Who are you guys? Tell us a little about yourselves.
Justin Jay: My name is Justin Jay. I’m a professional photographer. My client base and interests are pretty diverse. After photo-assisiting for 5 years after college, I tried to shoot fashion, but my heart really wasn’t in it. I eventually ended up working as a personal photographer to Sean “P Diddy” Combs for several years on and off. I got to travel with him and document his life for a book project. This opened a lot of doors in the music industry. As a result, I shot tour projects for The Strokes, Outkast and a few other acts. For the past 9 years, I’ve been working on project documenting candid moments at the team houses on the North Shore. I rarely shoot “surfing”, but instead wanted to tell the stories of the “surfers” that happen before and after they paddle out. It’s an amazing place to shoot because once you put your time in and earn respect, it’s a very small community. If you can get access, there’s really only a handful of houses where every pro on the planet either lives or hangs out on the lawn. I’ve developed great relationships with Hurley, Volcom, Reef, Rip Curl, Red Bull, Matuse, Quiksilver and have pretty good access to capture all the moments that go down during the Triple Crown.
Jimi Ayers: Well, I grew up really liking fireworks which progressed into liking girls, surfing, skating, and more recently I added beer to that list.
Liam Tracy: I am a graphic designer, artist, surfer living in the Lower East Side.
Where are you from? How long have you lived in NYC?
Justin: I grew up in Santa Barbara and moved to NYC after high-school. I’ve been living on the Lower East side ever since.
Jimi: Jacksonville, Florida. I have been in NYC for 12 years.
Liam: International Man of Mystery AKA a schmuck from Long Island. I’ve been living in NYC since I was 18, in 2007. I moved to NYC to attend the Fashion Institute of Technology, majoring in Graphic Design and finishing up in 2011 with a BFA. What an amazing experience. Chelsea was the original stomping grounds, then started hanging downtown shortly after. My roommate (Sean Maguire) was older than I was and from Queens. He had the plug and took me around club kid style. I had the best fake ID, found it on the floor in a club. The ID was from Finland, people couldn’t even read it. Bouncers and Doorman would be like, this is a kid. Check my ID… “Oh, he’s just foreign, cool.”
What first drew you to Rockaway? Describe your first experience surfing there.
Jimi: Surfing drew me to Rockaway, literally nothing else (at least at first). The first time I went to surf there we attempted to drive from Manhattan to Rockaway and we could not find the beach. Before we had iPhones and it was a little bit of culture shock to get within 5 or 10 miles of the beach, all ready to surf and not being able to find the water. We ended up turning around and driving home without getting wet. Now I just take the A train out there.
Liam: My roommate Sean Maguire at F.I.T. grew up with Jimmy Dowd in Howard Beach. He kept telling me, “yo, my boy surfs in Rockaway and has a bungalow out there.” Being from Suffolk County on Long Island, Long Beach was the most West we would go to surf. I didn’t know anything about Rockaway. Jumped on the confusing A Train route and met Justin Jay, Jimmy Dowd, Jim Jim, Florida Dave and Pat The Rat. They are significantly older than me, but couldn’t be nicer. I remember Jimmy Dowd came to my F.I.T. dorm one day after his shift from the Bronx on his way home to Queens, for my birthday. A girl friend in the lobby stopped us and said, “awwww how cute, Liam you brought your Uncle to visit you for your Birthday.” Uncle Dowd ever since! I can’t remember my first time surfing there, although my earliest most profound memory was Hurricane Bill. NYPD tried to force us out of the water with helicopter spot lights. (Justin may have the photo of that, it’s around online) Although, I can definitely remember the first party out there with out a doubt. Three guys, three girls and minimal clothing. Under pants party…
Justin: Around 15 years ago, I was introduced to Rockaway by some friends and I started surfing there fairly regularly in the fall and spring when there were waves, but when the water wasn’t completely frigid. The lineup was pretty uncrowded back then, and there were very few amenities in the neighborhood. If the tide was wrong or it started raining etc, there was a super dingy diner that we used to post up in and wait it out. Other than a few Chinese take-out spots and pizza, that was about it for food.
When did you go in on the apartment out there?
Justin: About a year later, I started hanging out in Rockaway in the spring and summer even when the waves were flat. I became close friends with a few people that lived there year round. In the early 2000’s a close friend who had a bungalow on 88th St ended up needing an extra roommate. I jumped at the chance to go in on the bungalow and to have a spot to leave my boards and change after surfing. At the time, the bungalow was pretty ramshackle, and the neighborhood was pretty rough. We had a good profile on the block and never had any problems, but sketchy stuff definitely went down – you learned pretty quick to just mind your own business.
Liam: I went in on the apartment there in 2008. I was 19 years young. Originally, I split it with someone because I couldn’t afford the whomping yearly rent. I was a student, I was broke as a joke. Previous to Sandy, we didn’t have heat or an indoor shower. I remember I surfed one day in November. I crashed over to surf the next morning. I couldn’t warm up for the life of me. I got so sick for about 2 weeks.
Jimi: I went in 2 years ago. I finally graduated from dumping all my gear on the beach and praying it did not get stolen.
How did you find the place?
Liam: This Bungalow has been within the circle of friends for I believe 15 years. The current landlord was a teenager and her mother was our landlord, now she has three kids. She holds down the block if it gets a little nutty, which it does.
Justin: In the beginning, the bungalow used to be primarily just a summer spot. It had no insulation and only cold water. When the weather was warm, it had everything that we needed: board racks, bunk beds, VHS player and a bbq. After November, it basically became uninhabitable. We would pay a winter storage fee, leave our stuff there, and basically only go there to change and pick up boards during the winter.
Eventually the landlord decided to “winterize” our spot so we could use it year round. I wouldn’t go so far as to call it a renovation, but we did end up getting hot water, a new stove, a coat of paint and some insulation. It was actually a huge improvement at the time. It inspired us to step up and really fix the place up. One of our roommates at the time was an extremely talented craftsman who specialized in making custom Japanese cafe motorcycles. Between his expertise and a close friend who was a Craigslist savant, the bungalow was soon dialed with an ice-maker, flatscreen TV, surround-sound stereo and a meat smoker. We were living large…
Then came Superstorm Sandy. The entire bungalow had to be gutted to the bones and redone. We lost literally everything except our boards and a thrift-store clown painting. But I still felt lucky. I had so many close friends that lived in Rockaway full-time that had their entire homes destroyed. Even though I spent so much time in Rockaway and felt so connected to the community, the bungalow was always simply a place that was strictly for leisure. It was my ghetto pied-a-terre. I always had my apartment on the LES to go home to.
After several turnovers of roommates, we have a pretty solid crew again. The place is furnished and tricked out once again. Over the years its status has gone from “exotic camping” to what it is now, which is basically like a “shitty REAL apartment”. If you were 20 years old and this was your first spot, you’d be super stoked on it.