Rockaway

"Rockaway: Surfing Headlong into a New Life" by Diane Cardwell

This memoir busts a lot of stereotypes in a delightful way. You might think of surfers as young blond dudes, not as middle-aged Black newspaper reporters. You might think of the best places to surf as Hawaii and California, not the gritty Rockaway Beach in the New York borough of Queens. But no.

In “Rockaway: Surfing Headlong Into a New Life,” former New York Times reporter Diane Cardwell takes life in easy stride. In her 40s, her marriage has dissolved and she has gone from being half of a couple who host swank dinner parties in their Brooklyn townhouse, to living alone and wondering if she will ever find love again. And then on assignment in Montauk, she does finds love, quite unexpectedly — not with a person, but with the sport of surfing. Standing at water’s edge, watching the surfers “rolling lazily along, skipping and cross-stepping up and down the length of their boards … I felt as though I’d stumbled upon a secret tribe of magical creatures,” she writes.

She wondered, “Maybe I could do that. I almost chuckled at the thought of myself, a once timid and not-so-athletic girl from Manhattan, surfing, but I could feel it taking hold.”

Over time surfing not just took hold, it took over, uprooting her from sophisticated city life, moving her to Rockaway, where she buys a funky, beachy house and a couple of surfboards, finds a tribe, and practices diligently, fiercely this new life in the waves.

Surfing, Cardwell quickly learns, is not as easy as it looks. At her first lesson, she is such a novice she puts her wetsuit on backward. To get to that graceful, rolling ride she had admired in Montauk, she soon realizes, requires not just great balance, but incredible strength. She needs to practice, and to train.

“Rockaway” is not just a story about starting over, it’s also a treatise on tenacity, on grabbing something you want and absolutely, stubbornly refusing to let go, no matter where it takes you. What an unexpected and inspiring book.

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“Rockaway: Surfing Headlong Into a New Life”

By Diane Cardwell

Houghton Mifflin Harcourt

272 pages • $26