All photos by Aby Sam Thomas

On a recent Sunday evening, I found myself standing on the shore of Rockaway Beach in Queens, waiting to meet a complete stranger before the two of us took a leisurely stroll down the beach. We were participants in Long Walks on the Beach, a public art project conceived by artist Dillon de Give with a rather simple, albeit curious, concept: take a walk down the beach with someone you don’t know as your companion.

Presented by Flux Factory and The Walk Exchange, Dillon’s project had my curiosity piqued from the word go. Let me first of all make it clear that I am a rather shy person. Be it at a bar or a party, I can be often seen lurking in the background, shirking away from new faces and looking for familiar ones instead. But despite my social ineptitudes, I found myself signing up for the event nonetheless, curious to know find out what the project was all about.

Dillon got the idea for the project after taking a walk along a beach on the West Coast in Oregon with his wife, and found that the experience, despite it being a romantic cliché, had its alluring qualities, just like a captivating piece of artwork. Dillon insisted that while he didn’t expect romantic relationships to be created with just one walk, he hoped it would be an experience that would make people more receptive to meeting new people.

Dillon’s project is therefore, essentially, about getting people together and thereby getting to know each other better. And what better place to do that other than on the beach? With the wind, the waves and the general sense of calm associated with the beach, the location is perfect for such an activity. As Dillon put it, “Even if you hated the person you are with, you wouldn’t mind it simply because you were having such a pleasurable experience!”

Dillon’s vision of the project was interesting, and maybe even a little endearing; and his telling of the same quelled my idea of running away from this while I still had the chance. Dillon introduced me to my ‘partner,’ Julie, a sprightly young woman with bouncy blond hair. We were told to walk together till we reach the end of the boardwalk, starting at the beach at 67th Street. The only caveat he put on us was to start off the walk in silence, holding hands, and then break that silent bond whenever we felt like it.

Julie and I had barely taken a few steps together, before we broke the silence, almost in unison.

I said, “This is weird.”

She looked at my face and said, “Are you okay?”

Formal introductions were quickly made. I learnt that she was French, and that she worked at a music label in the city. I gave her my two-minute elevator pitch, a bio that I had repeated at several job interviews in the recent past. We discussed the “weirdness” of the event and our reasons for being a part of this””Julie’s was pretty straightforward. She was simply striking off an item from her New York bucket list: “Do something weird in New York City.” You couldn’t get weirder than me, I thought.

We kept talking as we walked. We dreaded the weekend ending, and the prospect of having to go to work on Monday. We talked about alcohol and the times we had fallen victim to its vicious charms. We worried about where we’d spend Christmas, and cursed the ridiculous air fares to take us to our families. We spoke about being compulsive, unable-to-stay-still beings and wondered it was because of the alignment of our stars: Julie was a Taurus, and I was a Gemini.

As we walked, we saw a number of interesting things. We believe we were witness to what we think was a baptism ritual: aided by two others, a young man dressed in white fell back into the water, just as a wave rumbled forward, drenching him. We stared at a woman feeding the seagulls, throwing tidbits into the air that the birds then swooped down and plucked with their beaks, while still in mid-air. We marveled at the sight of some dogs running into the water, damning all the mythical fears of water the canines were supposed to have.

There was no arc to the conversation, but there were no gaps either. As we reached the end of the boardwalk, we sat for a brief audio interview, where we discussed the event, our conversation and our opinions on the same. Dillon hopes to curate the responses of the other randomly paired couples like us, and present it at Untitled (As of Yet), Flux Factory’s upcoming exhibition in 2013, billed as “a group show exploring unexpected circumstances.”

As we prepared to leave, our interviewer asked us, “Will the two of you keep in touch?”

There was a brief pause as Julie and I looked at each other, almost considering if we’d like to try to remain friends. And then, just like at the beginning, we said, almost in unison: “Yeah, we will.”

Dillon de Give hopes to repeat “Long Walks on the Beach” in the autumn, winter and spring. Find out when the next walk will happen by checking out either his site, The Walk Exchange or Flux Factory.

Get in touch with the author @thisisaby.