Beginning Of The End: A Californian’s Minor Odyssey Into Montauk, Etc.

by brian lam

It’s hard to believe the strange world of outer Long Island is a place so close to Manhattan. But it is.

I found myself in Greenport, L.I., NY for a beautiful wedding earlier this summer. We played bocci on the lawn after the ceremony. The groom’s aunt rocked so hard she broke her wrist falling down while dancing to Journey. My cheap hotel room had wood panels and the dank feel of the Atlantic. I drank too much and fell asleep in my suit. The shops downtown were full of eastern seaboard tom foolery and model ships.

The next day I drove across Shelter Island, which took two short ferry rides and a 15 minute cruise through a mildly winding road.


In 1651…sold it to a group of Barbados sugar merchants for 1,600 pounds of sugar. Nathaniel Sylvester (1610–1680), one of the merchants, was the island’s first white settler. The Sylvesters gave shelter to many persecuted Quakers.

I found myself on the south fork of L.I. , driving past and through the Hamptons, towards Montauk and headed to meet my friend Graham Hill. He sent me to Ruschmeyer’s, a hotel/bar/restaurant by some of the people who do the Surf Lodge.

The owners describe it as such:

“…evoking memories of a nautical “summer camp,” [Ruschmeyer’s]was originally built in 1952 on three acres of lush, lakeside woodland. The recently renovated guestrooms circle a central lawn featuring a teepee and grills, while a sand-filled pool serves as an open-air beer garden. Much like summer camp, your time at Ruschmeyer’s centers around a slew of activities—from ping pong to kite boarding, paddle boarding to yoga, balsa-wood planes to bubbles, there’s a little something for everyone. The main lawn will serve as a backdrop for a rotating series of musical performances, with the acts sharing space with theater troupes and an artist-in-residence. Phil and Ben from Silkstone—the guys behind the Fat Radish on Orchard Street in NYC—serve seafood dishes with fresh local ingredients in the main restaurant and outside in the Magic Garden, while the Electric Eel next door offers classic maritime cocktails and dancing. We can’t wait to welcome you as part of our inaugural summer!”

It  was the first time I had actually met Graham in person, but I immediately recognized a look in his eye symptomatic of wave-sickness; that condition that dictates an overwhelming desire to ignore everything and get to the beach. So we went. Off to Ditch Plains, a beach with dunes lined with retro fishes and 11 foot longboards, with red umbrellas punctuating the view from the water. The waves, breaking over a shallow cobblestone bottom, were clean and plentiful, and locals didn’t look out of shape for not having surfed all Winter. Everyone was on their best behavior and generous with right of way. Only one collision was observed, and it went over peacefully. The most striking things on the beach were the natives, an unbeatable combination of beach style and Manhattan model looks. I made a new friend who shared my want to learn how to spearfish well; he told me there’s a crazy local down in the trailer park who was legendary for his catches by gun in the Montauk waters. Down the beach a ways there’s supposed to be a good taco truck but I never got there. I surfed my rental board in trunks and a neoprene top until I was too cold in the early summer water to continue.

The last time before this that I’d visited The End, as the area is called, I was 10 and we’d gone deep sea fishing on a big group boat. I remembered I caught a fish and the fish swam around like crazy and tangled up everyone’s lines. I’d all but forgotten about the place until bumping into a tabloid-esque photography book titled the same in a San Francisco vintage shop. From Amazon/Publisher’s Weekly:

The dominant subject of this ode to Montauk’s surfer community is the cadre of surfer babes—so “beautiful and sexy and tribal,” says Dweck in his intro—that apparently run the beaches topless. Playfully leaping, rolling in the sand or pouting on their beds sans their string bikini tops, they look like Victoria’s Secret models in training. If this attire, or lack of it, seems contrary to surfing, Dweck, who rented a house one summer at Ditch Plains beach expressly to infiltrate this hedonistic clan, rarely shoots anyone on a board. Nor does he choose to capture the quiet fishing village he hopes will remain unspoiled by the tourists who have overrun other Long Island spots like the Hamptons and Fire Island; instead, Montauk is reduced to a couple shots of fishermen and a beachside snack wagon. The rest is girls, girls, girls.

(I wanted it badly but they wanted $140. Amazon’s listing the limited edition book for $500, though.)

The word is that places like The Surf Lodge have made Montauk a little more approachable for Manhattanites used to city niceties, bringing a bit of that Hampton’s style and crowds and noise to the area.

The New York Times wrote about the culture clash, too, in an article called, “The Yachtini Lands in Montauk“. The yuppification didn’t seem too bad to my eye during my short visit. Then again, things couldn’t have gotten better over time. The NYTimes piece was written circa 2008.

It was certainly less the fishing town I remembered from my childhood and something more polished. For better or worse. I vaguely recall that this is what Malibu lamented.

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