The lifeguards, swimmers, surfers, sun worshipers, joggers and sand castle architects have all made their way back to Rockaway Beach less than 10 months after Hurricane Sandy, and, judging from most accounts, they’re having one heck of a good time.
In fact, Domenic Boero, manager of Ripper’s, said the concession stand at Beach 86th Street, now in its third season, has been busier than ever.
“We lost everything but the skeleton of the place,” he said. “The majority of the place was halfway covered with sand.”
But, ironically, thanks to an “awareness of the area due to the storm, generally, we have had twice as many people as last season,” he said. Because so much of the beach was lost to erosion, “a lot of people have been condensed here.”
And, he added, “The locals are definitely happy to have the weight and pressure of the storm off their minds. It’s good for their mindset.”
It would be hard to get more local than Al Manning, who has lived right off the beach for the past 45 years. On a recent overcast day, he was on an outing with his two young grandchildren at Rockaway Skate Park, a small reconstructed playground on Shore Front Parkway at 91st Street.
His two charges, Shane DeCarolis, 6, and his sister, Kaylee, 4, are “basically here every day,” their Pop-Pop said.
“A lot of kids enjoy this park,” he said, with their skateboards, scooters and bikes.
Pointing out the major beach construction site adjoining the park, Manning recalled that when Sandy hit, “The sand was down the block, with nothing holding the water back at one point.”
The ocean and the bay met that day. But things are looking up.
“It’s actually been a good summer,” Manning said. “We’ve had massive crowds. Even cloudy days do not stop people. It’s New York City, but it’s its own entity, suburbia within the city,” he said. The beach is enjoyable year-round. In the summer, it’s crowded. In the winter, it’s solitude. The beach is an awesome thing.”
Much newer to the area is Claudia Gaimaro, 30, a professional photographer who has been living on Beach 92nd Street for the past five months.
“I used to come here as a kid,” she recalled while out for a spin on the boardwalk with her bicycle. Gaimaro grew up in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, but found herself lured to Rockaway, which she called “a nice community,” adding, “When I was a kid, it was nice. Now, it is so much nicer.”
These days Gaimaro finds herself at the beach “pretty often,” accompanied most days by her soon-to-be 2-year-old daughter.
“I love the beach,” she said. “Everyone’s doing a good job to keep it clean.”
Of course, it’s not only area residents who’ve been taking advantage of the summer’s beach weather. One day last week, martial arts instructor Pedro Vaca, a resident of Ozone Park and owner of Eagle Taekwondo Academy in Richmond Hill, brought along 17 members of the school’s summer day camp, all of whom were having fun at one of several beachside playgrounds. It’s become a weekly destination for the group.
“It’s safe,” Vaca said. “I can bring the kids here and do all the activities. The setup is beautiful. It’s easy access. Families and children can come to have a great time.”
“It’s a clean beach,” said one of the camp’s counselors, 13-year-old Dinesh of Richmond Hill. “I like the waves. The waves are crazy. We surf the waves. It feels epic, lik-e you’re alive. You’re doing something new. Other people should come. It’s a great experience. The water feels great.”
Equally enthusiastic was camper Edward, 12, who said, “The sand feels very soft. The waves are big. The waves sound beautiful.”
One of the youngest visitors to the beach that day was David Gryczkowski, 5, who was building castles in the sand under the watchful eye of his mother, Anna. They came down from Ridgewood with friend Marta Samborska, who said a day at the beach “is relaxing and different from sitting at home all day long,” adding, “Nobody bothers us.”
While most visitors had nothing but positive things to say, Owen Reilly, 49, from Middle Village, wanted to “tell Mayor Bloomberg to spend some money here. They cleaned the neighborhood, but look at the boardwalk,” which has a long way to go before it’s back to its former splendor.
“The beach looks good,” Reilly conceded, saying, “They did over here, but they gotta do all the way down.”
Reilly, who was joined by his girlfriend, Lucia Galicia, and her three sisters, all of whom live in the Bronx, said he has been coming to Rockaway “since I was born. It’s close. It’s good. It’s like the last free beach.”
Also less than thrilled with the recovery time was Shirley Aroyo, who has lived in the area for 48 years.
“It’s terrible. Rockaway seems to be forgotten for everything,” Aroyo said, adding, “The little they did brought a little life back to Rockaway.”
While repairs haven’t happened fast enough for some, both Cesar Franco and David Sookdeo, of the Rockaway Parks Restoration Corps, hired by the Parks Department in April for a six-month period specifically to help clean up the area, are proud of the work that has been accomplished.
“In the beginning, there were feet of sand over to the next block,” Sookdeo said. “To see it cleaned this quickly is amazing. They really got everything up and running in time for the season. I think it’s amazing what the city did. The people are happy to be back.”
Sookdeo has discovered that as he’s been working, “people wanted you to hear their stories. Everyone had a different story as to how they survived.”
He continued, “We have a few young ladies, about 90 years old, who have been here since the 1930s. They’re here every day. It puts a smile on their face. It’s an all-around great experience to talk with residents.”
Franco, who lives in Elmhurst, said, “I didn’t experience the devastation first-hand. A lot of people have come to see it.” He met one couple who returned from Arizona just to see what happened to their old neighborhood.
“A lot of people are happy, amazed by the amount of work that was done. They’re amazed they can go to the beach,” he said.
Proudly pointing to the playground where the young campers were playing, Sookdeo said, “We did that entire park there.”
From the nearby bench on the boardwalk where she meets up every day with three friends, Aroyo said, “This is our life. We have a place to sit outdoors and enjoy the breeze.”