A Tale of Two

Thembi Hanify

a Tale of two

  • Words Jacqueline Raposo
  • Photographs Larissa Fatseas
A Tale of Two

A Tale of Two

Fins and Feet

Thembi Hanify surfs.

But she claims the surf of Rockaway Beach, where the Atlantic hits the southern shore of Queens, New York, “is actually by relation pretty shit” compared to the waves of her native Australia.

Yet there she is, living on the beach an hour outside of downtown Manhattan.

In the early morning light, she carries her board through dry brush to the sand. She zips on her wetsuit. Bobbing out, she breathes and balances, riding a wave with a victorious smile. Or she gets violently tossed below the green water’s surface, only to break it again and face the sun pouring down.

Back on land, a reverse trek home and a climb up brings her closer to the sky.


A Tale of Two

“I live in the top story of a house–this beautiful, big, open-plan apartment that’s really light and airy but cozy feeling at the same time. Light is very important to me, and it has such great light. Every time I go home, I just feel so relaxed, and so happy.”

Summer fades into fall. The wind picks up a chill. Businesses close for the season.

Thembi stays in Rockaway.


A Tale of Two
Polish and Pep

As an Art Director and Graphic Designer, Thembi’s in the United States on a Freelancer’s O-1 Visa, a nerve-wracking application process within itself. But the flexible schedule of a freelancer was vital; both for her growth as a designer and her desire to stay rooted at the beach.

In Manhattan, her work requires poise.

“All of the onsite freelance jobs I do are very polished and high-level campaign art direction for big luxury clients,” she says.

Working in Rockaway, her brand pushes her to be brave.

Her brand Mathys Sinclair — in partnership with Rachel Sinclair — is a clothing label designed to be comfortable, a bit wild, and absent of the fashion industry’s inherent snobbery and condescension.

“Without me even realizing, Mathys Sinclair has become this experiment. The line is still thought about a lot and considered a lot, but it’s trying to convey a message that with fashion you don’t have to be this unrealistic, reductive, fancy image. You can just be real, and still have a point of view.”


A Tale of Two

In years past, Thembi mastered the twelve-hour day’s fashion week requires of unpaid interns and low-level employees, and partied deep into the night. She hobnobbed with people whose names until then she’d only seen in magazines, returning to work with a hangover of the evening fresh on her skin.

Now, the clean air, long commute, and responsibility of business ownership require a healthier life approach.

“I work really hard and I’m really excited about the freelance onsite jobs that I do. I like the experiences that I have. And I’m able to put more into those projects, as well as my own projects. Because it’s just a better balance all around.”

Summer and Snow

In the summer, Thembi hits the beach by 5:30 am, joining other hardcore year-round surfers and those who flock out for a few months of hot sand. After ninety solid minutes of surfing, she’s showered, on a train, and at an office by nine: in motion for hours before much of the city has fully stirred.

“In the summer, at least everyone’s on the train together, so you have this kind of little party-train vibe. It’s a direct A train, so everyone gets on, you pick your seats, chill out, and then it’s a straight ride into the city. The commute in the summer is pretty fun.”

In the winter: desolation. At least, on the surface.

A Tale of Two

“It’s nice to still walk on the beach, even if it’s cold. All my friends will throw really amazing dinner parties, and we’ll get all snuggly and warm and cook lots of delicious food, which is really nice.”

That same commute in the winter turns pretty brutal. But the train offers more space and quiet. Gliding over the water, she checks her emails and makes phone calls. It’s a time to get thinking done. When too dark or too cold, or when she’s found herself staying out a touch too late, she overnights with friends in Manhattan, rather than making the long trek. The commute and time management present a challenge.

“But we’re fully in control of the decisions we make.”

And so she always goes back to the beach.

A Tale of Two
Brick and Beach

In Manhattan, the streets ring with sound. They build and echo and ascend, climbing up walls that rise seemingly without end.

“When I lived in the city I used to feel this constant anxiety: Am I not doing enough? What am I doing? Because there are a lot of distractions in the city. You get distracted by a lot of other people’s different energies.”

At home there is space, and quiet.

Thembi sits in Buddhist meditation, absorbing the expanse within her and without. She does yoga with friends nearby. In the dead of winter, when most businesses have long closed up and the beach and streets are empty, that silence has even greater weight around her. Nature beckons when her anxiety builds, luring and soothing in a way that crowded Manhattan parks just can’t soothe.

“In the Rockaways, I have a very clear head, and it gives me a clear space to focus creatively, which is really important because I work more efficiently. I can go home and have a bit of a different headspace, and be in a peaceful state of mind, and be creative, and get stuff done.”


A Tale of Two
Then and Now

To survive in New York, finding space requires sacrifice.

For a period, the distance from friends and the time away from them threatened friendships she held dear. Faced with their potential loss, she suffered. But once through the early days of rough adjustment, she discovered what is essential to her life, and how to preserve it.

“I don’t go to every event that I get an invitation for. When I catch up with my friends, I try and plan quality time hangouts, not just going to drinks at a bar with a bunch of people where you might not necessarily be able to talk properly. It’s a matter of being more precious with time.”



A Tale of Two

Friends, too, have come to appreciate what the Rockaways and Thembi can offer their time as well: the expanse of a frozen tundra on a quiet winter evening; the bliss of rising to the fresh summer breeze; the surf and sea and quiet and space. Most New Yorkers are quick to forget they live on islands, amongst rivers and bridges and byways. Thembi helps her friends remember.

Because she sees the sun and sea from her windows. She crosses water as the train tunnels into the concrete below Manhattan. She burrows in, does her work, and then retreats home once again.  

There is sacrifice, but satisfaction.

“It sounds really corny, but I mentally feel the most peace and happiness I’ve ever felt in New York. I know that’s because of living in Rockaway, and freelancing, and not being in the city all the time. It’s been a total game changer. A total life changer. I just don’t feel that anxiety anymore.”


Connect with Thembi

Instagram  |  Club98  |  Shop MathySinclair

Be sure to check out a few of Thembi’s Rockaway recommendations in the gallery below. 

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