Morgan Collett, the co-founder of Manhattan's cult menswear shop, Saturdays Surf NYC, takes a Lexus NX 200t to the Rockaways and Montauk, two Long Island surf spots bound together by a strong sense of community among locals, visitors and surfers alike
It is daybreak. Only the gentle rumble of delivery trucks trundling through this quiet pocket of Manhattan breaks the silence as Morgan Collett unlocks the security grates of Saturdays Surf NYC, his cult menswear store, which stands on Crosby Street. Cutting a neat and stylish figure as he loads one of the seven surfboards he stores at the shop into the back of the gleaming Lexus NX 200t, parked outside, Collett is a far cry from the stereotypical beach bum. Yet behind his sleek, urbane appearance, at perfect ease on the streets of New York City, Collett’s is a soul that yearns for the ocean.
As is often the case, Collett has risen at dawn to catch the precious morning surf and, along with three of his friends, is heading out on one of his favorite drives, which will take them through two Long Island surfing spots that are particularly close to his heart. As the rest of the city comes to life, Collett and his crew pile into the vehicle and head out across the Manhattan Bridge. Deftly navigating the early morning roads still shrouded in mist, as he leaves the dense concrete metropolis of Manhattan behind, Morgan is characteristically upbeat and sings along to a sound track influenced by the sounds of Southern California, where he grew up.
“I’m originally from Newport Beach in California and started surfing from the age of eight,” he says. “My whole family surfed. In high school, instead of playing soccer, surfing was our team sport, and we even had a free period where we were meant to surf for an hour.”
Today, Collett has translated his love of both surfing and fashion into his work life. After a stint at the Swedish clothing brands Acne and J. Lindeberg, Collett teamed up with his two business partners, Josh Rosen and Colin Tunstall. Driven by a mutual love of fashion, art and surfing, the trio decided to open a fashion store that mirrored the sense of community offered by traditional surf shops – and challenged the inauthentic surf styles of commercial, high-street fashion brands at the time. “We were raised by the surf shop,” recalls Collett. “You would hang out there, skateboard out the front and go surfing with everyone. There was such a huge sense of community.”
When their first store opened in 2009, on Crosby Street, the minimal aesthetic in everything from the logo to the cut of the clothing that launched a year later was a breath of fresh air. “I always wanted to build a fashion brand; we never planned to be referred to as a surf brand,” says Collett.
Today, Saturdays has outlets in New York City, Tokyo, Kobe and most recently Nagoya. Both locals and starry customers that include surfing legend Kelly Slater and actor Willem Dafoe were quick to become clients. Popping in to purchase a coffee from its front espresso bar – a key feature of each Saturdays shop – customers linger in the backyard of the original Crosby Street store.
Similarly, it is this strong sense of community that attracts Collett to the Rockaways, the first stop on his journey – and a place to which he often drives to surf before starting his workday. A series of Atlantic-facing beaches that is part of the borough of Queens, the Rockaways was one of New York’s favorite summer retreats as early as the 1800s. After World War II, however, many of the mansions were razed and the city’s welfare cases moved into a swath of housing projects that were newly erected, turning it into an area aching with federal neglect.
Less than an hour after Collett leaves Crosby Street, he turns off a six-lane highway and pulls up to Rockaway Beach, one of the areas hardest hit by Hurricane Sandy in 2012. He parks in front of its 5.5-mile boardwalk, a pivotal and vibrant artery of the community that was torn apart by 30-foot waves – and that is currently undergoing a $140 million restoration. Sandy, he explains, while surveying a scene that still carries the marks of its ravaged history, presented a unique rallying point for the Rockaways community. Formal relief efforts were combined with grassroots initiatives led by everyone from local residents and galleries to hipsters with Manhattan zip codes and local and visiting surfers, including Collett, all of whom chimed in to help clear beaches and restore businesses and homes.
