The Post-Sandy Beachcomber’s Handbook

Photo: Tobias Hutzler/Trunk Archive

It’s been seven months since Sandy churned angrily across the East Coast, and large swaths of shoreline are still reeling. Houses have yet to be rebuilt; boardwalks are under construction; and many beachside businesses remain shuttered. But for the most part, local and state governments scrambled like mad to ensure that the region’s beaches would reopen—in proper sunbathing and splashing-around condition—by Memorial Day. Some even got upgrades: There’s now a train-to-sand trolley shuttling visitors directly to Long Beach, a state-of-the-art boardwalk being installed in Spring Lake, New Jersey, and a brand-new thrill-a-minute amusement park in Coney Island. What follows is a sampling of the most devastated shorefront communities and where they stand today, plus tips for coping in a Tilden-free world.

New York City

Rockaways Report
With no Fort Tilden and the addition of alienlike toilet pods, the peninsula looks a bit different this summer.

Illustrations by Mark Nerys

Rockaway Beach Proper
This surfers’ paradise caught the brunt of Sandy’s furor. Comfort stations were hammered to nothing and 1.5 million cubic yards of sand was displaced; the Army Corps of Engineers is working to replace it.

What to Eat
Many of the most popular Rockaway food stands are still in “wait and see” mode, with some setting their sights on the Fourth of July. Here’s where select vendors stand for now:
Rockaway Taco: Reopened May 3.
Rippers: Reopened May 25.
The Commodore East: Not reopening. Check back in 2014.
Lobster Joint: The building was destroyed, but owner Tommy Chabrowski hopes to rebuild and reopen next year.
Motorboat and the Big Banana: Owner Jean Adamson is angling for a July 4 return. Till then, she’ll sell frozen bananas at Smorgasburg (more here).
Low Tide Bar: Aiming to reopen by July 4 weekend.
Connolly’s: Reopened May 24.
Caracas Arepa Bar: Trying for a mid-June return.

Those Futuristic-Looking Bathroom Pods
In order to get the beaches ready for the public by Memorial Day, the city spent $105 million on a remodel that included new bathroom pods and lifeguard stations, to be distributed among fifteen beaches. The largest of the elevated pods are 15-by-60 feet, made of steel, weigh 50 tons, and cost about $2 million. The city couldn’t risk construction-related weather delays, given the race against time, so it had the pods prefabbed in a Pennsylvania factory.

Island Hopping
The city has installed temporary concrete “islands” with steps, ramps, seating areas, and lighting at four damaged boardwalk junctures: Beach 86th, 97th, 106th, and 116th Streets. They’ll remain in place while the boardwalk undergoes a full reconstruction.

Getting There
So long, H shuttle, we hardly knew you. Starting May 30, full A train service will be restored to the Rockaways.

So What’s the Next Fort Tilden?
To the disappointment of many a North Brooklynite, Fort Tilden’s beach was badly eroded and its dunes destroyed, exposing an old seawall and jagged debris. It remains closed indefinitely to protect the land (and prevent a mass tetanus outbreak). Here, the tastemakers who made the old Fort Tilden the new Rockaway Beach reveal where they’ll be headed this summer.

Celia Ellenberg, beauty editor
“I’ve got a feeling Montauk might be a little more crowded this year. Personally, though, I’ll be decamping to Margate, just outside Atlantic City. You haven’t lived until you’ve had a hoagie and some water ice delivered to your beach chair.”

Caitlin Mociun, jewelry designer
“I decided to rent a lake house upstate this summer in Copake. If it gets really hot and I’m desperate during the week, maybe I’ll go to the public swimming pools—like Commodore Barry Park in Fort Greene.”

Amanda Carter, fashion publicist
“There’s a dope beach, Greenwich Point Park, in Old Greenwich, Connecticut—it’s really cute, but you have to get a permit to go. Sandy Hook, New Jersey, is also amusing.”

Chris Keating, Yeasayer front man
“I’m tired of the sand. I’m going somewhere that has a lake. Forty minutes away on the train has some of the most beautiful, serene nature and swimming holes.”

Remember the Boy Next Door
Jacob Riis: now taking Tilden refugees.

The National Park Service–run beach reopened for swimming over Memorial Day—though, fair warning, parking is tight. Most of the lot is still filled with debris after doubling as a temporary transfer station for the city. The Rockabus (, now rerouted to Jacob Riis from Fort Tilden, is the better option, and its new fleet of school buses are kitted out with air-conditioning, an improved sound system, and D.J.-curated playlists.

