“The day of my court summoning is the day I leave for college. So I don’t really know what I’m going to do. I’m kind of stuck in a bad situation.”– Sebastian Rakowski
The teens say they weren’t even given a warning.
Sometime between 1 and 1:30 p.m. on July 4, Sebastian Rakowski and three teenaged friends hanging out on Ocean Beach set up a tiny Spikeball trampoline to start the game.
Within minutes, Ocean Beach Police showed up to shut it all down.
“I’ve played Spikeball at the beach before,” Rakowski of Bayport told GreaterFireIsland. “I’ve never been reprimanded for it, that’s why I was surprised.”
The police officers issued tickets to Rakowski and Aidan Garafola, the two 18-year-old men in the group. Their two underage friends were spared tickets.
Now, Rakowksi and Garafola have court dates.
Rakowski’s ticket reads:
“Above deft [defendant] was observed playing with ball on beach, with ‘spike ball.'”
In past summers on Fire Island, Rakowski said he enjoyed playing the backyard activity and other ball games at Ocean Beach.
Before the cops arrived, Garafola said, a lifeguard had showed them a piece of paper with rules that included “No playing ball.” However, Garafola said the lifeguard told the boys they could play, but suggested they take breaks and not play constantly.
Garafola said he couldn’t understand why, or what that even meant.
The lifeguard advice came about five minutes before the Spikeball bust, he said.
Two police officers approached the group and informed the teens they received telephone complaints about their activity.
One witness, who declined to give his name but has no relation to the teenagers, said there was a homeowner playing paddleball on the beach “like 30 feet away and [the police] didn’t say anything.”
“No warning or anything. The kids weren’t bothering anyone …,” he said. “The whole beach was pretty upset by it. They were actually confiscating Spikeball sets and different games from kids the day before.”
The police officer “said the [telephone] calls counted as a warning, but we had no idea,” Rakowski said. “(But) He wasn’t taking that as an answer.”
It remains unclear if complaints were specifically issued regarding Rakowski and his friends, or if any others were issued tickets around the same time of day on the holiday.
GreaterFireIsland reached out to the Village of Ocean Beach and the Ocean Beach Police Department for comment Tuesday, neither of which responded by the time of publication.
No rule against ball games on Ocean Beach is immediately visible on the “important laws and info” portion of the village’s website. Such a rule is also absent from the Ocean Beach Quality of Life Committee’s flyer of village rules, available through the link on the webpage.
The page also contains a link to a two-page printable document titled “Rules, Suggestions and Information for the Village of Ocean Beach.” Under “beach rules” at the bottom of the first page, one bulleted rule states “no pets, sports or music without the use of headphones is allowed.” [Update, July 7: Beach signs also indicate as much, along with no food or drink and no disrobing, according to a reader photo supplied to Greater Fire Island.]
While there is no dollar amount listed on the friends’ tickets, the group was told by others at Ocean Beach that they can expect to be hit with a $150 fine.
For Rakowski, fresh out of high school, enjoying his last summer vacation before studying biology at the University of South Florida, $150 is a significant financial hit.
“The fine is like a quarter of what I’m going to be making at my summer job right now so I’m kind of in a bad position,” he said, referring to his part-time gig as a tennis coach.
The ticket lists a court date for appeal, but Rakowski will possibly miss it.
“The day of my court summoning is the day I leave for college,” Rakowski said. “So, I don’t really know what I’m going to do. I’m kind of stuck in a bad situation.”
Top: The scene on Ocean Beach with police issuing tickets on July 4. Portions of the inset photo of the ticket have been blurred to protect sensitive information. (courtesy photo)