Although still rough around the edges, the Rockaways has become a newly fashionable summer hangout at the end of the city’s A train line, attracting artistic young creatives who are drawn to its diverse community and gritty, anti-Hamptons appeal. “Rockaways is an emerging place that resonates more with New Yorkers and a younger demographic,” reflects Collett. “Its proximity is much closer, and it is much more affordable. A lot of people are putting in a huge effort to build a community here, and I think it’s only going to get bigger.” Now an optimistic and vibrant hub of guerilla entrepreneurship, the Rockaways is bouncing back. This morning, Collett heads to Zac’s, one of a multitude of recently opened businesses, for breakfast. To satisfy the discerning tastes of the new wave of creative city slickers, items such as beetroot and kale juice are on the menu.
Before he takes a stroll down the boardwalk, Collett chats amiably with a number of locals as he goes. Among them is a tanned surfer in his early 20s. The pair talk animatedly about Hurricane Marie, which had traveled up the Baja peninsula the week before, sending swells of up to 20 feet crashing into the California coast, causing quite a stir. Professional and amateur surfers flew in from around the world just to surf on swells so big Collett reckons he hadn’t seen the likes of them since he was 13 years old. Back then, his mother had forbidden him to go out – he didn’t listen. When he emerged from the water, broken surfboard in hand, she was waiting to ground him.
After a quick survey of the calm and glassy water from the beach, Collett decides the water conditions today are too tranquil for surfing. Unperturbed, he heads back to the car to make his way eastward to Montauk. As Collett sets off on the open road once again, this time through the Hamptons to Montauk, the views give way to pristine farmland that is punctuated by the odd roadside food shack and colorful fruit stall. “I like the small-town feel of when you reach the Hamptons,” says Collett. “It’s a refreshing feeling of something else besides the day-to-day hustle.” Unlike those in the Rockaways, the houses in the Hamptons are immaculate, and the manicured streets of the hamlets he passes through are a cluster of picture-perfect fine-dining restaurants, interior stores and local outposts of New York’s designer shops.
The tree-lined Montauk Highway as it heads through Montauk Point State Park towards the tip of Long Island.
A typical seaside street sign in the hamlet of Montauk.
A typical Montauk beach home.
A former fishing village and once a low-key alternative to the Hamptons, Montauk’s resort community and bohemian atmosphere have recently attracted Manhattan’s moneyed elite as a holiday location outside the city. Many of Collett’s friends have second homes here, and he stays with them on his frequent weekend trips.
As he pulls into Montauk, it is pitch black and, after unloading the car, Collett and his crew decide to head out for dinner at the Crow’s Nest, a trendy restaurant, bar and hotel where GQ magazine happened to be hosting a party. Collett spots someone he knows and peels off to say hello.
TO ME, SURFING IS A VERY SPECIAL EXPERIENCE. IT’S HUMBLING TO FEEL THE STRENGTH OF MOTHER NATURE AND BATTLE THE ELEMENTS
Despite the late night, Collett is up bright and early the next morning to catch some waves. For this purpose he heads to Ditch Plains, one of Montauk’s prime surfing locations and his personal favorite. “The surf is fantastic, and there is a great sense of community in the water all year round,” explains Collett.
“The thing about surfing is that whether you are on the beach or in the water, there are always familiar faces. You say hello and have a conversation.” Ringed by picturesque dunes, Ditch Plains is enveloped in plump golden sands, reminiscent of beaches in much warmer climates and a reminder to Collett of his Southern California roots.
People stroll along the beach with their dogs, and a string of surfers, Collett included, creep up to the edge of the beach in their cars to stare intently at the waves and survey the conditions of the surf. Some pull away and return home; others get out, put their gear on and paddle out into the water on their boards.
Collett surveys the waves and the wind before donning a black, sleeveless wetsuit and paddling out to sea on his black-and-gold, nine-foot-eight surfboard, which was handmade for him by the San Diego-based board designer Chris Christenson. Collett’s hair, which has until now sat parted and slicked against his head, relaxes in the thick morning mist into loose curls that pile handsomely atop his head. He is nimble, swift and a natural athlete in the water.
“You can admire it from afar, but I think you get addicted,” he says. “I surf all year round, even when there is snow on the ground. To me, surfing is a very special experience. It’s humbling to feel the strength of Mother Nature and battle the elements.”
- Seating Capacity
- ENGINE TYPE
- 4 cylinders, In-line type
- ENGINE OUTPUT
- 175kW / 4,800 - 5,600rpm
- MAX TORQUE
- 350Nm, 1,650 - 4,000rpm