Heading on down the coast to Newport, Rhode Island I met up and photographed my next subject for The American Worker Project. His name is Sid Abbruzzi. Sid is one of the early pioneers of East Coast Surfing and has owned an operated Water Brothers Surfing Company since 1971 making it the longest operating Surf Shop in New England. During my brief visit with Sid I was treated to a virtual history of New England East Coast Surfing as Sid shared story after story with me about his life. He is a super cool guy and has a ton of stories to share. It just so happens that this very weekend on January 16th Sid is being inducted into the East Coast Surfing Hall of Fame under the Pioneers of Surfing category. Congrats to you Sid!!
Sid is well known in the surf and skating world as one of the earliest pioneers of surfing. He’s traveled the world surfing, has rubbed elbows and is a friend with many surf and skating legends like Kelly Slater and Tony Hawk. Starting back in the 6o’s he and a group of surfers travel far and wide looking for the perfect wave. The late 60’s and early 70’s were a weird time in surfing. After Vietnam many people had stopped surfing and the industry lacked direction as people tried to figure out if surfing was just a dying fad or was it something that could endure and evolve.
He ended up back in Newport and in 1971 he opened Water Brothers Surf Company in an old shack right on the beach in what was then, a derelict end of Newport Beach on a private beach called Seven Seas Beach. Based on a handshake verbal agreement with the owner of the shack, he was able to lease the building for $300 a year until the land sold. $300 a year! for Newport Beach! Well they had a pretty good run there until 1993 when someone bought the property and forced them to find a new location. Sid describes those 21 years as “the wild west of east coast surfing”. They were forced to find a direction and that they did…. They basically made up the rules as they went along, did what ever they wanted and had a ball doing it. In addition to surfing, they also built large vert ramps for skating right next to the shop, right on the beach. During the 70’s & 80’s Water Brothers was THE place to be if you were a surfer or skater in the New England area. From there Sid moved his shop into a much larger space and opened was was to be the largest indoor skate park in the US. This park is actually featured in one of Tony Hawk’s video games as a park you can skate within the game. Over the years that location changed hands after a partnership turned sour and Sid eventually ended up in what is now his current location. The shop as it stands now is a wonderful space and is like a museum of east coast surfing history. The walls and ceilings are covered with memorabilia from a rich life in the surf industry and Sid is like a tour guide, with a story to tell about each individual piece of history that surround his store.
One story that stood out to me was how Sid actually saved one of Newport’s most coveted surf spots, Ruggles Beach…. TWICE. The first time was when he fought against city government officials who tried to outlaw surfing at the prime surfing spot. He campaigned against the new law and won and was able to make a public park out of the area where everyone can enjoy it’s beauty and killer wave break. The second time was when a developer had gotten approval to install a huge rock jetty at Ruggles that would have basically not only ruined the break but would have been an ecological disaster, killing the ocean life and changing currents that could change the structure of the shore line forever. Sid organized many people to campaign against this impending injustice and saved Ruggles Beach a second time.
You can follow Sid on Instagram @waterbrothers