The Great Coney Comeback
Coney Island’s amusement parks, boardwalk concessions, and beach took on about five feet of water during the storm, pummeling icons like Nathan’s Famous and causing electrical damage to Luna Park and the Cyclone. Hot tubs, Jet-Skis, and other debris washed onto the beach, and bathrooms were wrecked. And yet—triumph! The beach reopened Memorial Day weekend, with just a few kinks: The bathrooms are still being replaced, and the city is working on the boardwalk between West 24th and West 27th Streets. Nathan’s reopened, and all of Luna’s rides were power-washed or replaced. The New York Aquarium, which suffered $65 million in damage, partially reopened May 25 with a restored Glover’s Reef and remodeled Aqua Theater (but, sadly, no Mitik the orphan walrus). Also, new this summer: Big Mark’s Action Park on Stillwell Avenue, an adrenaline junkie’s paradise complete with a rock-climbing wall, a skydiving simulator, hot-air balloon rides, and a mechanical bull.

Photo: Bernie Dechant/Getty Images

Long Island

Long Beach
Gets a trolley … and Shoregasboard!

Sandy was not kind to this narrow barrier island: Restaurants flooded, cars were ruined, and the historic boardwalk was torn asunder. Miraculously, though, every last beach reopened by Memorial Day. A nearly mile-long chunk of reconstructed boardwalk will debut in July (with others to follow); overhung with better lighting, it’s being built with storm-resistant hardwood. Annual festivals and concerts will return as planned, joined by Shoregasboard, a collection of food trucks from local brick-and-mortar eateries affected by the storm. Look for mobile purveyors of barbecue, frozen yogurt, and more stationed at the intersection of Riverside Boulevard and the beach, accompanied by seating areas, palm trees, and volleyball courts. There’s even a new trolley to whisk visitors direct from the LIRR to the beach’s popular southern stretch, or transport them to the less crowded western end.

Meatballs on the sand
A trio of eats from the Shoregasboard menu …

The “Istanbun,” a chipotle-hummus-stuffed pickle that’s crusted in falafel, deep-fried, and served on a bun with sauerkraut and tahini; from Beach Buns ’N Bites by Sugo Café.A pastrami sandwich on rye from Lido Kosher Deli.A meatball hero (made with milk-fed veal and no bread crumbs) on Italian semolina bread from Villaggio.

The State of the State Parks
An update on Long Island’s popular state-run beaches.

Robert Moses
Workers have repaired a collapsed traffic circle, a damaged boardwalk, and broken fences as well as rebuilt three lifeguard shacks, removed Dumpsters full of debris, and cleared the flooded eighteen-hole golf course. The biggest challenge, however, was replacing lost sand; 500,000 cubic yards have been trucked in to date. The beach reopened for Memorial Day, but parking remains limited owing to ongoing repairs.

Jones Beach
The flooding and wreckage here were brutal. But thanks to an emergency cash infusion and round-the-clock toiling, Jones Beach reopened Memorial Day weekend, its boardwalk planks and railings completely reassembled. The Jones Beach Theater, which was submerged under four feet of water, is back, too, gearing up for a stacked lineup of summer concerts (Phish, Fleetwood Mac, Bob Dylan). The fishing piers, boat basin, and bait shop were obliterated, and construction is ongoing; the West Bathhouse is also undergoing renovations, but those were scheduled pre-Sandy.

Sunken Meadow
The storm breached one of the protective dikes and flooded the eastern end, uprooting as many as 500 trees and ruining fences. The western side saw bluff erosion, which actually widened the beachfront. It reopened Memorial Day.

Orient Beach
Not only did this North Fork beach lose sand and half a mile of its asphalt roadway, but also every building was flooded, utilities were ruined by saltwater, and a lifeguard shack and picnic tables simply disappeared into the ocean. Since Sandy, the park has been repaved, seen utility equipment reinstalled, and undergone a stormproofing overhaul; amid repairs, it, too, reopened Memorial Day.

Photo: Daniel van Moll/Getty Images

New Jersey

Down the Shore
Checking in on the state’s hardest-hit beach towns.

Ortley Beach
No other boardwalk suffered as much devastation as Ortley’s. Both the decking and piling had to be replaced (the walkway won’t be accessible till mid-June), and the renovation of Ocean Terrace, the beach’s roadway, will cost an estimated $4 million. Two lifeguard stations were also destroyed. Though $1.9 million has been allocated for the new boardwalk, only a three-block section of the beach will reopen this summer. Bathroom trailers have been rented for the season.

A third of the macadam beach walk was reduced to rubble and scattered about town. It was fixed in time for Memorial Day, and a food truck is standing in for the demolished concession stand. A sifting program replaced seven feet of missing sand, and despite some anti-dune sentiment­—homeowners arguing that they ruin their vistas—the state may rebuild its dune system (albeit at a compromised height).

Mantoloking All
524 homes in this small town incurred damage, ranging from minor flooding to houses being carried off their foundations; 50 of those are set to be demolished within the next few weeks. While the beach is currently accessible via sand walkways, there is a dispute over its future. Unless the borough receives permission from every beachfront property owner, neither the Army Corps’s beach-renovation project nor Mantoloking’s sandbagging solution (which involves car-size sand-and-gravel-filled bags buried in the dunes) can proceed.

