Going to the beach is one sacred summer ritual you can still safely do this year — if you can get there in time.
Popular New York spots like Jones Beach, Jacob Riis Park and Robert Moses Beach are limiting their parking lots to 50-percent capacity to help ensure proper social distancing as the pandemic wears on this summer. This means that NYC’s most competitive sunbathers have been dragging yawning kids out of bed, guzzling coffee and racing to the car at the crack of dawn so they don’t miss their shot at some relief from the oppressive heat.
The lots near Jones Beach have been filling up as early as 8:30 a.m. on the weekends, according to the parking lot attendants. Of course, plenty of the state’s shoreline is accessible by public transit, but for many folks, it’s worth it to get up and go if it means avoiding the long trip via subways and buses.
Here, some of Jones Beach’s most committed sun-worshippers share their secrets for staking a claim to the sand.
Kathleen Conaton, 22
At 7 a.m., the beach near the coveted Field 6 parking lot, which is by the concessions, was still wide open, but Kathleen Conaton watched as her dad rushed the shore with a cart full of fishing gear like he was gunning for the last spot.
“He’s very eager,” said Conaton, 22, a recent Georgetown grad who was accompanied by her Westchester neighbors Emery Vitrano, 12, and his brother Knox, 11. The group was up at 5:45 a.m. and in the car by 6:15 a.m.; Emery, bleary-eyed, described the morning as “terrible.”
But Conaton said it was worth the hassle, especially to get the kids — whose plans to go to summer camp were scrapped earlier this summer — outside. “Not everyone has access to private beaches or not everyone can go to the Hamptons,” she said.
Latrice Rawllins, 48
Normally, Latrice Rawllins said she would get to the beach at the leisurely time of 10 a.m. But on Saturday, she was unloading her car nearly three hours earlier in a prime spot right by the boardwalk. This was a coordinated effort: her mother, cousin and aunt had stayed over at her place in Elmont, Long Island, the night before to help them get out the door at 6:40 a.m. They packed a cooler full of drinks and Pillsbury biscuits for lunch. She works in the finance department of a hospital, so the past few months have been intense. Was it tough to wade into the pandemic parking wars this year?
“No, not when you’re a beach lover,” Rawllins, 48 said. “You just got to cover up, practice safe distancing and just enjoy the day.”
Barbara Collins, 66
Barbara Collins, 66, said she hadn’t been to the beach in years, but she knew to do her research this summer. She checked the park’s online parking tracker on Friday and noted that the lot by Field 6 was closed by 9:30 a.m. On Saturday, she packed up her car, met two friends and left her home in Riverdale at 6:20 a.m. to make it to the beach two hours before last call for parking. She retired from a textile sales job in January, but has no trouble getting out of the house early these days.
“Are you kidding?” Collins said. “At our age, you don’t sleep.”
Richie Radi, 27
Richie Radi got two car-fulls of 20-somethings out the door in Westchester at 6:30 a.m., in time to be doing tequila shots on the beach by 8:15 a.m., but it wasn’t easy.
“The key is: You wake up and start drinking, you’re fine,” said Radi, 27. He’s usually up at 5:30 a.m. most days for his job as an electrician, so he was the spark plug for the six friends on Saturday morning.
His girlfriend, Brooke Carrillo, 27, was not amused. “I didn’t want to talk to anybody,” said Carrillo, a law student. “He was, like, singing.”
They even arrived early enough to spread out near the water. “We usually go farther back,” Radi said, “so nobody hears my dumb ass.”
Diana Mayer, 20
You get used to sleeping in when you’ve spent the past few months living at home, attending online college classes and waiting out the pandemic. So Diana Mayer’s mother Muti had to wake her up on Saturday.
“Multiple times,” Diana, 20, said, noting their 6:45 a.m. departure.
Still, she understood the risks involved: Earlier this summer, she arrived at Jones Beach at 8:30 a.m. only to find the parking lot already closed. “We spent like an hour trying to find a [lot] because they were all closed early,” she said.