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Sid Abbruzzi’s passion for surfing took him from Newport all over the world

A new documentary about the “Godfather” of New England surfing spotlights the 72-year-old’s career on land and in the water

Sid Abbruzzi at First Beach in Newport, R.I., for an early morning surf report.Courtesy of "Water Brother: The Sid Abbruzzi Story"

LITTLE COMPTON, R.I. — Sid “The Package” Abbruzzi is synonymous with New England surf and skateboarding culture.

Known as the Godfather of New England surfing, the longtime owner of Water Brothers Surf and Skate shop in Newport is a community-shaper, an East Coast Surfing hall-of-famer, a surf pioneer, and a professional free spirit. And on Aug. 17, the 72-year-old Abbruzzi will be getting his big-screen close-up.

“Water Brother: The Sid Abbruzzi Story” — a feature documentary from Little Compton surfers/filmmakers The Kinnane Brothers — will be screened at Fort Adams in Newport, in front of a sold-out crowd of thousands.


The film’s co-director, Charles Kinnane, whose dad is an avid surfer, told the Globe he first visited Water Brothers when he was “a couple years old.” When he was 15, Abbruzzi recommended a surfboard to him.

“I said, ‘Sid, thank you, but there’s no way I could afford a brand new board.’ He goes, ‘No, take it. Pay me when you can.’ He basically insists I leave with the board,” said Kinnane, who co-directed the film with his brother, Daniel. “I thought that was the most amazing thing. Then as we were doing this movie, I found out he did that for everybody.”

Ask people in the surfing community about Abbruzzi, and tales like that pour in.

“Sid’s got heart. Even though he’s this cool guy,” his wife, Danielle Abbruzzi, 47, said. “He’s very kind.”

“I think his message is love the person in front of you,” Kinnane said.

“All we wanted to do was capture the feeling he gives everybody — because so many people have been impacted by that feeling, that special way Sid has of taking care of everybody,” Kinnane said. “Our only goal was to be a reflection, to hold up Sid’s incredible life.”


Born Aug. 12, 1951 in Newport, Abbruzzi started surfing around the age of 13, and has since surfed around the globe, including South Africa’s noted Jeffreys Bay. “The freedom,” he said, describing what he loves about surfing. “The joy you get — if you try to capture that at a bar, you’d get in trouble.”

He helped establish legal surfing in Newport, and when ESPN launched the X Games there in 1995, “we were literally headquarters,” he said. “It put us on the map in a hurry.”

Water Brothers, the brick-and-mortar store, closed about a year ago. Abbruzzi and his wife, Danielle, are working on launching an online store. “It couldn’t have come at a more perfect time,” he said. “Everything just worked out for the better. That’s just having faith and believing. You’ll get rewarded.”

Surfing may be his big love, but skateboarding is a close second. He helped build Skater Island skate park in Middletown, R.I., which landed in a Tony Hawk Playstation 3 game. Now he’s focused on fundraising for a new public skate park in Newport.

“Our goal is $1 million to build on the corner of John Chafee Boulevard and Connell highway,” he said. “We’re publicly funding the park and then we’ll give it to the city. Then the city will maintain it. It’s going to be around forever.”

Abbruzzi is known as “the godfather” of New England surfing, and it’s a nickname he said he appreciates.

“The true meaning of a godfather is watching over and lovingly protecting it,” he said. “That’s what I do.”


He talked to the Globe about his incredible career on and off the water, and how the sports of surfing and skateboarding have evolved on his watch.

Sid Abbruzzi and his wife, Danielle, check out the waves at Brayton Point Beach in Somerset, Mass.Courtesy of "Water Brother: The Sid Abbruzzi Story"

Q: How did this documentary all come together?

Abbruzzi: I’ve surfed Little Compton since I was 16. Chuck Kinnane, the father, became part of that surf crew. I’ve known his boys since they were born. Right away, these kids had cameras in their hands.

