LI Tennis Community Cleans Up the Aftermath of Superstorm Sandy

Photo credit: Aaron Klipstein
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It was late Sunday, Oct. 28, most New Yorkers were just beginning to think about what Halloween costume we were going to try and put together while watching Sunday football. Newscasters everywhere were talking about a major storm coming the following day, and most folks figured, “I hope he’s right, maybe if it’s bad enough, I’ll have off work on Tuesday …” Having weathered the effects of Hurricane Irene just 12 months before, and being jaded to the weathermen predicting catastrophic events every other week, it was brushed off as “No big deal.” A few folks headed out to fill their cars with gas if they had a long commute, while others bought water and other supplies. As the night went on, the winds kept picking up. Then it was calm. As the morning became the afternoon and the winds picked back up and never gave a hint of slowing, it started to become clear that the area was not in the midst of its average storm. Reports started coming in that parts of West Virginia and Virginia were being blanketed with snow. Outside, the clouds overhead were rushing by as if they were running late for a peak train on the LIRR. Radio stations began advising folks that they should fill up with gas and then stay in for the night. Little did anyone know how important a full tank of gas would be. Hardware and home improvement stores had sold out of generators. As day turned to night, the darkness outside swiftly gave way to darkness indoors, as the winds picked up and trees began falling and taking out power lines leaving neighborhoods pitch black. Once the power companies saw that poles and power stations were in harm’s way, they began preemptively shutting down the power to the bulk of the island. Then the water came …

Sandy was officially only a Category One Storm, what it lacked in force it made up for in sheer size and more effectively, timing. Had Sandy come through during the middle of the day, in the middle of the lunar cycle, it would have been handled. But Sandy was a Superstorm, striking New York and New Jersey at high tide, during a full moon and had a footprint of roughly 1.8 million square miles, from the Mid-Atlantic to Ohio and up into Canada. This was no ordinary, average storm. Couple the massive size and effect of the storm with the complacency that had been brewing ever since New York had “handled” Hurricane Irene just 15 months prior, and what you get is a state of shocked emergency and unprepared terror.

At its peak, the new record high tide rose a full nine feet above average, nearly three feet higher than the previous record, set in 1821. Sustained winds reached 90 miles per hour and gusted up to speeds in excess of 110 miles per hour. Any free-standing structure was under duress and anything not tied down became a projectile. Homes and businesses near the water were especially jeopardized due to the extreme high tide pouring water into the ground floor of many buildings. Particularly susceptible were any outdoor tennis facility that had recently raised its bubble to insulate the courts. The newly raised tennis bubbles, with penetrable outer linings and delicate footing, were left standing in most cases.

At Great Neck Estates, once the wind jostled the bubble off its base, and with the town’s power down, backup generators could not push the amount of air needed to keep the bubble standing. At 3:00 a.m. during the worst of the storm, 12-foot waves came up over the pier and pushed the back up generator off kilter, moving the gas line and disrupting the air going to the bubble. Adding insult to injury, because of its coastal location, the club was totally unreachable for three days, while water receded from the park. When it was finally reachable, the courts were a complete mess and the whole facility was covered in clay.

Water was the main problem for Point Set Racquet Club in Oceanside, N.Y. Four feet of it poured through the lower level of the club, destroying all the courts, the locker rooms, the pro shop and lobby as well as management offices. Cleaning up the effects closed the Club for a month.

Arguably the worst hit place on Long Island was Long Beach. No structure could be closer to the water and more susceptible than Long Beach Tennis Center, located right on the water under the Long Beach Boulevard Bridge. Wind destroyed the bubbles and water near washed away the clubhouse. Five weeks later, Long Beach Tennis Club was still hoping to get electricity “soon.” This had become the new norm. Due to the initial power outages, the influx of out of town help coming to the Island and the inability for fuel tankers and trucks to get to their original destinations, fuel and particularly gas were in very low supply. Rationing began one week after the storm, and after seeing gas lines grow from minutes to hours long, coordinating the rebuilding effort became increasingly difficult with a new premium on having fuel.

Through the rebuilding process we got to see what makes this island great. Neighbors, working hand-in-hand to rebuild communities. In the midst of everything that happened both personally and professionally to the locals of Long Beach, the employees at Long Beach Tennis Center pushed through to make the re-building process happen. Although it took nearly two months, the clubhouse has been fully reconstructed and is bigger and better than the original, sporting a more “homey” feel. Long Beach has always been the type of club where members stayed after their league matches to have a glass of wine and a snack and chat. Now it will have the facilities and decor to make that sentiment more conducive to all players. According to the staff of the club, the unsung hero of the re-building is Lucas, the maintenance professional and night watchman. Without his efforts, the construction would have been even more monumental and the Club surely would not be back to fully operational status this quickly.

Those who were lucky enough to make it through the devastation relatively unscathed, poured out to volunteer and donate what they could. People from all over the continent flooded our streets with electric repair vans and construction trucks.

The folks at Sportime in Kings Park lost their bubble for three-and-a-half-weeks and had the challenge of condensing programming from 11 courts down to seven. People from the community did not mind. In fact in the neighborhood surrounding the facility the power was out for almost two weeks. Even down four courts Sportime found a way to add extra clinics and offer them free to members just looking for a sense of normalcy amid the destruction. Members flocked to the club to charge cell phones and laptops and conduct business or just to get a workout and a hot shower. Kings Park even found a group of out of town electricians camping in their vans and offered them to come in and shower at the club and have some coffee.

The folks who helped Great Neck Estates get their bubble back up were from Canada. A crew of 20 worked nearly around-the-clock for two weeks patching, repairing and power washing the bubble and its clay courts to get it ready for regular programs. Four weeks after the storm, the club was back to 99 percent working order, with a brand new club house, sporting new furniture and carpets.

Point Set Racquet club had to resurface seven courts and re-build the locker rooms, lobby and offices destroyed by water. They also took the opportunity to improve the upstairs, adding a new viewing lounge. "Point Set wants to thank it's loyal staff and clientele for patiently waiting for us to rebuild after the storm,” said Mark Kemp, managing partner of Point Set. “We are back and once everything is fully renovated we will be better than ever."

That sentiment is a very common one among affected communities. Although we were battered, and in some cases, broken, the strength of the Long Island tennis community will move forward and rebuild these impacted facilities.