November 16, 2012 at 12:00 PM EST
Surf Club becomes Rockaway beach nerve center
To the surprise of many, including its founders, the Rockaway Beach Surf Club has become the nerve center for its neighborhood’s post-Sandy relief efforts. Approaching the place along Beach 87th Street, the first thing that visitors notice is the white relief tent brimming with supplies and people; then, the line of hurricane refugees and the busy volunteers with clipboards. And looming over all that, a giant psychedelic mural of a skull flanked by a pair of skeletons surfing waves.   “Honestly, I just posted something on Facebook that we were going to clean up the club to maybe do something here, and the next day, four people showed up who I’d never seen before, offering to help. So I put them to work,” said Bradach Walsh, a city firefighter, surfer and area resident, as well as one of the surf club’s founders.   Sandy left the club with more than a foot of debris on its patio and five feet of water inside the door. Volunteers kept showing up, so it took just a few days to clean up the place. “Then truckloads of stuff started coming,” Mr. Walsh said.   Since then, the little relief effort has taken on a life all its own. The club received funding from Waves for Water, a nonprofit founded by a former pro surfer, which focuses on providing clean water in disaster-stricken areas.   On a recent weekend, more than a thousand volunteers cycled through the club, from which they were dispatched to help residents clean out basements, strip off moldy walls and deliver supplies. The club stopped accepting clothing donations a week ago; there’s no more room. But the action shows no signs of slowing.   In fact, celebrities have started showing up, including Madonna, Justin Timberlake, Jessica Biel and Michael Stipe.   Mr. Walsh and a business partner, sculptor Brandon D’Leo, founded the club in April as a home base for surfers and artists, and as a venue for social events.   "We throw some pretty kick-ass parties," Mr. Walsh admitted.   But the club was also founded with another mission, to serve as a sort of hub for beach-related community service projects. It’s that aspect of the mission that is driving things today.   Run as a non-profit, the club boasts about 90 dues-paying members—at $10 per month. It also offered affordable workshop space for a handful of cottage industries, including a skateboard maker, a surfboard shaper and a beach-bag business.   But from the outset it has struggled financially. The storm could have easily wiped out the new venture; instead, the club’s founders are planning for what comes next. Mr. Walsh is working with an adviser to come up with a better business plan to make the club financially viable, so it can initiate other community projects.   “We’re not just going to stop after this storm,” he said. “We want to play a vital role in rehabbing this neighborhood and getting officials to recognize that Rockaway has real value to the city.”
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