Years ago when I moved to New York City to study filmmaking, I used to stare at the sign on the subway train that read "Far Rockaway." It sounded distant and mysterious to me. What went on out there at the end of the subway line? When I discovered that what a lot of people were doing out there was surfing, I immediately knew I wanted to make a film about them. To me, a native Californian, the idea of surfing in New York City seemed as enchantingly strange as Far Rockaway itself.

Once I started going out there to film, this isolated neighborhood in deepest Queens became very real to me. I saw a once-thriving beachfront resort area that had fallen into decline and decay, a victim of ill-conceived post-war urban renewal. I met a group of locals who had been surfing there together since the 1960s. When I asked them what had inspired them to take up surfing, they all answered, "The Endless Summer," Bruce Brown's classic 1964 documentary about two California surfers who travel the world in search of the perfect wave. I was amused, and somehow moved, as they described trudging through snow and ice to see it in a Manhattan theater.

I was amazed at how these tough, scrappy New Yorkers braved their neighborhood's blight and plunged into Rockaway's filthy waters. Undeterred by freezing winters, they put on primitive wetsuits and surfed in the snow. Now middle-aged with families, working as firemen, iron workers, garbagemen, they've managed to continue to pursue their passion for surfing. I love that they defy the iconic image of the lithe young surfer god, riding the waves of some tropical paradise.

In Our Hawaii I wanted to reveal, through the eyes of these surfers, the troubled but fascinating anti-paradise that is Rockaway Beach. I wanted to tell the story of how they made it their Hawaii.


Kryssa Schemmerling
Brooklyn, New York