The Broadcast / Quest Soliman: City Surfer

Quest Soliman: City Surfer

Growing up in Fort Greene, Brooklyn, Quest Soliman’s path to surfing was a little different than most. From skating the concrete streets of New York City, to discovering the unique surf community of Far Rockaway, Queens, Joe Kanzangu sits down to chop it up with Quest.


8 min read

Interview by Joe Kanzangu

Photography by Abbi Hughes, David Gray, & Dylan Gordon

Down Adelphi street, past a dosing Dekalb avenue, with its cultural poets and vendors under the night’s spell, the Brooklyn playgrounds lay frozen. You take the right on Lafayette to get on the C train to Broadway Junction (sometimes Utica, depending on how early you beat the sun). From there you switch on to the A train. The ride steers calm, as most people during these pre-dawn hours are sifting to beat the morning rush or coming down from the night’s high. The train takes you over Broadway channel where your breath is taken by the sun’s ceremonial shuffle up and over the marsh. The day opens up to reveal the glass horizon. One more transfer onto the S train, a short shuttle, and you find yourself at the beach. In this neighbourhood in Queens, the waves are firing. Far Rockaway churns you awake.

These were the early surfing commutes for Quest Soliman back in 2019 before eventually making it his home. After falling in love with the practice while on a visit in Australia, he knew surfing was going to take up a special place in his heart. Now back in the place that bred, raised, and radiates through him, surfing has turned into his most inseparable expression of New York. One he hopes to share with the world.

How was it for you as a kid growing up in Brooklyn?

I was born and raised in Fort Greene, a culturally vibrant neighbourhood in Brooklyn. Growing up it was always about community. Everyone’s life overlapped. I knew if I got into some trouble someone would tell my mom before I even got home. Growing up, I didn’t really have a connection to the ocean. It wasn’t something that was advocated to me. I never knew about surfing but I grew up skating around all the boroughs with my friends. We would go to Pier 62 in Chelsea and spend whole days there. They had the first vert skate park with a bowl in New York, which was built in 2010. Honestly looking back I feel as if that park helped me a lot in preparing me for surfing without even having that in my peripheral.

What was that first experience of surfing like? Talk to me about those early sessions, how did you tap in?

I had an Australian girlfriend and I met her family in Australia back in 2018. It was their summer and they gave me surf lessons for Christmas.

Those early days were spent at Bondi Beach. I’m not gonna front, but it did feel right and natural. My second or third day I was popping up. I wasn’t necessarily pumping but I was steadily making my way. At the time I wasn’t that strong of a swimmer, but there was a certain drive that pushed me. I’m so thankful for those concrete days skating.

After Australia, me and that girlfriend broke up and I was dealing with a lot of confusion as to what to do with my life. Surfing was a crucial constant during that period. It became a source of therapy for me, and I knew I wanted to keep growing that relationship with the ocean. So I became obsessed with getting in the water as much as possible.

Was there a person that was your introduction to surfing in New York?

When I got back from Australia, I wanted to move to California. But then I met Sam Jackson, a sailing teacher here in New York. He told me I didn't have to wait ‘til California. That we have waves here! He introduced me to Far Rockaway.

I didn’t have money like that when I got back from Australia and Sam made it very accessible to me. He lent me his 6’7 shortboard and I was getting up on it. I think he saw how hyped I was to always go out to Far Rockaway, and that started my travels from Brooklyn to Queens. That’s what moves me now to bring boards, equipment, and other stuff to kids and people I meet on my travels. They don’t have access to some of the products we take for granted.

What made you want to connect with Far Rockaway on a personal level?

I got a sense of a real neighbourhood here. It's mad open and everyone’s welcoming and I think that’s because of the ocean. People here say “good morning” and aren’t in a rush to get somewhere, like in Manhattan. Here people take their time in conversation… and in living.

Growing up in Fort Greene people would say “what’s up” to each other. As I got older it became more gentrified and you’d see new people living within their own social borders, not caring about their community. Rockaway being away from the city has a different beat to it. The ocean centres it all and you see people showing up for each other and for the beach. The ocean resonates through the whole community, and I wanted to be involved.

After being in the waters a few times, I met Nigel Louis, the founder of the Black-owned surf shop Station RBNY, and other surfers like Paul Godette who I connected with through skating, and Farmy.

Seeing a Black-owned and run surf shop like Station Surf Shop, and the people I met there, showed me that I could find people around my age that loved surfing and were committed to growing in our connection to the water. Those folks helped me understand the importance of community and being a Black surfer. Their connection to the ocean inspires me. This changed everything for me in life. I felt like I could see through a new lens.

Describe New York Culture to someone that might not be privy to it on the ground.

I love New York like nothing else but New York City can deplete you at times. It nourishes you in different ways too. Being from New York a drive is instilled in you from the get-go. That hustle. Skating these streets, those hard falls through life, they teach you so much about people and yourself. New York doesn’t give you the opportunity to not try.

The culture is brutally honest. Even just me expressing myself as a surfer, I found so many reactions. From friendly banter to people calling me out across the block, people had something to say about me having a surfboard in New York. As I pulled up to my spot in front of the corner store, people would dap me up while roasting me for having my surfboard. That sense of community translated even onto the train and I would have those conversations and connections on the train with people from all social backgrounds.

And now five years later, how has your sense of community grown with your connection to surfing?

I understand the importance of giving back more, and it’s a huge part of surfing that I feel isn’t highlighted enough in surf films, projects, or contests.

Like my Juneteenth event (the celebration of all slaves being free in America). This day for me is all about connecting people to the water. People come and surf in a safe space and with people that look like them. People always used to ask me to take them out and it got to the point where I was like, ‘how can I help all these people interested about the water in a space of positivity’? It’s really easy to have a non-positive experience in the ocean without guidance. So our Juneteenth event has meditations, tai chi, music, and of course a lot of surfing.

It’s heartwarming seeing folks who grew up in New York connect with the ocean for the first time. It’s like they’re seeing a different part of their home. I just feel honoured that people are open to an experience like that, and keep showing up. It’s getting bigger every year.

Having a tribe is important, and it looks like you have a strong group of people you surround yourself with, (the likes of Farmy, Paul, Nigel...) How was that formed?

It was the summer, around 2020. Far Rockaways still allowed surfing during the pandemic, but maybe that’s just because the cops didn’t think to shut it down. Everyone still tried to stay 6 feet from each other in the water, even though there would only be one peak. But we made it work.

I remember I needed wax one day so I walked into Station Surf Shop and they had Exodus playing by Bob Marley. There was this sweet man with a smile, so willing to answer all my dumb questions about surfing. He explained the fundamentals and the nooks and crannies; the reasons to ride a longboard, why a shortboard, or why certain fins work. He made me feel comfortable trying to learn and I’m forever grateful for that. That’s the warmth that Rockaway brings.

Now as a full-time New York Surfer, there are many avenues your life can go down, what does surfing represent for you?

Surfing in my life has helped me to travel and see places that were unimaginable. It’s given me my health. Most importantly it’s given me a purpose to be a service to my community. I want to help as many people as I can, everywhere. I used to teach skateboarding lessons and do skateboarding camps and now I feel like I’m creating that with my surfing community days, inspiring others from the background I come from.

I went from getting in trouble all the time and holding on to cabs as I skated, to now having the confidence to connect to others about the ocean. It’s unreal.


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