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'Rockaway': A divorcee falls in love with surfing

Diane Cardwell falls hard for surfing in her

Diane Cardwell falls hard for surfing in her memoir "Rockaway." Credit: TNS/Houghton Mifflin Harcourt

ROCKAWAY: Surfing Headlong Into a New Life by Diane Cardwell (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 272 pp., $26)

You might think of surfers as young blond dudes, not as middle-aged Black newspaper reporters. You might think of the best places to surf as Hawaii and California, not the gritty Rockaway Beach in the New York borough of Queens. But no.

In "Rockaway: Surfing Headlong Into a New Life," former New York Times reporter Diane Cardwell takes life in easy stride. In her 40s, her marriage has dissolved and she has gone from being half of a couple who host swank dinner parties in their Brooklyn town house, to living alone and wondering if she will ever find love again. And then on assignment in Montauk, she does finds love — not with a person, but with the sport of surfing. Standing at water's edge, watching the surfers "rolling lazily along, skipping and cross-stepping up and down the length of their boards … I felt as though I'd stumbled upon a secret tribe of magical creatures," she writes.

She wondered, "Maybe I could do that. I almost chuckled at the thought of myself, a once timid and not-so-athletic girl from Manhattan, surfing, but I could feel it taking hold."

Over time surfing not just took hold, it took over, uprooting her from sophisticated city life, moving her to Rockaway, where she buys a funky, beachy house and a couple of surfboards, finds a tribe and practices diligently, fiercely this new life in the waves.

At her first lesson, she is such a novice she puts her wet suit on backward. To get to that graceful, rolling ride she had admired in Montauk, she soon realizes, requires not just great balance, but incredible strength. She needs to practice, and to train.

"Rockaway" is not just a story about starting over, it's also a treatise on tenacity, on grabbing something you want and absolutely, stubbornly refusing to let go, no matter where it takes you. What an unexpected and inspiring book.

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