Montauk is my happy place. In difficult moments, I imagine myself laying on the deck of my dear aunt and uncle’s house there, watching the stars fall from the pitch black sky, listening to good tunes as the waves crash below. The beach town is linked to twenty years of memories with people I love so much, and its gentle breeze carries them all back to me. Montauk calms my soul.
Nestled on the tip of Long Island three hours from New York City, Montauk provides an escape from urban life. Though considered part of the Hamptons, this little village is as far from pretentious as they come. It is above all a fishing town and a surf haven, where the people have been roughed up by the sea, but grounded by the beauty that surrounds them once the lighthouse guides them home.
I have spent nearly every August of my 22 years in this most special place and this summer was no different, although I observed with a new set of eyes. I drank Montauk in unlike ever before, knowing that my days here marked my last on American soil for who knows how long. It’s not hard to live in the moment here, though. Treasures hide in plain sight around these parts, and call you to explore. To rise before the sun and watch the magic that happens as the world awakes. To see with your own eyes the wonder of creation as the island lights up the pebbles under the ocean break, as the birds chase the fishing boats beginning their day under the floating sun, and as the surfers balance patiently, worshipping at the alter of the sea.
Recently, many have taken notice of the effortless cool of Montauk and it has quickly become the Hampton’s newest hot spots, with young promoters and developers converting village institutions into clubs and restaurants. In spite of the influx of visitors on the never-ending search for chic, our old girl has resisted change. She’s kept her charm, exposing it to those who come with genuine spirits looking for tranquility in the simple. There’s something to be said for a community that holds onto its traditions despite powerful forces of change. Montauk reminds me of Morocco in that way: full of institutions that transport you to a time passed, that rescue you from the influence of modernity and the pressure to be something you’re not. The places that encourage you to simply be, content in soul and spirit, who you are, to forget your troubles and remember your blessings…those are the places that will latch onto your heart. There is charm in the rust, in the salty locals, in the smile you draw from said local once they realize you respect and honor their place. The magic is in the details.
Sidle down the storm-beaten cliffs and melt into the sand. Watch the sun set as this morning’s catch sizzles away on the grill. Treat yourself to a lobster roll near the docks as you watch the fishing boats come in, their barnacle-ridden hulls contrasting with the sailboats that bob on the horizon. Paddle board as the sun begins to fall, carefully avoiding the crab traps hidden along Fort Pond. Once you’ve made it to the easternmost point of New York, there’s no need to leave. No need to retreat to the designer labels of the “real” Hamptons. You have all you need to escape from those distractions in front of you.
If New York is the best city in the world, Montauk is its heavenly counterpart. An oasis that restores sanity when the hustle and bustle of the boroughs to the west starts to overwhelm. As I come to terms with the fact that chasing my dreams around the world means leaving my happy place behind, along with my city, I can only hope its spirit continues to grow, resisting the influence of “cool”. Montauk is cooler now than any club or hipster crowd could ever make it, because it strives to nourish the souls of both its inhabitants and its loyal visitors. To calm us with its whispering winds, its temperamental waves and its vast, brilliant skies. I will never stop coming back here, and when I am far, I will return here in my mind and let the calm wash over me.