Picking up the Pieces

Surfers help clean up Rockaway, New York, after Hurricane Sandy

| posted on November 07, 2012

One of the many houses in Rockaway obliterated by Sandy. Photo: Bush

Three days after Superstorm Sandy made landfall on the Eastern Seaboard, the coastal town of Rockaway, NY was still trying to come to grips with the devastation that had overtaken their seaside community. While images of the clean-up efforts in parts of Manhattan and other ares of the state filled the 24-hour news networks, Rockaway was literally left in the dark, cut off from the rest of the state. But with the help of a group of dedicated surfers, the first signs of relief were en route.

“When I first got to Rockaway, I went to the Rockaway Surf Club to drop off some clothes and other supplies, but when I got there, I realized that it was a lot worse than I thought it was going to be,” says Brooklyn’s Mikey DeTemple, who’s become a standout surfer/filmmaker in the city. “It was totally devastated. Everything was flooded and there were whole blocks of the town burned down. It was basically a ghost town. As far as I could tell, FEMA hadn’t been there, the Red Cross hadn’t been there, the National Guard hadn’t been there. It was instantly clear that Rockaway didn’t need a clothing drive, they needed man power to get in there and begin cleaning up from the storm.”

DeTemple sent out a message on his Facebook account for volunteers to come help with the clean-up efforts. The next day, nine friends met up early in the morning in front of Pilgrim Surf and Supply shop in Brooklyn, piled into DeTemple’s truck, and headed to Rockaway.

Upon their arrival, local residents directed them to two severely damaged homes that belonged to a pair of elderly couples. Water had flooded the neighborhood and ruined all the belongings on the first floor. The volunteers spent the next eight hours cleaning up what they could, sifting through residents’ belongings that had now been relegated to trash. All around them were thousands of homes in similar states of devastation. More needed to be done. Once again, DeTemple put out a call out for volunteers through his social media accounts.

On Instagram he posted an image of eight volunteers, standing before a pile of debris in front of an old brick home along with a call to action: “It took 10 of us to empty the contents of two older couples’ homes today. There’s 40,000 of these homes in @rockawaybeach_nyc that need this same thing,” the post read. “Come to @pilgrimsurfsupply tomorrow morning to carpool and help. Leaving at 10 a.m. Bring gloves, shovels, brooms and contractor bags.”

The following day, nearly 150 volunteers, all surfers, showed up to help. By the time they arrived, the Navy had begun to filter in. With the Rockaway Surf Club acting as headquarters, teams of volunteers dispatched to help out some of the hardest hit homes. According to DeTemple, when residents of the area asked which organization the group belonged to, they simply replied, “We’re just surfers who want to help.”

For Zak Bush, a surfer/photographer involved in the clean-up efforts, the devastation he found at Rockaway was heartbreaking. “It was shocking, I’d heard that things where bad out there but words couldn’t describe the destruction. I knew that there had been a few fires, but wasn’t expecting to see full city blocks that had burdened to the ground,” he said. But with his help and other volunteers, Rockaway will bounce back.

More than just water damage, numerous homes were burned to the ground in Rockaway. Photo: Bush

“It was amazing to see that kind of a turnout. Everyone has been so unbelievably positive. Entire neighborhoods have come together to help out,” added DeTemple. “It’s been a real bright spot of humanity amid such a tragic event. I never thought I’d be working with the Navy and a bunch of my friends shoveling sand out of people’s homes. But I think we’re making some progress. There’s going to be a lot of work and obstacles we’ll need to get through before we can really start putting the town back together.”

Some of the obstacles DeTemple cites include the gas shortage that’s plaguing the area. “The gas shortage has been a big problem. You have to wait in line at some stations for up to eight hours, hopefully when you get to the front of the line there’s still gas.” According to reports, the gas shortage should begin to resolve later in the week.

To make a tragic situation potentially worse, there’s a projected Northeastern storm set to make landfall in the area later this week. “We’re all watching that storm pretty closely. We’re worried about it because it’s forecast to whip up some strong winds and drop the temperature,” reflects DeTemple. “A lot of people’s basements are still flooded, and if the temperature drops enough, that water could freeze and possibly break up the foundation of the house. So we’re working on doing everything we can to make as much progress as possible before that storm hits.”

Rockaway Surf Club, which served as headquarters for relief efforts in the area. Photo: Bush

More destruction in Rockaway. Photo: Bush

Recently, elements of the US Navy have joined in to help clean up Rockaway. Photo: Bush

  • Joel

    Great work surfer, rockaway now has a program setup to help those guys out being organization by rock surf club. See link below and donate if you can!

  • Dan

    can you please link to Mikey’s facebook or twitter account so we can help out?

  • Robby

    Great work Mikey and team! I just donated to:

    Every bit counts everyone!

  • Sierra Brasher

    Mikey and everyone,
    We’re blown away by how selfless surfers are stepping up to organize relief. I run the operations for a non profit in San Francisco called Surf For Life. SFL is run by surfers, and we want to send a group of volunteers out there to help in any way possible and want to donate some funds wherever they are needed most. Please let me know who I need to contact to point us in the right direction. Thank you for everything you’re doing, and please let us know where/how we can help!

    Sierra Brasher

  • Skip

    This is great to see. Big thanks should also go out to Brandon and his fellow owners at the Rockaway Beach Surf Club. They’ve been there every day since the storm, organizing supplies and volunteers, handing out food, blankets, water batteries and clothing, and sending people to damaged homes – basically using their place as a relief center for the area.

    It’s great to to see surfers pitching in to give back to the areas and communities that give so much to us.

    If you feel like donating, you can do so at:

  • Jared

    Great job Mikey and all the guys at the Surf Club! My food truck in Rockaway is also looking for help. We were the first business to reopen in Rockaway the Wednesday after the storm and were at first overwhelmed with the amount of damage done. Not to mention the stories from the people we were feeding

    We are now located across from Rockaway Taco on Beach 96th st and are providing free food to the public thanks to The Mayors Fund to Advance NYC. There is no hot food in Rockaway besides food trucks and what FEMA calls food that it gives out to residents. Rockaway still needs lots of help and every bit counts. Only boots on the ground is going to get our beach front community back to the great place it is. Its people like the guys at the Surf Club, and the NY Surf community that will ultimately get Rockaway back on its feet. Thanks for everyone who has pitched in and donated to relief.

    If anyone has a background in cooking or would like to volunteer we would love to have your help, especially as Thanksgiving nears. I hope to see you guys in the water soon.

    Jared, The Fisherman’s Dog

  • MJ Constant

    Thanks soooo much to all the surfers, hipsters, Mormons, random Manhattanites, military active and vet and others for all their help so far cleaning up Rockaway!! It has been amazing how good people have been.

    I know we all have more important issues in repairing and rebuilding our homes….but I have a question about when we’ll be able to surf in Rockaway again.

    I was walking on my dog on the beach yesterday at low tide and noticed some protusions sticking out of the water….debris that is submerged. God knows what else there is below the surface.

    Any thoughts on how we can figure out where it is safe to surf? Or how we can clean up the debris in the water and on the beach? This may be a longer term project, but can we organize surfers for this kind of cleanup?

  • Anna Wolfe

    I live in Rockaway Park… There has been so much help from people outside of The Rockaways..This is a beautiful thing. The morning after the storm and the next day, there was no agencys here to help us. I am a surfer…And glad you came to help…Thank you…Happy Thanksgiving