New York and New Jersey have a lot of friends in surfing. And the moment Hurricane Sandy was finished igniting city blocks, flooding homes, and attempting to drown decades of culture and community, those friends arrived to resuscitate it.
The devastation in New York was particularly acute in Long Beach and Rockaway Beach, their boardwalks pulled from their moorings like lids off of cans and slammed into homes, where the storm surge wedged cars beneath porches, and power outages persist two weeks after the storm.
"A lot people lost everything," said native New Yorker and pro surfer Mikey DeTemple. So with the help of friends and surfers Toddy Stewart and Tyler Breuer, "we took the initiative and started doing our own thing." Surfers across the region sprung to similar action -- unsatisfied with only offering monetary contributions.
It soon became clear, however, that the magnitude of the damage was so extensive, the needs of victims so varied, and the surf community's desire to provide hands-on help so forceful, that structure and organization were essential for their efforts to be effective.
Looking for help wherever he could find it, DeTemple reached out to his sponsors at Hurley. They connected him to Jon Rose, a fellow Hurley rep and, most pertinently, the founder of Waves For Water. The organization launched in 2009, bent on providing access to clean water in regions struck by natural disasters and internal turmoil.
While its campaigns have focused on beds of volatility around the world -- tending to flood victims in Pakistan, aiding earthquake and tsunami relief in Japan, Sumatra, and Haiti -- the Hurricane Sandy recovery marks Waves for Water's first major effort on American soil.
"We let [Rose] take the lead and support him as we can. He knows how to mobilize things quickly and acquire resources," said Hurley vice president of marketing Evan Slater.
Waves for Water's operational know-how is arguably its strongest asset. "Their experience is powerful and they have resources available with key people in New York and New Jersey," said DeTemple. "You can't buy that."
"You see unimaginable devastation, death and destruction. It's jarring. I know these people personally -- dear friends who've lost everything," Rose said on Friday night at Zebulon Café in Brooklyn, New York, where a hurriedly arranged fundraiser raised several thousand dollars.
Rose, who moonlights as an EMT, arrived first in Seaside, New Jersey, four days after the storm had passed, to help local standout Sam Hammer and the surrounding neighborhoods. Waves for Water established a network to gather supplies and intelligence, allowing it to target those in direst need.
"I wanted to start with a pillar of the community," Rose said of Hammer. "We started tapping into all the grassroots efforts going on in NJ as a legitimate 501(c)(3) [U.S. government non-profit tax exemption status] to funnel efforts of the global surf community to make it more targeted."
Rose applied the same tactic once he reached New York the next weekend. Convening with DeTemple, Stewart, Breuer, and a small group of local, connected surfers in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, he laid out Waves for Water's game plan. Just like in New Jersey, they acquired warehouse space to serve as a central storage and distribution facility for all hard goods donations, and communicated through the network of surfers to solicit supplies and coordinate volunteer manpower.
"I wanted a full-fledged first response effort for survival supplies to get people through the time without infrastructure, then rubble removal and rebuilding," Rose said.
With access to Long Beach severely limited, Rockaway Beach was up first. The Rockaway Beach Surf Club started distributing food and supplies to displaced residents, and organized the influx of volunteers that went street by street helping remove rubble and water damaged portions of houses. Doctors and medical staff ascended flights of stairs to care for ailing and immobile residents.
Waves for Water volunteers eventually arrived in Long Beach last weekend. From Pilgrim Surf and Supply in Brooklyn, nearly a hundred departed for the barrier island community just east of New York City. Once there, the group split into two.
"One group focused on cleaning and demolition of homes. The next group was focused on recon," explained Breuer, whose family owns Sundown Surf Shop in Long Island. "They went to different neighborhoods with a checklist and asked people what they needed and how they could help. This was incredibly important information."
Local real estate agent Bryan Murphy, helped by Long Beach surfers Will and Cliff Skudin, is guiding operations out of his office.
Of course, said Rose, bureaucratic obstacles can stymie efforts.
"I describe our organization as black ops humanitarianism -- a very lean, pragmatic approach to problem solving, and you try to avoid the red tape as much as you can. There are more rules in America. It can make it harder." Those problems were compounded by a nor'easter -- Winter Storm Athena -- that again hammered the region with rain, sleet, snow, and nearly 50-mile per hour wind gusts.
But already improvements are showing, slow as they may seem.
"I've seen a street that has three feet of sand on the road, and the next day it's gone," said Rose of the general recovery. Of Waves for Water's specific contributions, he asserted, "we have quantifiable actions each day. We got 150 gallons of gas driven up from Jersey to our networks across Rockaway and Long Beach. That's tangible and real."
Rose says Waves for Water will remain until the job is done, claiming, "we'll be here until things are rebuilt." How long that will take, he added, depends on the sustainability of its support network. "I'll be here for a year if I have to. I'll be here for six months. I'll be here for two years."
For now, Waves for Water and its partners in the New York and New Jersey surfing communities keep busy on the ground. There remains an outstanding need for supplies -- toiletries, diapers, generators and fuel, and tools to remove saturated drywall and soggy insulation. Rose said Waves for Water's reach was lacking in parts of northern New Jersey, but that the area is on its priority list.
Resiliency and determination, meanwhile, exist in no short supply.
"It's like forming an army, you have these layers of troops," Rose described. "If we can be a central voice for everyone to funnel information and coordinate efforts, you set yourself up to win."