Late morning on July 20th, a neatly attired group of tennis enthusiasts briefly paused by the iconic International Tennis Hall of Fame clock to allow a barefoot surfer clad in boardshorts and a T-shirt carrying a ‘60s-era Del Cannon longboard on his shoulder to pass by. “The surf must be up on center court for the surfboard event!” proclaimed their tour guide. “This is not something ever before seen at the Tennis Hall of Fame.” Before the day ended, over 1,000 surf fans witnessed this never-before-seen spectacle.
Water Brothers Surf Fest 3 is Sid Abruzzi’s gift to the surfing world. This year’s edition was an all-ages gathering of surfboards and people. Surfing’s past and present, along with hints at its future, intermingled on center court. This is hallowed ground in the tennis world, and on July 20th, instead of McEnroe, Evert, Connors, or Hingis, center court featured Blake, Noll, Dora, and Hobie. Nearly 500 surfboards — 400 classics and 80 moderns — were neatly arranged on and around center court. Visiting west coast filmmaker Sonny Miller’s reaction said volumes about the scene: “The greatest thing about Surf Fest is the feeling of how classic surfing really is, especially taking in all the eras of boards realizing that they represent such history. From the original Duke board to classic longboards to the Shortboard Revolution, it was all capsulated amidst the grass courts of the Tennis Hall Of Fame! The East Coast has stoke unlike the west coast where I grew up, and I find that inspirational.”
A listing of even a few of the RJ Hansen-supervised arrangement of boards is inspiring indeed. A pre-World War II Tom Blake paddleboard sat a few feet away from a classic Hobie, while a couple of Greg Noll Dora Cats and a line of Weber Performers weren’t that far from a Tom Curren Black Beauty, which was next to a Mark Richards twin-fin and an original Simon Anderson Nectar thruster. The East Coast was well represented by Gary Propper-model Hobies, a Claude Codgen Con CC Rider, a rare Dick Catri Nuuwiha Noserider laminated by Larry Pope, a Greg Loehr Hobie Sea Board (also rare), and numerous Mike Tabeling and Jim Phillips shapes. Steve Yankocy showed a unique and fabulous collection of paipo and bellyboards. And this list just scratches the surface.
New boards were also on display, from David Levy’s cutting-edge LSD split-tail mini-Simmons twinzers to Shawn Vecchione’s well-crafted and beautifully painted quads. WRV brought some classics, and contemporary wooden surfboards were well represented by Grain, Spirare, and Soul Tree. And there was still much more to see. Everywhere you looked, there was eye candy for real surfers.
Whether held on a seaside estate or at a mecca of the international sports world, Surf Fest remains a grassroots labor of love. Some of the boards on display belong to collectors, but many of the boards came from basements and garages of individual surfers, who have never parted with a favorite old ride. Some had been gathering dust; quite a few were recently waxed and ridden. In the weeks leading up to the event, boards were gathered, cleaned, polished, and stored at Water Brothers Surf Shop. Newport surfers are a close-knit group, and in a labor-intensive community effort, the Water Brothers family shined. Danielle Abruzzi observed, “The way these guys rally together, everyone pitches in. It’s inspiring to see how much respect and loyalty they have for each other.” Nicole Crugnale, Brian Burns, Johnny Burr, Chris Garcia, and Tim, Brian, and Luke of the OWB staff as well as many others deserve recognition for their efforts to make this event a success.
Special recognition also goes to Keith Kyle and Steve Morrissey of the law firm Houlihan, Managhan, Morrissey, and Kyle for donating a new Water Brothers surfboard for the charity auction. The auction raised over $1,000 for the Stronghold Society, which is a non-profit organization founded to promote healthy way of life outlooks for youth of all races through skate competitions and to create and sustain skateparks in Native American communities.
Towards the end of the day, Harry Martin, a native Newport surfer who now lives in San Diego, presented Sid with a lifetime achievement award for Sid’s “continuous commitment to the surfing community both in and out of the ocean.” Harry notes that, “Sid was instrumental in helping to save Ruggles twice in 40 years, but is best known as the Godfather of Water Bros. worldwide, building a family of brothers and sisters on every coast in every continent. Surf Fest is our pilgrimage to back to Newport to see Sid and visit with our Water Bros. brethren.”
For only the second time in over 14 years, Searching For Tom Curren was shown in a theater. Sonny Miller did some remastering from the original VHS release while transferring the film to digital high-resolution imagery. The film will be re-released on DVD with over 45 minutes of bonus footage. Stunning recent footage from Tahiti followed the Curren screening, and Sonny said, “It was a proud moment to unveil my most recent work: tow-in footage from Teahupoo, Tahiti, shot on June 1st, 2013. This was the first screening to a public audience of the clips. It's being edited to come out as a climax segment of my 25-year filming career in my biography film due out Spring 2014.”
For ESM Co-Founder Dick Meseroll, this was his second Surf Fest, and it didn’t disappoint. “In true legend fashion, Sid and the entire WB team totally pulled it off once again with both the venue and by having Sonny Miller there with his Tom Curren movie. And that 15 minutes of rough-cut Teahupoo footage from the June 1st swell, which was shot in semi-slow motion, was the most intense quarter-hour of any surf movie I’ve seen and the perfect ending to a one-of-a-kind day. The Water Brothers Surf Fest continues to be one of the most fun, action-packed events of our East Coast summer, and I will definitely plan on coming back for next year’s festivities.”
Fine artist Bill Shockley also reflected on the day’s events: “Once again, Sid did a fabulous job. The venue, the boards, the folks, the film… he even got the weather to cooperate!” Danielle Abruzzi added, “This is what Water Brothers is all about: doing something for the community that everyone can enjoy.” But Sid summed it up best: “Everyone had a good time, and that’s all that matters!”