Back in the ‘70s, me and my friends had Super 8s to film our surfing. So … The abundance of vintage footage I had didn’t hurt. I did five trips to South Africa, footage from skating in the early ‘70s in Fall River and Boston. I’m hoping they use some of that. (Abbruzzi opted not to see the film before its premiere. “It’s gonna be cray cray,” he said.)

Tell us about your career. What drew you to surfing?

I remember being in my aunt’s car with my cousins; we were all in the back seat. This had to be late ‘50s, early ‘60s — it wasn’t quite the “Gidget” years yet. There were one or two guys out past the whitewater. I said, “Boy, I want to do that one day.” My aunt said, “It’s way too dangerous.” I was intrigued by that.

Two or three years later, surfing is getting a little bit more [popular]. Phil Edwards was on the cover of Sports Illustrated. You could watch it on ABC’s “Wide World of Sports.” We’d wait for a year: “Hey, surfing’s going to be on TV in November!” This is, like, April.


Around seventh, eighth grade, my dad went to Ryan’s Sporting Goods in Newport and bought me and my brother these little, weird, molded, 5-foot plastic boards — there were no such things as boogie boards back then. [Then] we got longboards. We kept progressing; my parents never discouraged us. We just never stopped.

Then the shortboard revolution happened in ‘68, where boards went from 9 or 10 feet to down to 6 or 7 feet. That’s when we really started to get excited. There was a good amateur circuit where the top East Coast surfers came into Newport. One rider, Joe Roland, had a board I loved. I started making calls. I found one down in New Jersey. So me and my friends drove to New Jersey in the summer of ‘69 in my dad’s car. I was 17 — just graduated Rogers High School. The guy said, “Hey, how about we put three or four on your car. We’ll come to Newport in two weeks, and if you sell ‘em, you sell em.” That put me in the surfing business. And I’ve never stopped.

Your first skateboard was homemade.

Yeah, my aunt took apart a roller skate and nailed it on a piece of wood.

Then my mom got me a board for $9. Steel wheels where your feet would vibrate like crazy.


Then in the ‘80s, the urethane wheel came into existence for skateboarding. That changed everything. It went from steel and clay wheels to an Olympic sport before my eyes. Same with surfing. I was fortunate to be part of all of that. More than being part of it — it was my life. When there were no waves, we’d skateboard. Back then, skateboarding was called sidewalk-surfing.

Do you like surfing more than skating?

Yes. Skating was just our representation of surfing on land. Until the late ‘70s and ‘80s when the first real skaters came that didn’t surf. I saw that change.

Sid Abbruzzi skateboarding in Fall River the 1970s.Courtesy of "Water Brother: The Sid Abbruzzi Story"

How did you get the nickname “the Package”?

A friend of mine, Tim Davey — God bless his soul, he passed away — said “surf, skate, rock and roll: He’s the package.”

Rock and roll?

I stink on guitar but my brother Chris — they call him Magoo — was so good, I grabbed a mic to sing and that’s how we started Big World.

What are some spots you’ve surfed?

Jeffreys Bay, South Africa. I surfed up and down South Africa. All over the East Coast, the West Coast. Hawaii. The Bahamas, Puerto Rico. England and Ireland — I went there on a surf tour in 2000 as a surf judge. Red Bull Surf Safari. It was off the charts. I’m laying on a ferry, and the guy hands me an envelope with like the equivalent of $40 a day for three weeks. I go, “You’re kidding me!” I had no idea we’re gonna even get any, like, food or money. That was so cool. The waves were great. It was just one of the best times ever.

You had double hip replacements but still surf. Do you still skateboard?

I don’t do ramps anymore; I just cruise around my parking lot.

Any other major injuries?

I’ve been lucky. Just a lot of scars and getting hit by surfboards. Sprained an ankle. A lot of “hippers” — bruised hips. That was probably one cause for getting replacements. The doctor said I had no cartilage left in both of my pivot joints.

To this day, I just love surfing. I love watching it. I love the contests. I love everything about it. It hasn’t dimmed once. When I was in bed with my hip surgeries, surfing was all I was thinking about.

This interview has been edited and condensed.

Lauren Daley can be reached at Follow her on Twitter @laurendaley1.