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Close look at NYC's surf culture

by Samari

Last year, I paid a visit to Brooklyn, New York, shortly after hurricane Sandy destroyed Rockaway Beach, a popular surf spot in the neighboring borough of Queens. Besides eating the best pizza ever, I found myself welcomed into a tight-knit community of New York City surfers. One of these salty, stoked individuals was Nabil Samadani, a California transplant.

We spent an evening in the showroom of Samadani’s surfboard company, Salt Surf, while he was plotting a night of live music and NYC surf culture, a Salt party that would fill the small space and spill out onto sidewalk as surfers gathered to check out the boards, drink Pabst Blue Ribbon, and talk story while raising money for the coastal communities damaged by the hurricane.

Later that night, Samadani grabbed a skateboard and slid off into the glittering darkness, bound for the Brooklyn Bridge and the promise of yet another discovery linking the act of surfing and the electric pulse of the Big Apple.

SALT Surf's Nabil Samadani

Salt Surf’s Nabil Samadani in the Salt showroom; photo by Anyssa Samari and Will Warasila

What is Salt Surf?

Salt Surf is a New York-based surfboard company. We have a showroom in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, and of course our online store. Our boards are shaped by Mauricio Avila, who is based out of California. We tend to create shapes that are a mix between old school and modern. We also make and sell some other clothes and surf stuff.

What inspired you to quit your job and start a surfboard company in Brooklyn?

I didn’t really know what I was getting myself into, but I knew that I wanted to get into it. I had a comfortable life, with a lot of stability, and what most people would consider a desirable job working for a big corporation. Unfortunately, I didn’t want any of it.

I was passionate about what I was doing with Salt, and I was passionate about what it had the potential to become. I knew that reaching its potential would only be possible if I put everything I had into it.

I’ve also always liked a good adventure, and I knew that letting go of the stability of a full-time job would provide that!

SALT Surf in Brooklyn

Salt Surf’s colorful boards in the Brooklyn showroom; photo by Anyssa Samari and Will Warasila

What’s different about surf culture in Brooklyn? 

The surf scene in Brooklyn and Manhattan, for the most part, is growing and changing rapidly. I think the people who are currently a part of the surf scene in New York have an opportunity to really shape the new surf culture that is developing at the moment. Although there have been guys surfing out here for decades, it was a very small group of surfers who would surf around New York City before the past 10 years. More recently, especially in the past two or three years, the general public has taken notice of surfing and become aware that it is even a possibility to surf here. When you take the subway out to Rockaway Beach, for example, you still get a ton of double takes, and people asking, “Where can you even surf out here?” A lot of undercover cell phone picture taking of “the guy with a surfboard on the subway” goes on, too. Most people still don’t know that NYC has surf.

The surf community itself though is the best! It’s super tight-knit, and you can’t go into the lineup without seeing a few familiar faces. It truly has a family feeling. I think there’s an awareness that you’re part of this really small niche community out here, and there’s an instant shared understanding because of that. It’s exciting.

Describe a typical day in your life. 

I tend not to have a lot of typical days lately. I do, however, spend a good amount of time at our showroom. This is where people come to check out our boards, where we work, and where people come to hang out and talk surf. We want more of the later (hanging out and talking surf), so knock on our door if you’re in the hood.

And of course I try to make surfing a part of my “typical day” as much as possible too. Usually at Rockaway Beach.

A window lined with fins exposes the interior of the SALT Surf showroom in Brooklyn; photo by Anyssa Samari and Will Warasila

A window lined with fins exposes the interior of the Salt Surf showroom in Brooklyn; photo by Anyssa Samari and Will Warasila

What role has surfing played in your life? 

I can’t begin to summarize the role that surfing has played in my life. Every one of my friends, every trip I take, most of the thoughts that run through my brain are somehow there because of surfing. My friend Sasha taught me to surf a long time ago, and I often think about how thankful I am for that. I have surf dreams at least once a week where I am surfing perfect waves, and I think I’m back in Santa Cruz, California, where I learned how to surf and surfed most of my life, but it looks like Hawaii. Those are fun.

What can we expect from Salt this summer? 

First, we’re working on some surf trunks that we are super stoked about. They’re pretty classic, the kind that you’ll pass along to your grandchildren in 100 years. Also, get ready for a few events at our showroom with surf flicks playing, food, and hopefully some interesting characters from the local surf community. Maybe a silly surf contest. Who knows … we don’t plan much, kind of just do everything spur of the moment. Follow our social media sites to keep up!

SALT Surfboard

Samadani holding a Salt Surfboard; photo by Anyssa Samari and Will Warasila

Salt Surf ambassadors Annie Woods and Miguel Libarnes recently shot this playful video showcasing a session on Salt surfboards and a fast food tray. “This is what surfing in New York is really like,” said Nabil Samadani of the short film.