On July 12th, Water Brothers Surf Fest IV took place at historic Fort Adams State Park, home of the international Newport Jazz and Folk Festivals and the largest coastal fortification in the United States. More than 3,000 people from Rhode Island, Massachusetts, Connecticut, and beyond enjoyed a display of over 500 surfboards; nearly as many skateboard decks; the presence of the first world professional surfing champion, Peter “PT” Townend; the first world professional skateboard champion, Tony Alva; two East Coast surfing champions, Mike Tabeling and Greg Loehr; and live skate action on a 7,200-square-foot skateboard ramp. As always, all of it was orchestrated on a perfect summer day by Newport’s own Sid and Danielle Abruzzi.
PT was clearly in surfboard heaven, carefully looking over a Golden Breed single-fin from the ‘70s to see who the shaper may have been before grabbing a Bing bonzer and relating how he had shaped the first bonzer in Australia after Bing sent him the Campbell brothers’ specs — and then taking out and winning a contest on it. “Sid did an amazing job of bringing together the surf culture of Rhode Island,” PT said. “Every board has a story, and some are better than others, for some the stories have been lost as they’ve changed hands. The ‘Best of Show’ boards all had there own great stories, from the beautiful Gordie longboard to the Original Thruster Nectar Simon Anderson shaped by Gary McNabb with an airbrush by the late Jack Meyer that tied with a pink Mike Tabeling shortie and the prima donna of the show, the Tom Blake Catalina Equipment kookbox from the ‘40s.” (Read more after the slideshow)
(Continued from above) Keith Kyle, who with law partner Steve Morrissey, has sponsored a surfboard raffle for each of the four Surf Fests, also picked up on the historical vibes of Fort Adams and the boards: “This was probably the best Surf Fest to date. It was the perfect setting to stimulate the mind to appreciate the history of surfboards and surfing. The hundreds of historic surfboards set amidst the historic Fort Adams walls left me to wonder, ‘If only these boards could speak.’ The boards all have a story to tell: who shaped them, who glassed them, who sanded them, who once owned them, what waves they have surfed, and where they have been and are going.” Keith and Steve, along with Steve’s brother Mike, were instrumental in safely getting boards belonging to Narragansett and Matunuck surfers to and from Fort Adams, renting a large box truck to do so.
The surfboards came from all over — garages, basements, walls, highly valued collections. Pristine and restored, many were sole representatives of youthful memories — and some are still being ridden. Every era was represented as was every design: paipo boards, wood, PU, epoxy… There was even an early motorized board. Greg Loehr found some fond memories as he picked up a well-kept vintage ‘70s Natural Art single-fin with a mirror wave bottom spray by Nemo, exclaiming with a smile. “I shaped this board!” Pete Pan showed Greg his first shortboard, a Greg Loehr model Hobie Seaboard, which was given to him by Gary Propper. And Rhode Island power surfer Chris Tasca found a sea-foam green Malibu Custom that was an exact twin of his first board 50 long years ago.
East Coast Surfing Hall of Fame member Howie “Goldie” Goldsmith was in the house, as were a number of boards he shaped in Cranston, RI, back in the ‘60s. And Mike Tabeling, Sid’s close friend, who drove all the way to Newport from Mexico with his lovely wife Nancy, found a circle of Tabeling shortboards waiting for him. “This was my second time going to an event like this where people brought their old boards they'd coveted for years and shared them with the public,” Mike said. “The first event I went to was in Doheny, and Sid's Water Brothers Surf Fest was at least two to three times larger with as many or more boards. If you love surfing and its history like I do, being with that many classic boards is a trip down memory lane. Not only does each of the boards have its own story, but when I see a particular board or model, it wakens memories I had with friends riding a similar one. Memory brain cell go off like fireworks. Thanks to Sid and thanks to Water Brothers Surf Shop for all the love and adrenaline”
Many people with Newport roots have made Surf Fest their annual reunion. Harry Martin and Bob Turner flew in from San Diego, while Chris “Slash” Garcia, Al and Cindy Thompson, and a dozen others flew in from Florida. Steve Magliano and Sailor Jo, who live “Cape to Cape” (Cape Hatteras to Cape Cod), made sure they were there. And anyone with a skate background was stoked on the appearance by legend Tony Alva, who said he likes to ride “surfboards that skate and skateboards that surf. More than anything I’m a surfer. Surfing is #1 and takes priority in my life — always has.” Alva added, “The diversity of the boards [at Surf Fest] was amazing — everything from the last 50 years. The wood era, the ‘50s, ‘60s longboards, ‘70s shortboards, a few really cool fish shapes, a high-tech modern Bob Simmons, plus a lot of boards you wouldn’t see on the west coast like Mike Tabeling’s. It was special because it was not just all wood or all ‘50s or all ‘70s or all eclectic boards, which some shows can be. It was everything!”
