12th Annual Richie Allen Memorial Surf Classic

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 On September 10, 2001, while working his shift at his firehouse in Lower Manhattan, Richie Allen, 31, called one of his brothers in Rockaway to see how the waves were that night. He planned on going surfing the next day. Just as he was getting off duty the next morning, a plane crashed into the World Trade Center. Allen answered the call, jumping in with his fellow firefighters of Engine 4 to respond to the scene. Allen never made it home to surf the waves that day.

“Richie just loved surfing. The ocean was always a part of everything he did,” Richie’s mother, Gail Allen said. Allen grew up surfing the waves of Rockaway. He also lifeguarded the beaches of Rockaway and Riis Park. When he studied film at St. Francis College, Allen made a movie about his favorite surfing spot on Beach 91st Street. Surfing was his passion.

Now every year, Allen’s life is celebrated on the waves. Each September, friends, family and strangers come together for an all-day event on Beach 91st to remember the man who was a firefighter, a surfer, a lifeguard, a teacher, a brother, a son, an uncle, a friend, and a hero. The 12th Annual Richie Allen Memorial Surf Classic is Sunday, September 18.

Since 2005, the Allen family, with the help of Boarders Surf Shop, has held a surf contest for kids to honor the life of Richie. On Sunday, the contest kicks off at 9 a.m., with registration starting at 8 a.m. on Beach 91st Street. The contest features contests for boys 10 and under, 11 to 13 and 14 to 16, plus girls 12 and under, and 13 to 16. Prizes are given out for all age categories. “We wanted young kids to enjoy what Richie loved. Most contests are expensive to enter or are made for adults, so we wanted to give kids something,” Gail Allen said. Besides working as a lifeguard and firefighter, Allen was a teacher. He spent his winters working for the New York City Public School system, and in his free time, he taught kids how to surf. “He went out of his way to show people how to do what he loved. And that’s what we’re trying to do here. We’re trying to encourage young kids to get that love of surfing that Richie had. He would’ve loved to be a part of this and it was important to do this in his memory,” Allen said.

The Surf Classic not only keeps kids engaged in the sport, but allows Richie Allen to live on through younger generations. “We have kids as young as five that get out there on surfboards. I now have a grandchild named Richie who loves it. My grandchildren are remembering an uncle that they didn’t even know. It’s a way to keep him alive,” Allen said.

While the contest is reserved for youngsters, the Richie Allen Memorial Surf Classic is a nice day for the entire family. The event also includes a DJ, food, drinks and special event t-shirts that are sold to raise money for a local family with a loved one that is going through a medical hardship. The day also ends with a memorial paddle out. “At the end of the day, everyone joins in on the paddle out, which is a memorial tradition from Hawaii. Everyone goes out on a board and forms a circle and throws flowers while saying things about Richie,” Allen said.

This year will be the first year since Hurricane Sandy that the sign declaring Beach 91st as “Richie Allen’s Way” since 2004, is back on the boardwalk. The sign was recovered by the Allen family from a piece of the boardwalk that had floated down the block. It had been kept at Boarders Surf Shop until the boardwalk was complete. The sign continued to be a part of the contest, with a temporary pole set up to display the sign for the event day, but as of this late summer, the sign is permanently back on Richie’s beach. “It’s nice to see it back up again,” Allen said.

Allen says the Memorial Surf Classic helps her family. “It helps me get through the next year. I find a lot of joy in it. A lot of stories are told and the memories come back and it helps us remember what a good life Richie lived and how much he enjoyed what he had,” she said.

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