Forget glamping and tree-houses, wig-wams and tee-pees and bring back the good old fashioned canvas tent. Put a wooden parquet floor in, a steel framed double bed, some rugs for warmth, tea and coffee for the morning and, boom. A weekend get-away is born. The old fashioned way. Then add the possibility of taking your surfboard and getting some waves. This vision is one of the past, of a place called Camp Rockaway in New York, it was a place that thousands of city folk could escape to on the weekend with just a short train journey.
There is a man whose vision it is to rejuvenate this idea and this location. Kent Johnson, the man behind the idea is in the process of jumping through the multi-hoop levels of bureaucracy to get a project like this under way in a city like New York. Kent kindly agreed to give us some of his time so talk about this amazing idea or re-idea.
SB: Hi Kent, thanks for sparing us the time, the project looks amazing, how did it come to be that the original Camp Rockaway died a death back in the day?
Kent: Well, it was it was really prominent at the turn of the last century but when the city installed the boardwalk in 1929 a lot of the businesses that had been operating along the shore for years were removed by eminent domain. This included most of the privately owned and operated 'tent cities', hotels, amusement parks and bath houses. So, it was really a victim of urban planning and development. It really was a place just for leisure and thought of as a summer getaway, not too far from the city. Then, you know other things happened, air conditioning, cheaper holidays and flights. The area had a brief reprieve in the way of a theme park in the sixties's but that’s about it.
SB: How far along are you with the project at the moment?
Kent: Well, New York is a funny kind of place, I am an architect and deal with many projects from new restaurants to residences, and we have to deal with tons of bureaucracy from one department to the next. So with a project like this that has no real precedents except for early 1900's which was pre-zoning resolution etc, we are finding ourselves doing a ton of leg work and cutting through a lot of red tape. You name it and we will have to do it. That's kind of where we are, dealing with that side of things at the moment.
SB: When Camp Rockaway is re-finished, where do you see the main clientèle coming from?
Kent: Well, kind of what kicked the whole thing off was the realization that it is a stone's throw from the city and you can come and go a lot easier than youo can with the Hamptons. So the original thought was, let's make this place for locals, for people from New York City. A place to get away and experience the the city in a really unique way. Everyone is used to the buildings and the skyline but not many people think that you can get in the water for a surf within the city limits.
SB: So is Camp Rockaway going to be for everyone? Will it be priced so that the average guy and his family can afford to go?
Kent: Well, that’s really the hope right there, we have been busy making strategic partnerships with groups like Stoked, that help some of the local kids who might not be able normally to access this type of place. Stoked are an established group who provide mentoring and team-building for disadvantaged and local kids who might not even think this would be an option for them. It would be really cool if we could run programs with them a couple of times a summer.
SB: The stretch of coast there gets some awesome looking waves, do you think people will use Camp Rockaway for a surf trip weekend?
Kent: I think in the late summer and fall, and even on into the winter, that might happen as we rely on hurricane swell and it can get really good. T hat's when those of us that are lucky enough to work from home and rearrange our work day to snag some waves will benefit from a place like this getting extra morning sessions and evening sessions. Otherwise, you know, its a long subway ride and you have got to hope that the wind stays good and all that, so yeah it would be really good for surfers.
SB: Camp Rockaway seems like a success waiting to happen, I love the idea of being in the city, doing city stuff then jumping on a train, to a tent, going surfing and watching the sun go down and being part of the great outdoors. In a city.
The best of luck to Kent and the crew with the new Camp Rockaway.
All Photos courtesy of Allan Schoening, Blessing Marie and Vivian Carter.