The boardwalk was washed away, and its four pavilions, which had previously housed bathrooms and concessionaires, were battered. The town replaced the now 1.3-mile boardwalk with $8 million in composite decking. And rather than rebuild a dune system, it plans to construct a nearly five-foot-tall bulkhead covered in sand by 2014.

How Midway Emerged Mostly Unscathed
First, and most important, the town’s shorefront properties were built far enough inland (about 50 feet farther back than adjacent towns) that flooding wasn’t an issue. Second, zigzag-patterned dune fencing prevented sand from bombarding nearby buildings, while long-rooted, anchoring vegetation allowed the dunes to absorb the brunt of the tidal surge. “We lost about 50 feet of sand,” says Dominick Solazzo, vice-president of the Midway Beach Condominium Association, which is responsible for dune maintenance. “But we still have more dunes now than most municipalities did before Sandy.”

Fear Not, Nudists
Gunnison’s doing just fine.

The National Park Service’s recent decision to enforce New York State’s ban on public nudity, a ruling specifically aimed at Fire Island’s clothing-optional Lighthouse Beach, means the tri-state area’s nudists are left with just one option for disrobing en masse: Sandy Hook’s half-mile-long Gunnison Beach. It reopened earlier this month with limited amenities (no snack bar); Seastreak, departing from Pier 11 two to three times a day, gets you there in an hour.

Seaside Heights Springs Back
It lost a lot—including two roller coasters and a Ferris wheel—but the shore town is once again beating the beat.

Seaside Heights’ sixteen-block boardwalk, which was nearing its centennial when Sandy hit, had to be completely rebuilt—at a cost of $4 million. The town hopes to participate in the Army Corps of Engineers’ beach-nourishment project, which’ll see millions of cubic yards of pumped-in sand widening the shoreline berms. Because of persistent rumors that the surf is dangerous, the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection took extra measures (including using side-scan sonar to scour the ocean floor for debris) to ensure the water was swimmable by May 24.

No-Frills Thrills:
FunTown Amusement Pier
Given that only four rides and 20 percent of the FunTown pier survived Sandy, the beachside playground won’t reopen until next summer. The Looping Coaster and the Ferris wheel collapsed into the surf and had to be scrapped. (After falling 30 feet, the wheel, which had cracked, was cut apart five weeks ago and removed piecemeal.) When the pier is fully operational, though, it will feel notably larger: Its owner has applied for an expansion that would add up to 200 feet of decking and pilings.

Casino Pier
The massive Jet Star roller coaster, blown into the ocean when roughly a third of FunTown’s neighboring Casino Pier collapsed, became a macabre tourist attraction after Sandy. Though some believed the ride should remain in the surf, a dredging outfit was hired a few weeks ago to remove it. The amusement park opened over Memorial Day; a new thrill ride, defiantly dubbed the Super Storm, will debut later this summer.

The Carousel
Originally built in 1910 and housed in Casino Pier’s arcade, Seaside’s historic carousel was one of only two such wooden amusements remaining in the country. The carousel’s electrical panels were destroyed in the storm but inspected and replaced last week. It’s already up and running.

Reality Check:
The series finale of MTV’s Jersey Shore aired just weeks after Sandy leveled Snooki & Co.’s Seaside playground, but their haunts quickly recovered. The shore house needed scant repairs and has since been rented out to GTL adherents, while the cast’s other home away from home—Karma—reopened in March. The Shore Store, which suffered extreme damage (including a buckled floor), reopened in May. To generate extra income, owner Danny Merk has been organizing tours of the cast’s house. (For those interested in partaking, just show up at 1209 Ocean Terrace, between 10 and 11 a.m. and 8 to 9 p.m.; tours are $10). “We walk through the house and end at the store,” he says. “It’s like a Universal Studios tour.”

Under the (Modular) Boardwalk
A look at Spring Lake’s snazzy new $4 million pathway.

The renovated boardwalk is equipped with metal stanchions, designed to break apart into sixteen-foot sections. If a tidal surge hits only one section of the boardwalk, the plastic screws that hold the stanchions in place will snap apart, freeing that piece from the rest. Post-storm, it would just be refitted like a puzzle.

The concrete pilings were the only part of the two-mile boardwalk to survive Sandy’s rage. Of the 120 that remained, fewer than a dozen had to be fully replaced.

Instead of traditional wooden planks, the town installed TimberTech composite decking (made of wood flour and plastic): look-alike boards believed to be more durable than natural wood. Below, pressure-treated lumber prevents the boardwalk from bouncing under heavy foot-and-vehicle traffic.

Additional reporting by Max Thorn.

The Post-Sandy Beachcomber’s Handbook