The Art of Doing

The Surfer: How Diane Cardwell Found Her Wave

Diane surfing the 90th street break in Rockaway, Queens, New York City photo by Josh Gosfield

Sometimes our job determines our lifestyle. What happens if it’s the other way around? That’s what Diane Cardwell wondered. Early 40’s, just post-divorce, Diane was on assignment for The New York Times covering a story on the influx of chic hotels gentrifying Montauk, an old fishing village on the eastern tip of Long Island. There, Diane had what she calls her Eureka Moment.

“After interviews in town, I thought I’ll go talk to some of the surfers about how they felt about the new hotels. When I got to the surf beach and looked down from the bluff, I was just captivated by these, beautiful, powerful, strong, graceful people kind of slowly, almost lazily, gliding through these really super mellow little waves. I’d always associated surfing with huge Hawaiian waves that looked absolutely terrifying. But seeing these surfers, I remember thinking, ‘Would I ever want to do that?’ At the time, I wasn’t dating. I didn’t have kids. I didn’t have anything really to focus on beyond my job. And even though I loved my job, I didn’t want that to be my only organizing principle. When I came off the beach, I saw a tiny yellow house with a ‘For Rent’ sign in the window. I wondered, ‘Is the universe trying to tell me something?’ But as I walked back to my car, I was already dismissing it. It’s something I did a lot in my life—talked myself out of doing things because they might be scary or they just didn’t seem to fit the box I put myself into. So I’m walking away thinking, ‘You probably won’t be able to go when it’s available,’ and  ‘It’s probably too expensive anyway.’ But I stopped. Out loud, I said to myself, ‘No!’ I went back and ended up renting the house for a week and took a couple of surf lessons. I was just terrible, but I was so captivated with the feeling of it. And in baby steps, this obsession led me down a really different path.”

Eighteen months later, Diane moved to a small bungalow in Rockaway, at the edge of New York City. It’s a 90-minute commute to work, but just one block from the surf break where she surfs as much as she can. Her memoir, just out, “Rockaway: Surfing Headlong into a New Life,” is a perfect summer read.

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