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'Right Coast' Book Pictures Hard-Core Winter Surfers in Pre-Sandy Rockaway

By Katie Honan | July 22, 2016 8:09am
 Photographer Susannah Ray's photos will be up at the Rockaway Beach Surf Club through August 9.
Photographer Susannah Ray's photos will be up at the Rockaway Beach Surf Club through August 9.
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Susannah Ray

ROCKAWAY BEACH — Photographer Susannah Ray didn't set out to make a nostalgic photo book when she began capturing winter surfers in Rockaway in 2004.

Her photo series, "Right Coast," explores the "hard-core" surfers not afraid to jump into the water during a blizzard, or squeeze in a small bungalow for warmth after surfing, or get stitched up at home from a surfing injury. 

Those pictures, taken between 2004 and 2011, have now been printed in a limited-edition hardcover book and will be on display at the Rockaway Beach Surf Club, where Ray will be signing copies at an opening party on Friday.

She started surfing in 2003, first with a lesson in nearby Long Beach and then out in Rockaway, where she later moved full-time. 

"I came to Rockaway and I thought it was the most magical, weird, wonderful, exciting, different place," she said. "It felt so good to be here."

Ray was at home in Rockaway Beach with her family, including her young daughter, as Hurricane Sandy came through in October 2012. 

After the storm there was a dividing line, both physically and emotionally, she said — before Sandy and after Sandy. And it's made the photos in her book more poignant.

"There's a real heightened sense of nostalgia to the work that has come about because of Sandy," she said. 

People going through her book have sometimes cried while looking at the photos, especially of the old wooden boardwalk that was ripped up during the storm. 

While the area has recovered with a new boardwalk and other amenities, Ray said many of her friends are still dealing with the effects of Hurricane Sandy. Some aren't even back since the 2012 storm, or have moved out for delayed Build It Back work.

"There is this deep connection to a life that kind of got cut off because the storm was so personally devastating," Ray said. 

The changes to the area are mostly positive, including new restaurants and businesses, she said. It's brought more surfers out, which was a change from when she first started shooting.

"It definitely represents this big shift from this sensation of winters 2004, 2005, 2006, where you felt like the only people on the planet sitting in a bungalow having surfed in a winter storm," she said.

"Right Coast" will be on display from July 21 through Aug. 9, 2016 at the Rockaway Beach Surf Club, corner of Beach 87th St. and the Rockaway Freeway.