“It was just by fate that I walked into the life that I got,” says Sid Abruzzi, today known to many as the “Godfather” of Rhode Island surfing. Abruzzi, who began surfing Newport Beach, Rhode Island in the mid-60s, fortuitously came of age during the transition into the Shortboard Revolution. As a kid, it suddenly seemed that all the guys he had sat on the cliff and watched and admired just disappeared from the scene one day. “They just stopped because it wasn’t a culture; it had been more like a fad,” he says.
It was Abruzzi — a talented, eternal grommet — who led the new guard. He began traveling to Puerto Rico and Florida, where he fell into step with East Coast shortboarding emissaries, like future East Coast Surfing Hall of Famers Mike Tabeling and Claude Codgen (both Class of 1996), himself landing on the pages of numerous surf publications.
Eventually, Abruzzi took what he’d learned and returned home to Newport, where he opened Waterbrothers surf shop in 1971. His leadership role in the Ocean State’s surf and skate scene led to the legalizing of surfing at many local breaks, as well as the saving of the East Coast’s premiere big-wave, Ruggles, from harbor developers. Abruzzi also created Surf Fest, a mid-summer extravaganza that brings all of the New England surf community together for a day of enjoying classic surfboards and skateboards. The largest expo of its kind in the country, Surf Fest is a unique blend of worldwide and local surf culture.
For Abruzzi, the path to the Hall of Fame is not paved with trophies, but a tireless passion—the one that created the very culture that was missing before him. “Not being a huge contest guy,” says Abruzzi, “and to be recognized as a Pioneer guy—it means everything to me.” Abruzzi was inducted into the East Coast Surfing Hall of Fame in 2016.
Photos by Nicole Crugnale, Joe Mc Govern, Dick “Mez” Meseroll / ESM and courtesy Sid Abbruzzi / Water Brothers