Rockaway Days – back to the 1960s

Beach Baby Betty

Beach Baby Betty

I grew up going to the beach. It was something that our family did regularly in the hot summer months. In an earlier post I wrote about going to Rye Beach in Westchester County, NY which was relatively close to where we lived in Bronxville.

Well, we also went to Rockaway Beach a lot (located on the South Shore of Long Island) in Queens, NY. Rockaway is on the Atlantic Ocean.

The waves and currents can be big and strong there, and I spent a lot of time getting pounded by them while I jumped through them crashing over me.

Surfing at Rockaway Beach

Surfs up at Rockaway Beach – notice the giant boulder breakwater to the left

My parents were both strong swimmers and could get out beyond the surf to swim up and down the beach.

They always kept a wary eye on me – if I got too deep or too close to the piers and giant rocks of the breakers.

Some of the time I spent making sandcastles by dripping wet sand through my fingers till it built up Gaudi-esque towers and masses. betty with pail111

Other times when it wasn’t too busy I loved running into a huge group of gulls that were resting on the shore and having them fly up and around me. I also hunted for shells and other interesting finds that had washed up – like shark egg casings, different jelly fish (even Man of War jelly fish) or crabs.

And I enjoyed drawing in the sand with a found piece of driftwood and watching the tide wash my lines away.

If I was hanging out on the beach blanket with the rest of my family I was likely listening to my groovy baby blue plastic transistor radio (it had a perforated black plastic/leather-like slip case). I listened to the current hits of course.

My father would lie on the blanket and read or just rest. My mother would sit patiently piecing her patchwork quilts with tiny stitches.

1960s transistor radio

My little radio looked a lot like this except it was baby blue

We very often set up our blanket by one of the life guard stands. One summer we were near one guy in particular and he had a girlfriend with a polka dot bikini and I thought they were the greatest. His name was Larry and I cannot remember his girlfriend’s name – only the bikini.

The life guards at Rockaway were stretched all along the beach and when something terrible happened like someone drowning or drifting out to sea or sharks showed up – one after the other they’d stand up and wave and whistle to the next guy down the beach… and they spent an awful amount of time whistling and gesturing to people in the water. It was very exciting when Larry would take off into the water to rescue someone.

Rockaway lifeguard

An actual Rockaway Beach lifeguard in action

Rockaway Beach, photo by Bernard SafranOnce in a very little while, my Dad would get sentimental and go buy all of us some hot fresh knishes from some vendor – that was a real treat – they were greasy, and salty and yummy. Most of the time however, we took our lunch with us. We’d each get a can of soda – I liked grape flavor or Dr. Pepper – and usually tuna sandwiches with complimentary sand, and homemade cookies.

My father loved the beach so much I remember going to Rockaway when it was awful and cold and windy and being forced to suffer there wrapped in sweaters sitting on the blanket near the boardwalk and seeing rats scurrying underneath.

But mostly it was wonderful there, and hot and crowded. Kids were always spraying you with sand, beach balls flying around, guys doing handstands – you get the picture – wall to wall humanity and no sense of personal space. rockaway nyc parks Even if the beach was empty someone would walk miles to come and sit 4″ away.

Airplanes were always coming in and going out of the JFK airport over us and it was fun to try and identify the planes – it was like all the world was going by up there.

The drive to and from Rockaway from our house in Bronxville, was as I remember it, very long and often incredibly hot. There always seemed to be some horrific car accident on the way there or back that slowed traffic to a crawl; accidents so yucky that my parents would make us girls put our heads down in the back seat til we were well away from the deadly scene.

Bernard Safran, Boats, Broad Channel, oil on illustration board, 1957

Sometimes we’d drive through Broad Channel in Jamaica Bay to get to Rockaway Beach. I loved to go that route and see the houses on stilts and all the boats. This painting is by my Dad.
Bernard Safran – Boats, Broad Channel, oil on illustration board, 1957

It was an especially grueling drive in the heat with a sandy, pebbly, shell and seaweed filled bathing suit on. It was so itchy, I remember sliding around in the back seat to try and get comfortable (before there were seat belts).

I also remember taunting my sister a lot as I got more and more bored – putting my toe or my finger over the territorial line that divided the back seat in half. This usually led to me giggling hysterically and her getting really upset.

Since I was the youngest I got the last shower when we got home – which I thought very unfair (just one of many injustices in a long list of things I found unfair as the youngest). But by the time I was clean and dressed my mother would have dinner ready. It was a pretty great time to be a little kid.

For your listening pleasure click on this link: Rockaway Beach by the Ramones


Rockaway boardwalk hurricane damage 2012

Hurricane Sandy damage to Rockaway’s epic boardwalk 2012.
photo: Todd Maisel/New York Daily News

Hurricane Sandy destroyed Rockaway Beach and many of the coastal communities near it in 2012. It cost about $140 million to open the beach for 2013. To repair the boardwalk they estimate it could top another $200 million. Before Hurricane Sandy, Rockaway Beach had approximately 7.8 million visitors a summer.


One thought on “Rockaway Days – back to the 1960s

  1. Oh, I remember it well. Both my parents were raised on Broad Channel and I was born there. My uncle and cousin lived in those cottages and we went to the beach quite often. I’m still in touch with friends I knew there and the head of the Broad Channel Historical Society, Barbara. Good people in BC, a shame they are the last to get any help with Sandy!

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