In many ways, Long Beach is the perfect backdrop for a pro surf contest. It’s the type of place where the local Laundromat has “beach” worked into its name. Stucco Spanish-style houses line the sand-strewn narrow side streets. Bicyclists clutching surfboards in one hand and handlebars in the other are part of the scenery. Bathing suits are acceptable restaurant attire.
Watching surfers arrive at Long Beach over the years has been an entertaining pastime for Lisa Mulligan, the assistant city manager.
“It’s unbelievable!” she laughs. “You have Wall Street men in their 50s who literally get off that train early in the morning [to surf] and go back before work. You have Asian women in their 20s who have their boards and their [clothes] bags. They shower on the beach and go to work. The range of individuals who get off that train to surf…would literally blow your mind.”
Just add palm trees and it could almost be mistaken for Long Beach, Calif.—at least in summertime. But the East Coast LBC is also an unusual choice of venue considering LI’s reputation as the place ambitious music festivals go to die.
The Music to Know festival in Easthampton was canceled earlier this month due to poor ticket sales. Around the same time, Escape from New York on the Shinnecock Indian Reservation in Southampton was canceled on its second day when a storm blew through town. And most infamously, Field Day, a more Woodstock-esque festival planned in 2003 in Calverton, was shot down by environmentalists.
“It’s going to be the best and the worst for the city,” says one woman collecting the $12 beach fees in a booth near the stage. “I don’t think they’re ready for the crowds it’s gonna bring, but it’s gonna be wonderful.”
A look of horror washes over the face of one hotel concierge when asked about preparing for the crowds. But those tasked with keeping the peace are staying positive.
“We’re looking forward to the challenge,” says Paul Gillespie, chief of lifeguards for the city, whose headquarters has a front-row seat to the action.
Usually, the biggest mob-drawing events he’s worried about are the comparatively minute Irish Day and the annual Superbowl Sunday Polar Bear Plunge. “I’m psyched to have it here,” he says.
Still, some residents are worried about how the city will handle the throngs flocking to the beach for the free surf/music festival, especially since a melee broke out on the beach on Memorial Day. To cope, some residents are said to be renting out their homes for the duration of the event to avoid the crowds—and to cash in on demand for places to stay.
“It’s the first year, so we have no way to gauge or judge how it will impact us,” says Maria Fitzgerald, vice president of West End Neighbors Civic Association, a civic group representing the part of the city that is home to the nightlife district. She notes that younger people are generally for the festival, while older people are more apprehensive.