I would really like to be a part of the Rowley Tribe. Cynthia Rowley, her two daughters, Gigi and Kit, and husband, Bill, are the local keepers of Montauk. They let us tag along for their average day in Montauk — which consisted of dirt bikes, back roads, jumping off docks, and Cynthia always asking someone to check what the surf looks like.
I cannot express my adoration for this family and their approach to life — which consists of a lot of thrill seeking, good friends, good vibes, and their French bulldog, Ziggy, because why not? We got to hear a bit about why Cynthia and her daughter, Kit, love Montauk.
When did you first discover Montauk? What was your first impression of it?
Cynthia: I had a big house in East Hampton and a store on Main Street there but I was looking for a more chill vibe. So I drove out to Montauk, found a little shack on the beach, and learned how to surf. There was really nothing there in 2000 and it definitely wasn’t the “hip” place to be…maybe because it takes forever to get there. But the town has gotten progressively more popular, so in 2010 I decided to move my store from East Hampton to Montauk. I didn’t want to ruin the town’s relaxed vibe by opening a designer retail shop, so for two years I operated without a logo. Now our store is a hangout spot with beach gear, clothes, coffee and kombucha.
Throughout the day we spent with you roaming the backroads of Montauk, you kept itching to surf, checking in on the waves. Did you find surfing, or Montauk first? What does surfing give you that nothing else can?
Cynthia: I’m from Illinois, so no surfing there! When I got my place in Montauk a friend of mine said, “You’re right on the best break in Long Island, I’m taking you out and teaching you how to surf today.” That day changed my life and now it’s all I think about. My whole family surfs and we spend all day at the beach. It’s something we share as a family and hours in the water is my own form of meditation. I wake up in the morning and the first thing I do is check out the surf from my house, then we plan our day around that. In the winter we go on epic family adventures, usually finding a little surf along the way.
Your favorite thing to do in Montauk? (besides surfing :) :) )
Cynthia: Nothing! We try not to plan anything and just let the day unfold. We also have lots of toys – a minibike, wakeboard, and a 75-foot Slip N Slide.
You call yourself a “thrill-seeker” and even jumped off a dock during our time together. Have you always been like this? What is it about the thrill seeking life that you’re addicted to?
Cynthia: My first husband died at a very young age and I decided then and there that I would never say no to an experience. As life has gone on and I’ve been lucky enough to have kids, I guess it’s rubbed off on them…and now they’re like pouring gasoline on a fire!
Your daughters, Kit and Gigi, have also taken to the Montauk lifestyle, riding dirt bikes barefoot and (almost) jumping off docks. Do you think you’ve passed down the thrill seeking gene to them? Do you encourage them to get their hands (and dresses) dirty?
Cynthia: My girls are real daredevils and my husband and I encourage them at every turn. They shred in the water and can wakesurf like maniacs. Because we live on the beach we almost never wear shoes and wetsuits are the outfit of choice. None of our clothes are ever too precious (unless we shoplift from my store when we need to look respectable).
What’s your first memory of Montauk?
Kit: My mom bought a tiny surf shack in Montauk on Ditch Plains Road the year I was born. At the time, it was just us two girls driving out there on the weekends in our old Ford Galaxie. I remember plugging in my mom’s iPod and having dance parties to Daft Punk and Beyonce in our living room.
You recently debuted a clothing collection called, KIT. Do you take inspiration from your mother, or elsewhere?
Kit: My mom is my biggest inspiration, I am especially inspired by her work ethic, commitment to her brand, and her passion for growth and collaboration. Our brands and target audiences are very different, however, so my finished products and design processes are more inspired by my own life experiences.
Do you think you’re as big of a “thrill seeker” as your mom?
Kit: I might even argue that I am more of a thrill seeker than my mom. Even though she is totally down to climb a mountain in Bhutan wearing converse, paddle out in overhead surf in Kauai, go diving in an arctic fissure wearing drysuits in Iceland, or try white water rafting in Peru, she is still my mom and still wants to ensure that I am relatively safe. So she has a few things she forbids me to do i.e. skydiving and motorcycle racing- of course that makes me want to try these things even more, I guess I will just convince her to come with!
What’s your favorite thing about Montauk?
Kit: Even though Montauk has changed a lot since we started going out there in 1999, it still has that magical, locals-only, feeling. I love being able to paddle out for a surf and know pretty much everyone in the water.