Are you ready to hit the beach — in your SUV?
Off-roading on Long Island beaches is the favorite summer pastime of Klaus “Cooky” Rondinella, 62, of Williston Park. Rondinella used to walk “miles and miles” on the beach to get to his favorite surf-casting spots. These days, he just loads his gear onto his Dynamax Isata 5 RV and drives over the sand to Democrat Point at Fire Island’s Robert Moses State Park. There he spends the weekend camping surrounded by dunes, roaring surf, side-by-side with other off-roaders.
“It’s a great mini-vacation, and a great sense of camaraderie,” said Rondinella, president of the 1,500-member Long Island Beach Buggy Association (LIBBA), the Island’s largest off-roading club. “We wake up at six in the morning, catch fish and make fresh sushi on the beach,” Rondinella said.
DRIVING ON THE SAND
You don’t have to join a club to take your SUV or Jeep for a beach ride to a day of fishing, camping, swimming or tailgate partying with the Atlantic surf at your doorstep. All you need is a four-wheel drive vehicle, an adventurous spirit and a special permit to reach the playland beyond the dunes.
“It’s like a tailgate party on the beach,” said retired Nassau County police officer Carlos Flores, 52, of Holbrook, of summer days he spent driving the family Jeep to pitch a tent and swim at Smith Point County Park in Shirley.
Permits to off-road at Democrat Point won’t be sold again until the fall. But you don’t need to wait to go freewheeling at Smith Point, Shinnecock East in Southampton, Cupsogue Beach in Westhampton and other Suffolk County Parks.
With five miles of outer beach access, Smith Point is among the most popular off-road destinations, said Kerry Albee, parks public relations specialist. “Most people back into a site, put one of those 8-by-8 tents in front of their vehicle, and they have their own private little cabana for the day.”
Off-roading is another way to practice social distancing during the COVID-19 pandemic because “you can really spread apart on the beach,” she adds. Plus, "you get to see the beach in a whole different setting.”
Bea Noguier, 74, of Babylon Village, drives her 2008 Chevy TrailBlazer SUV to fish on beaches from Smith Point to Montauk. “As a fishing woman, the adrenaline just goes,” she said. She caught a 30-pound striped bass on one trip.
In addition to the fishing, Noguier prizes “the quietness, the serenity of the surroundings … it’s like another world, it calms you.”
LI BEACHES THAT ALLOW OFFROADING
Suffolk County Parks outer beach access
INFO 631-854-4949, suffolkcountyny.gov
COST $33 daily permit/Suffolk County residents; $44/nonresident. Annual outer beach driving permit, $100/Suffolk County residents with a green key pass ($30/three years), $250/ nonresidents.
Robert Moses and Gilgo state parks
Four-wheel drive beach vehicle fishing permits ($80) for Democrat Point and Sore Thumb Beach in Robert Moses State Park and Gilgo State Park in Babylon are sold by the state Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation from the Tuesday after Labor Day to Dec. 31, and then from Jan. 1 to March 31.
Recreational driving permits for anglers and hunters are available for the beach west of the Fire Island Wilderness Center to the breach at Old Inlet. They cost $50 and can be purchased beginning Sept. 1 for use between Sept. 15 and Dec. 31.
The Long Island Beach Buggy Association (LIBBA), 516-859-5266, libba.com
Long Island Off Road, 631-433-3661, liorclub.org