On Island Time – The Ocean Beach Report
by Samantha Sigelakis-Minski
Welcome to Ocean Beach…
HERE YOU WALK OFF THE FERRY and into another world. In just nine blocks, you have everything you need for the best vacation, whether it be with your family or friends. Ocean Beach has two pizza places and three ice cream shops; what more do you need in life? For those with a more refined palate, there are more than a dozen restaurants with a variety of cuisines, as well as four local food markets. To occupy your time when not eating, there are stores for every shopper. No chains exist in Ocean Beach, so every place you eat or shop is a unique and individual experience that you cannot find elsewhere.
On top of our very active town, there is the strip of uninterrupted sand and surf waiting to be explored. You can sunbathe, find shells, or do laps in the mild Atlantic. On the north shore of Ocean Beach is, ironically enough, the Great South Bay, bountiful in fish and crabs for nights that you want to stay in and cook. The bay is also home to the best sunsets on the Northeast Coast, in this writer’s humble opinion.
Ocean Beach is one of the most versatile communities on our sandbar, great for families and weekenders alike. For the children, there is a wonderful camp where you not only do “campy” activities like soccer, but also art, ecology classes, and theater productions. For your weekend with the girls or guys, most of our amazing restaurants open at night as a thriving club scene that is both safer than the mainland and more friendly than Manhattan.
Come for the day, come for the week, or stay forever: Ocean Beach welcomes all, and remains the most popular and prolific Fire Island destination.
Ocean Beach began as a land for grabs, with the buying and selling of parcels beginning in 1908. It wasn’t until 1921 that Ocean Beach incorporated as a village, when Stay-A-While beach estates (owned by the heirs of Justice Wilmot Smith) merged with John Wilbur’s parcels of land, which were already known as “Ocean Beach.” This was not the most popular idea at the time, however. Many residents of the thriving hamlet feared this was just another way to bring in more tax money or to create more government in a fairly feral land. The matter was officially brought to a vote in March of 1921, and the motion to become an incorporated village passed with almost 80% of the residents from both communities in favor.
Even though it was not one of the first communities to officially form, Ocean Beach is one of only two Incorporated Villages on Fire Island, the other being Saltaire. This allows Ocean Beach to maintain its own police force and court system, mayor and board of trustees, and its own school. The first school on Fire Island opened in Ocean Beach in 1918, with 10 pupils occupying its classroom and its founder, Mina Woodhull. Since then, Woodhull School is still on the border of Ocean Beach and Corneille Estates, and has recently begun accepting students from the mainland.
Ocean Beach’s claim to historical controversy fame was the 1977 “cookie case,” where beloved Rachel Doering of Rachel’s Bakery defended two boys who received citations for eating her cookies and cake on the sidewalk. In the end Rachel prevailed, and now beachgoers can eat on the main strip, aka Bay Walk.
Through My Eyes
For the first 21 years of my life, Ocean Beach was my home. I went to a mainland school but relished my bus ride home, since it meant more time for toes in the sand and scheduled play dates at the playground. There were no cars whizzing by for parents to be frightened of, there were no predators. Here, every family was neighborly beyond the casual cup of sugar. We protected each other during storms and offered lifts off of the island for the price of a smile and a future kind act. Halloween included hayrides in the back of someone’s pickup truck, snow meant sledding down the streets, and summer meant new friends from all over bringing diversity to our sheltered community.
Even as I grew up, I never wanted to leave home like my mainland friends. Perhaps that’s the biggest downfall of “the beach.” There is nowhere that feels more like a community, a home, so you never want to leave. Where else can you say hello to a storekeeper and have them stop you in the street for a 20-minute talk about your family? Getting through the nine measly blocks that I called home takes more than an hour on some occasions just from the natural flow of conversation. That is what is most important to me about Ocean Beach: You are never alone, even in the middle of the winter when only 195 people remain.
Now, living on the mainland and commuting for the last three years, Ocean Beach still remains the place I call home when asked. I volunteer in our fire department, waitress on occasion, do more talking than I should, and feel all the more bereft every time I get on the ferry. The kind of heartache I feel about leaving Ocean Beach can only help demonstrate how special this little strip of land on this little barrier island truly is.
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