New wave pool for New York: Far Rockaway, Queens eyes community-focused surf spot

From across the Hudson River in one of the world’s biggest shopping malls, to an exclusive club on Long Island, New York City has constantly forced a re-imagining of surfing in a wave pool. Now a design firm from Brooklyn is engaged in early discussions with the city to develop a new wave pool in Far Rockaway.

Local Office Landscape and Urban Design founder Walter Meyer estimates the cost at $30 million and says it will provide free surfing and safety lessons to the youth in Far Rockaway. The area has a high poverty rate and is close to the city’s only legal surfing beach.

“It’s going to be about ocean safety because the majority of the drownings in Rockaway are not visitors, they’re actually local residents and usually people of color,” Walter told Gothamist, who first broke the story. “We want to reduce drownings.”

In collaboration with Lou Harris, founder of the Black Surfing Association’s East Coast chapter, Meyer is negotiating with the city for a site roughly the size of a football field. Harris told Gothamist that the location is “in the hood,” and that it has the potential to attract new interest to the area.

kelly slater in texas wave pool
There’s something special about surfing. Increasingly, communities are applying the sport of kings to everything from depression and autism to longstanding community disparities. Kelly Slater at Waco Surf.

Water Safety

The wave pool project, which comes on the heels of an initiative by New York Mayor Eric Adams and Gov. Kathy Hochul to address disparities in swimming access, could see Meyer turn to a privately owned land parcel if city property negotiations fall through. 

Lou Harris, founder of the Black Surfing Association chapter in Rockaway Beach envisions the facility including cabanas, surfboard storage locker rooms, and affordable swimming and ocean safety lessons for the community. He highlighted the benefits of the wave pool in that it offers a safe and controlled environment for all levels of surfers.

Lou Harris has been deeply involved in encouraging people of color to surf. He started the group with free surf lessons for those who couldn’t afford private classes.

“You get a lot of kids here who live by the beach and can’t swim,” Lou told CN Traveler.

Should the project go through, it would be the first community-based wave pool to actually break ground. Currently, surf parks fall into the private residential development model or as a turnstile public business. For years, discussions have centered on how surf parks might replace skate parks and soccer pitches as community redevelopment models.

La Vague Paris Endless Surf
The Paris suburb of Sevran was slated to get a surf park as part of a massive redevelopment plan.

Similar projects haven’t made it

A few years ago Sevran, a Paris suburb with similar socio-economic situation to Far Rockaway, had planned a wave pool as the center of a massive public renovation project. In that case, the process took so long that by the time permitting was ready, a new mayor and council had been elected. Those officials ultimately said no to surfing.

Baptiste Calonque spearheaded that project.

“We designed an active lifestyle program mixing boardsports (surf and skate), urban culture (3×3 basketball), and new sports (climbing) with agreements with the city to offer privileged access to schools and inhabitants,” Baptiste told WavePoolMag in 2020. “This whole area of Paris is the fishpond of so many French Tier 1 athletes that you best believe that amazing talents will emerge thanks to this project.”

Gigi Lucas
Gigi Lucas sees wave pools as a lineup equilizer. Photo Stefanie Keeler

Wave pools can diversify lineups

The motivation is the same globally, get kids into the water who would not ordinarily have access. Once basic safety is learned, participants can use that skillset to take them wherever. SurfearNEGRA’s Gigi Lucas told WavePoolMag that their mission is to make surfing accessible to “any kid anywhere.”

“We are elated with the increased popularity and development of wave pools because this will help democratize the sport in a way that has never been done before,” said Gigi. “Especially for kids who are pigeonholed into traditional sports like track and field, football and basketball.”

No specific wave-making technology was listed in the story as negotiations and plans are still in the early stages.

Endless Surf 2023A