Three Days in Rockaway Beach with the Vans Duct Tape

When Vans came to town with Joel Tudor and we all celebrated longboarding and waves and surf and music

Photos and video by Thomas LaGrega

obody is quite sure what to expect when the circus comes to town. There’s a nervous energy. Plans are made. Friends crash on couches. With longboarding legend Joel Tudor serving as something of a ring leader, the Vans Duct Tape celebrated surf culture in Rockaway Beach in a memorable way with a stellar invitational featuring the likes of Justin Quintal, Troy Mothershead, Alex Knost, and Kassia Meador, and days and nights packed with shaping demos (from Golden State Glassing and local shaper Paul Surf, as you’ll read below), film screenings (Knost’s “Tan Madonna” played at Rockaway Beach Surf Club), skating, music from a bevy of kick-ass local bands and good vibes.

After the festival, the good vibes and memories of a good weekend with friends old and new weren’t all the remained in New York. The bright yellow Duct Tape boards, available on the beach during the festival for anyone to demo now have a home—if you ever get the itch to ride an asymmetric fish with six fins or sled that looks like a piece of melted chewing gum—at Bunger Surf in Babylon.

Music by The Skells and Patsy, live footage at Rockaway Beach Surf Club. Additional Super 8 footage by Laura Nesci Carroll.

Wave Riding and Connectedness

Paul of Rockaway Beach’s Paul Surf on the Duct Tape
A bout a month prior, I’d heard the Duct Tape was headed our way. Having never been to one before, and not knowing what to expect, there was plenty of room for imagination. What was this going to look like? Would there even be waves? All I knew for certain was that Joel and the crew would be rolling into our little beach community here in Rockaway for a long weekend, and I hoped to share some waves and beers with people I’d looked up to since my teens; those whose approach to wave riding and the lifestyle which accompanies it has impacted me in a profound enough way as to steer me into a serious pursuit of surf and the creation of surf craft.

Joel brought the best wave-dance longboard performers from all over the world.

I received an invitation to shape a board in the makeshift shaping room assembled on the boardwalk. On the first day of the contest, I spent the pre-dawn hours gathering my tools and pulled my truck up to 90th to get a better sense of the set up. The weather had turned the day before; a famously NY summer-to-fall shift that gave both your mind and body a sharp shock, left you feeling a bit gypped, wondering if you were going to miss the cool-breeze, leaf-turning afternoons altogether. It was raining, and cold, but at least the storm had kicked up some sizable swell for the contest.

I decided to make a short egg in my two hour time slot, and between passes, looked out through the plexiglass windows of the shaping bay. There goes Knost with one of his characteristic, dramatic kick-outs that makes you rethink how far you can push the beauty of a ride, even into the last moment, as you sink out of the view and the board goes twirling over the hunch of tackling whitewater. And then, my buddy Mikey D, representing our coast with a long and clean noseride, high-line slicing a steep section before it shuts down in another dense, white volume of shorebreak explosion.

For the two days of the contest, I watched as the swell dissipated and the skillful sliding of each heat grew ever more easy to appreciate; they were pulling out all the stops on the same mini-waves we ride on a daily basis. The impression was one of both childlike inspiration and awe.

The Duct Tape is, in many ways, a performance; a traveling theatre troupe, a circus or carnival of sorts. Vans brought in its tents and crew, Joel brought the best wave dance longboard performers from all over the world, and the eagerly awaiting audience arrived to watch the show, myself included. I was stunned by the ability of the surfers, loved Joel’s commentary during the contest, with interjections of surf history and lore, his characteristic hilarious dissing of high performance longboarding and its dark ages of the 80’s and 90’s, and enjoyed the laid-back vibe of the whole show.

There goes Knost with one of his characteristic, dramatic kick-outs that makes you rethink how far you can push the beauty of a ride

It just so happens that this particular acrobatic show tours to towns inhabited by serious enthusiasts and amateur acrobats themselves. And when the acrobats pack up and leave town at the end of the show, no matter how compelling the act, this simulated experience always leaves me searching for the authentic moment, the authentic character.

The night before the contest, I had chatted with Joel, his girlfriend Emily, original boutique surf/art shop FOAM owner, Jack Luber, surf filmmaker and photographer, Michael Halsband, and Kassia Meador. They had each spoken with such enthusiasm about this community and the culture they believed in.

Events like these help close the gap between performer and audience, and create space for moments of genuine interaction.

For the duration of the Duct Tape, as far as I’m aware, it was only Kassia who actually stayed in the heart of Rockaway. When I heard she was just up the road, it got me thinking. She had a room in a nice hotel set up for her in Brooklyn, just like everyone else in the contest, I presume. What was she after?

Since I first saw The Seedling, some 15 years ago, I had found in Kassia’s surfing an entrancing balance between calculated mechanics and capricious gracefulness. And here she was now, talking to me about her magical sunset session at my home break. It was almost hard to believe at first. You mean, these people actually do love it so much that this somehow organically just became their lives? Having spent the last six years living and breathing surfing in Rockaway, I feel like I can identify with that.

We kept in touch after running into one another at a few different DT events; made plans to get a few friends together and head out to Montauk for a night or two, to surf and kick it, just before she was supposed to fly back to LA. The swell was looking good, but the direction suggested Long Beach might hold a bit more size and save us a longer trip.

I paddled into a quickly throwing section of a clean one just off the jetty at Lincoln Blvd, and rode past Kassia and Knost and a few friends. We took turns slipping down the line, smiling and taking in the moment of afternoon grey light. I saw her there, living with us in our small town, hanging at our local spots and surfing our local breaks before, during, and after the event, and connecting in meaningful ways with the people of this community.

And that’s what I think Joel must be ultimately shooting for with the Duct Tape. Of course it’s about putting on a good show and watching exceptional surfing but also, and more compellingly, events like these help close the gap between performer and audience, and create space for moments of genuine interaction, education, and appreciation for all things surf-related.

So here’s to you, Kassia. You may not have made it through your first round heat, but you got my vote. And here’s to a solid session in the near future and endless stoke on your journey to spread the love of wave riding and the connectedness.