Tony promotes the less-is-more approach to riding surf or skate, emphasizing style and technique and not herky-jerky moves. And Tony did skate with style on the new Water Brothers/Kirby-Perkins Professional Skate Ramp, designed and constructed by Big Tim Klemonsky with help from Jerry Kirby, owner of Kirby-Perkins Construction and a professional sailor who donated all the wood to the construction of the ramp.
Surf industry sales rep Conrad Ferla noted that, “This was a true melting pot of Northeast surfers and skateboarders. Pros Tony Alva, Vision Street Wear rider Anthony Shetler, and Element rider Donny Barley were holding down the ramp, as were the local talent such as Evan Mansolillo and Andrew Rebelo.” Ferla was also the proud owner of the aforementioned Original Thruster Nectar Simon Anderson with the Jack Meyer airbrush. “I acquired it at a yard sales about five years ago in Wakefield, RI,” he said. “We all think it came from the Watershed back in the day. Edgar Logee and Peter Pan sold a ton of these boards as the ‘Original Thruster’ grew in popularity. I think I paid $5 for the board. I actually called Simon Anderson about it a few years back, and he was very nice and told me to call Gary McNabb. I don't think I was ever able to track Gary down. I would love to have the board restored, but those ‘80s boards are so fragile, and the art and channeled rails would be very difficult to match.”
Steve Morrissey’s Gordie, which was selected as the longboard of the show, has its own story. “In about ’75 or ’76, a friend mentioned he knew of a longboard his friend’s girlfriend wanted him to get rid of. They had just moved into a small apartment together in West Warwick, RI. We went in his ‘71 Camaro with no racks. The friend’s friend had gone shortboard and did not want it anymore, and I knew it was older and clean. The girlfriend wanted $20, but I knew it was worth more. I offered $40 and we settled at $35. Tied it to the roof with clothesline and a blanket and drove back to Cranston. I’ve had it ever since, and now it sits most of the time in my conference room in my home office, mounted only by cutting a hole in the wall and inserting the skeg. It sits in the corner waiting for the right day and some wax.” Steve and his fellow Longboard Brothers ride the old boards they acquire.
After the event, Greg Loehr reflected, “You know, there's something very different about New England surfing. In the modern era of man-on-man, aggro, competitive narcissism, there's this place where a great community comes together for the pure love of the thing. Where friends meet in the cold climate to exchange warm greetings. Where clothing contracts, professional endorsements, and WCT intentions fall far to the wayside and the pure passion for riding waves reigns supreme. Anyone looking for a shot of real surfing hardcore needs to see this incredible event. Thanks to Sid, the Water Brothers, and all participants.”
Sid’s wife Danielle, who serves as director of the event, thanked the Newport community for their help in making Surf Fest IV a reality. She also thanked the extended Water Brothers family, especially Alexis Sousa and Kayla Walker, for all of their support. Sid added, “Water Brothers Surf Fest IV was everything we had hoped for and more. The main thing is everyone had fun — that’s what it’s all about.”