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East Coast Summer Surfing With 'The Locals'

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When they founded Locals Surf School in 2011, Mike Reinhardt and Mike Kololyan wanted to contribute to the roots of East Coast surf culture. Both being born and raised in the Rockaways, they have the knowledge, patience, and warm energy needed to put up with the never ending wipeouts that are synonymous with surf lessons. Now, on their sixth year, they’re mentoring both young and old, locals and non-locals, who have a passion for sport and culture.

We took a little adventure ourselves for the Explorer Issue and booked a private lesson with them on a perfect sunny day in July.  Our Art Director, Chris Tuyay, spent the first part of the lesson going over the basics – everything from how to fall off, to standing up (full disculosure: Chris isn’t exactly a complete rookie at surfing. Even though he did fall a lot). Then he spent the hour out in the water catching waves with Mike, as our photographer and editor cheered him on. After the class, we got a chance to chat with Mike and find out more about The Locals. Read on about the surf school team below.

During the photo shoot, you mentioned being born and raised in the Rockaways.  What was it like growing up just outside of Manhattan and so close to the water?

Actually, my family has been here for over 100 years! I feel very fortunate to have grown up here for so many reasons, but being able to walk to the beach is a huge one. It’s great to be able to surf and hang on the beach often while still having the hustle and bustle of NYC at my fingertips.

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When did the idea of opening a surf school come about?

My business partner and I both knew that we weren’t eager to put on a business suit and commute to the city like many of our peers were doing. Although we knew that was a very real possibility, we wanted to first attempt to start our own business in hopes of making a living out of pursuing our passions. Both Mike and I love meeting new people, enjoy the act of teaching, and have a passion for surfing, so starting a surf school made perfect sense for us.

Can you explain the idea behind the name Locals?

The word “Locals” has strong connections to the surfing world because it’s the local surfers of each community who know their waves best. Also, whenever one travels somewhere, he or she wants to know what the locals do instead of what the guidebook says. In a sense, they want to experience the destination through a local lens. As lifelong locals of Rockaway Beach, Mike and I want to be the locals that people can meet to experience our passion for surfing and our knowledge of the neighborhood we’ve grown to love.

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You keep the surf school open year round, even in the winter.  What kind of crowd are you guys drawing during the cold weather season?

Although we are busiest during the Summer months, people come to surf all year long. Wetsuit technology is so good these days that going surfing in the winter isn’t much different than snowboarding. You just need the right gear and guidance. Having said that, most people who come in the winter are a little more adventurous than most!

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People tend to think of the West Coast when it comes to surfing. Do you think that being based in New York gives you a different perspective on Surf culture?

Most people think of the beach boys or the movie “Blue Crush” when they think of surfing; however, there are so many different surf cultures throughout the world with NYC’s being one of the most unique. Although Rockaway has a small town beach vibe, we are still a part of NYC so the surfers here represent all of those demographics you’d see in the city. One could say that surfers here are also a bit more hardcore and dedicated because we don’t get waves as often as places like California and when we do, the water is probably freezing! So, we have to be willing to put on thicker wetsuits, brave harsher conditions, and chase the surf wherever it may be.

“Although Rockaway has a small town beach vibe, we are still a part of NYC so the surfers here represent all of those demographics you’d see in the city.”

You pulled some really great stunts during the shoot, when did you start surfing and how long did it take you to pull off the surfing headstand?

Although I didn’t start surfing until I was 11 or 12 years old, I’ve been playing in the water ever since I was an infant. Believe it or not, just being in the water at such a young age helped a lot when I finally learned to surf because I had already developed an understanding of how waves work and a sheer sense of comfort in the ocean. Fast forward 17 years, and you can find me surfing almost every day! Being the owner of a surf school, I’m able to find plenty of time to mess around and practice some fun tricks like you saw me do that day.

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Finally, if our readers are thinking of taking their own surf adventure, any tips to get them started?

It’s definitely recommended that people take a few lessons to get themselves started. It can be frustration learning on your own as it takes some time, but with proper guidance you’ll be riding waves on your first session! Any readers who are interested in getting started can check out our website.


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