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Why I jumped the caution tape to photograph an abandoned roller coaster

Once, the Jet Star roller coaster was alive with the sounds of roaring passengers in its cars, the hammering of the wheels along its tracks and the thundering vibrations on the wooden pier.

In the months after Hurricane Sandy, I went to the New Jersey shore to shoot surf images and saw the destruction firsthand, the remnants of people’s homes and the beginnings of the rebuilding process. This storm affected the coastline I was so familiar with from years of swimming in the Atlantic Ocean’s frozen mid-winter surf with the other dedicated surfers, many of whom owned the homes along the shore. Yet, I hadn’t been to Seaside Heights since before the storm, where the Jet Star once rumbled and shook on Casino Pier.

In March 2013, I drove though Seaside Heights to see if I could photograph the coaster, which rumors said would be dismantled in the coming weeks. The shore was a spectacle of flashing police lights, barricades and “No Entry” signs. We walked up to the caution tape barricading us from the shoreline and saw a police officer patrolling the immediate area. But we wanted to get closer.

My friend Casey, who was with me, ran back to the car and grabbed a surf magazine I had in the backseat, which featured a two-page spread I had taken in Indonesia the summer before. Casey showed the officer the magazine and he recognized some of my work. “I know your name — you shoot surf photos down here a lot right?” he said. By chance, the officer was friends with some locally talented surfers and had been surfing this exact spot, right next to Casino Pier, since he was a kid. He let us beyond the police tape down to the shoreline, where I could set up my tripod and photograph the skeleton of the Jet Star.

Now, the shot above is all that’s left of the coaster.

Matthew Clark is a fine art water photographer based in New York. He recently won the Weather Channel’s “It’s Amazing Out There” photo contest with the image above. The word “parallax” describes the camera error that occurs when an image looks different through a viewfinder than how it is recorded by a sensor; when one camera gives two perspectives. Parallax is a blog where photographers offer the unexpected sides and stories of their work. Tell us yours or share on Instagram at #PBSParallax.

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