the #blessed few to find someone that A) is just as stoked as you are to get up at 4am and go surf before work, and B) owns a car, then you have won the lottery my friend. This is your ticket to surfing salvation. And you must Know Thy Driver. Thy Driver is just as grumpy as you are at four in the morning, and doesn’t want to hear why your friend (ahem, you know who you are) is 20 minutes late meeting everyone at the rendezvous spot because he “had a late night”. We all have late nights; it’s NYC and every night is a late night, and you need to buck up and shut up.

Thy Driver needs not excuses, he needs quiet reverence and hot coffee as he guides his faithful flock to the beach just in time to see the sun come up over the waves. He needs you to pay the tolls, offer him free wax, sacrifice the best set waves for him, and buy bagels on the way home. He needs you to stop suggesting music choices on the drive there, he needs more than one coffee stop, and he needs you to be able to fix that weird humming noise the rooftop straps make when you don’t put a twist in them. It’s important to note that each Driver is different so tread carefully and adjust according to their own needs. If you are a good Passenger you will be repaid tenfold and spared the hell that is navigating the L train at rush hour with a surfboard.


2. Know Thy Excuses

The second, and perhaps the trickiest and hardest commandment, Know Thy Excuses, takes practice and time to perfect, so don’t be too hard on yourself if your first couple of tries incite a lecture from your boss or glares from a coworker that might be on to you. But the fact of the matter is, there WILL come a point when you are surfing before work and because the waves at Rockaway are actually bigger than a stack of pancakes from your favorite brunch spot on Bedford, you decide to surf a little too long and miss that morning conference call with the client and Megan, er, your boss, is pissed.

So, you’ll need to have an excuse ready to fire away, one that not only dismisses any possible condemnation from said boss, but also gently reminds her that you are in fact pulling more than your fair share around the office.

Deflection and Distraction will be two of your brightest and best assets to have on hand. Deflect the negative attention to another coworker by asking them if they have sent you the report you know they haven’t sent yet and is already late, or Distract by updating the team with unnecessary details on what other “calls” you were “on” that morning and how “busy” your other clients are keeping you. Make sure you never use the same excuse twice, and don’t get too elaborate, else you run the risk of having to come up with a second backstory, which will be essentially impossible given that your feeble brain has been awake since 4am and you still have salt water dripping out of your nose.


3. Know Thy Frail Heart, and Embrace It

The Atlantic is a fickle mistress, one that can go for weeks on end without offering so much as a flirty hello in the form of 1-2 foot wind slop. Like the initial thrill of getting a text from a crush, even the smallest swell forecast can have you running in circles coordinating rides, canceling work meetings, and day dreaming about those three second rides that are somehow fulfilling enough to hold you over until the next swell. Such small and infrequent acknowledgements from the Atlantic are more a tease than anything near as substantial as a real date, so it’s imperative you find something to distract yourself from the ceaseless, dull ache of disappointment that lies within the five day forecast.

This yanking of heartstrings is unavoidable as a surfer in NYC, so embrace it. Find something to fill the eternal void while waiting for the next swell. This is your chance to channel your hopeless desperation into something that makes you more of a “well rounded” adult. Develop new hobbies, revisit old ones. It’s the only way to maintain your sanity and keep your frail, surf-starved heart from crumbling slowly into a million tiny pieces that will get washed away at the next high tide. Or you know, something a bit less dramatic like just being really annoyed. But still, everyone should have a few solid hobbies, right?

Related articles
What It's Like to Learn to Surf in the Pacific Northwest in Your 30s
Photo Essay: What It's Like to Learn to Surf in Your 30s In the PNW

An ongoing photo series, "Bad Surfers" documents the brutal but sometimes fruitful quest to log wave time in an unforgiving corner of the country

Surf, Seafood, and Solitude in Mexico's Secluded Baja Norte
Photo Essay: Surf, Seafood, and Solitude in Mexico's Baja Norte

23 film photos document a living daydream along the Pacific coast of Baja California

Chris Burkard Reveals His Photography Career Beginnings in New Book
Q&A: Chris Burkard Talks Film, Localism, & Going to a Russian Jail in New Book

The world famous adventure photographer shares stories from behind the lens in his new memoir-photo book, "Wayward"

Big Wave Surfer Kai Lenny on Risk, Fear, and Surfing 60-Foot Waves
Big Wave Surfer Kai Lenny on Risk, Fear, and Surfing 60-Foot Waves

A Q&A with the world-class surfer on his new book, "Big Wave Surfer," the best advice he's ever received and the worst wipeout he's ever taken at Jaws

13 Gorgeous Film Photos From San Diego's Dream Beach
13 Photos From the Winner of Field Mag's First Film Photography Contest

Field Mag Film Photo Contest winner Luis Ortega's photographic muse is his hometown beachfront, and all the people he shares it with

Mami Wata Brings African Surf Lifestyle to the US
South Africa's Mami Wata Launches in the US, Bringing Vibrant Surf Style

With longtime action sports ambassador Selema Maskela at the helm, the South African brand launches stateside to build on the success of AFROSURF book

More articles
The 10 Commandments of Surfing in New York City

Gallery Mode


Schuyler McFerran

Back to article