Sandy Hits the Right Coast

Last October, Mother Nature was a real motherfucker when it sent Superstorm Sandy to devastate the East Coast. This is the tale of a Jersey Shore tattooer who rebuilt his shop one piece at a time.

Dan Binai keeps an eye on the weather. He sorta has to as the owner of Right Coast Tattoo, which sits on a skinny New Jersey barrier island that’s constantly at the mercy of the elements. Located on Long Beach Island, one block from the Atlantic Ocean, his shop naturally does a ton of maritime tattoos and traditional American and sea-themed Japanese-style work, and Binai is no stranger to bad storms. So when he saw Hurricane Sandy’s projected path into LBI last October, he packed up his pigments, needles, and machines. He lifted things that were on the floor and did his best to batten down before evacuating to ride out the storm at his home on the mainland. “I figured we’d hunker down, have a little hurricane party. Maybe I’d tattoo my ol’ lady while we waited it out,” he remembers.

On the afternoon of Monday, October 29, 2012, with the storm bearing down, water started to rise in the bay west of Long Beach Island. Binai’s long-time friend and customer Chad O’Dell made a last-minute escape when he realized his house was going to be flooded. As he passed Right Coast Tattoo, he took a photo and sent it to Binai. “The water was in the street, but I had seen it [that high] before so I wasn’t too concerned,” Binai says.

Long Beach Island after Superstorm Sandy.

Long Beach Island after Superstorm Sandy.

But that night, the atmosphere famously exploded. The hurricane combined with a cold front from the west to create a superstorm that stalled over the mid-Atlantic. While the dunes on the eastern side of Long Beach Island mostly held back the 20-foot ocean waves, the bay surged up from the west, causing some of the worst flooding the area has ever seen. Even at Binai’s home—some 20 miles inland, in the Pine Barrens—trees snapped like toothpicks that night, as the storm bore inland.

After the power went out, Binai had no information about what was happening back at the shop. The next day, with police guarding the bridge that led to his shop and the National Guard occupying LBI, there was little news coming from the island. It was a full week before business owners were permitted to return.

When he finally made it to Right Coast to assess the damage, Binai found sand from the beach and mud from the bay inside his soggy shop. The Sheetrock was already growing mold, and some of his artwork and flash was ruined. He took photos for the insurance company—and then it was time to gut the shop.

When Long Beach Island reopened to residents several weeks after the storm, Binai got to work. He’s fairly handy and knew the local electricians and plumbers, many of whom he had tattooed. So he would do repairs on the shop all day, and each evening a contractor friend would swing by to keep him on track. Nearby tattoo shop owners even reached out to offer support. Ty Pallotta of Premium Blend Tattooing, Mitchell Perkins at Atlantic Tattoo Shop, and Desi Mooney of White Lotus Tattoo and Art Gallery all told Binai he could work at their shops in the aftermath.

“That was pretty nice, but I just had to get my place back together,” Binai says.

Pallotta’s shop, which is in Manahawkin, on the mainland adjacent to LBI, stayed high and dry, and at first he thought Binai declined his offer because the shop, located so close to Binai’s, was technically a competitor. But he didn’t take it personally. “I just realized he was so overwhelmed and he just wanted to get back up and running,” Pallotta says. “It was a pretty devastating storm. But it was inspiring to see people come together instead of looking out for number one. Maybe it was good for young people like us to experience something like that.”

The Right Coast repairs took some of Binai’s own money and lasted two months—a full 60 days with zero income. The only day he tattooed that fall was at a benefit at White Lotus, in nearby Toms River. The event raised $21,000 for Sandy relief, but Binai didn’t ask for any of the money himself. He even helped friends rebuild their homes when he wasn’t laying his shop’s new floor, putting up plasterboard, spackling, or painting.

Finally, on New Year’s Day, Right Coast reopened for business. The mood was somber that winter, but every new door that opened gave the residents of LBI hope. Still, the storm’s devastation created a dichotomy in the community, says Binai. “There were people doing things themselves and people who were just helpless,” he says. “Some people had no insurance and know-how. It was sad. I have to stay ahead of the game. I can’t just sit on my hands and wait for something to happen.”

Throughout the winter and spring, armies of contractors come over the bridge each day. Little by little, Long Beach Island returned to some form of normalcy, but it still wasn’t operating at its full potential when the summer rolled around. “I feel like we lost a summer tourist season,” he says. “We rely on rental properties, and I’ve seen a lot of homes that haven’t been repaired yet. I wonder if people are ready to walk away from some of them, but I’m always a skeptic. Our beaches are open. … And I’ve seen a strong spirit here. There’s a real sense of camaraderie.”

A year later, Sandy flash hangs on the walls of Right Coast in spots where Binai lost art to the storm. He’s also added some custom Sandy- related tattoos to his portfolio, including one he did of the now-famous Jet Star roller coaster, which sat in the ocean off Seaside Heights, just north of LBI, for months after the storm. And the appointment book is filling up again. Binai has had requests for Old Barney, an iconic light- house located on the northern tip of LBI, as well as other ink commemorating the Sandy chapter in the lives of those affected. Not only do these tattoos represent business for Right Coast, they symbolize that people who lost everything a year ago are finally getting back to normal. They’ve gutted their homes, replaced the essentials, applied new coats of paint—and now they’re adding new ink to their collections.

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