An Epic Shot
On the morning of October 29, 2012, local firefighter and photographer Peter Brady snapped a shot that would become iconic in telling the story of Hurricane Sandy. The photo, featured on our cover, was one of the last photos of the Rockaway boardwalk as we knew it, and it was one of the first that really started to show the extent of just how bad Hurricane Sandy was going to be.
“It was 11 a.m. that morning. I lived at 107-00 Shore Front on the bayside of the building and just looking from my terrace I could see the waves and decide if I could go surfing. If you could see a little wave, it meant we could go out. So when I could see that, I realized, oh boy, we’re in trouble,” Brady said.
He didn’t go surfing that day. But he did break out his camera and started snapping the epic swell beyond the boardwalk. Among his series of photos, Brady caught the makings of a perfect shot. A set of three massive waves beyond the wooden boardwalk set to a backdrop of dark skies, as an NYPD van was driving past to the left, the Welcome to Rockaway Beach sign to the right, and a swinging traffic light showing the extent of the early winds. It would be one of the last photos he shared to Facebook that day, and it would become the world’s first look at Hurricane Sandy’s potential before she made landfall.
Like many locals, Brady rode out the storm, with his wife, Kerry, who was seven months pregnant at the time, and his former roommate, Bobby Butler and his wife, Casey, who decided to crash with them after their bungalow on Beach 111th had flooded during the morning tide. “We just kind of monitored the news until the power went out and then Bobby and I tried to go out and make our own news. We heard a lot of car alarms going off and in the night, we saw the fire on the Boulevard, so we tried to go down there and film some stuff with a GoPro, but the water was chest-high at that point. Once the water receded and the fire engines were there, we went back and gave them a hand at around 2 in the morning,” Brady said.
Meanwhile, Brady was already making news in other ways. In the days after the storm, his epic photo had gotten widespread attention. “Channel 4 had gotten it, it was used in PBA advertising and hung in One Police Plaza, even though it was apparently a maintenance guy in the truck. It went out on city flyers for storm preparedness,” he said. And it got some worldwide recognition when Brady saw his photo appear behind Roger Waters and Eddy Vedder at the 12.12.12 Sandy concert, to which Brady wasn’t invited. “I haven’t made too much money. It was basically a lot of press,” he said.
At the time, there were far more pressing matters. “That pic with the van was probably the last pic I had put up after the power went out and that’s the last thing people saw of Rockaway.
“Then the camera went down, and the Sandy recovery work started,” he said. While Brady’s apartment was spared, he spent the weeks after helping family and friends whose homes were damaged and relocating his own family as the electricity remained off for several weeks.
Reflecting on the last 10 years, Brady says, “I think the storm helped in certain ways. There are things that would’ve never happened to Rockaway, good and bad, because of the storm. It kind of opened everyone’s eyes up to Rockaway which is good and bad. But we wouldn’t have gotten this beach protection if it wasn’t for Sandy. Rockaway boomed after that, on the back of the tragedy we had to deal with,” he said. “Ten years…it’s a lot.”