It all began with a yellow Dale Velzy longboard and a request by the Newport Restoration Foundation for Original Waterbrothers’ Sid “The Package” Abruzzi to present a 20-minute talk about the board and surfing in general. But this wasn’t just any old longboard. As one of the first polyurethane foam boards that Velzy, or anyone else for that matter, had ever shaped, this board was specifically made for the world’s wealthiest woman, Doris Duke, a close friend of Duke Kahanamoku and his family. So, in 2011, when Liz Spoden, Education & Public Programs Assistant at the Newport Restoration Foundation, asked Sid if he would be interested in addressing a small gathering of people, Sid replied, “We can do better!”
On July 21st, 2011, over 800 people enjoyed a wonderful evening at Doris Duke’s Rough Point mansion viewing over 200 surfboards artfully arranged on the estate’s lawn and, within the mansion, viewing a display highlighting Doris Duke’s athletic lifestyle punctuated by her yellow Dale Velzy longboard. The event was a great success by every standard and if you consider the 2011 Surf Fest a home run, what took place July 13th-14th, 2012, was a grand slam.
The Newport Restoration Foundation strives to bring the community together at Rough Point so people can learn about Doris Duke’s interests and her impact on Newport. Surf Fest is one of a series of public programs at Rough Point and it is by far the biggest. Attendance over the two days of this year’s Surf Fest exceeded 1,900 people with Saturday being sold out. Rough Point’s ten waterfront acres and 39,000-square-foot mansion, which includes 49 principal rooms, can best be described as spectacular. Mix this venue with surfers and surfboards and you’ve got an event that is spectacularly unique. Viewing Surf Fest for the first time, ESM Co-Founder/Photo Editor Emeritus Dick “Mez” Meseroll proclaimed, “Everything caught my eye: the topographical setting, the crazy, beautifully baroque mansion, and the flotilla of different shapes beautifully splayed out over Rough Point’s back yard made an impression that will last a lifetime to anyone who attended.”
Getting over 300 boards to and from Rough Point was a labor of love coordinated by Sid Abruzzi with the extensive Waterbrothers family as a supporting cast. Christopher “Slash” Garcia emphasized the tightness of the group of people who, as he put it, “Worked on putting this together in true Waterbrothers tradition: controlled chaos. It just flowed. The boards speak for themselves. The Package always had the final say.” Billy Gomes and a crew of volunteers cleaned and polished almost a third of the boards that were put on display. Bob Turner flew in from Solana Beach, CA, and was immediately impressed by the preparation. Another Californian, skateboard legend Jason Jessee from Santa Cruz, has been friends with Sid since the late ‘80s and said, “We have a lot in common and he is incredible. When everyone in California says you’ve got to meet The Package, I had to meet him and he is the best ever. Surf Fest was bitchin’ but Sid had me working right when I got off the Greyhound until the day I got back on. But it was worth it.”
Three hundred surfboards were gracefully arranged on Rough Point’s park-like lawn, some as old as a Tom Blake paddleboard and some as new as a Tora shortboard that was just finished that afternoon. In addition to Blake, iconic names and labels such as Dave Sweet, Greg Noll, Hobie, Weber, and G&S dotted the lawn. A Midget Farrelly stringerless stood out amongst the longboards, as did a pristine black Greg Noll Miki Dora “Da Cat” model. A black Hobie whose foam had been baked to the point of collapse by the heat of a house fire made an interesting piece of surfboard art. East Coast surf history was also represented with models and/or shapes by Gary Propper, Claude Codgen, Mike Tabling, and Jim Phillips.
On a small hill facing the Rough Point mansion, a wreath of flowers cordoned off three surfboards from the hundreds of others. Harry Martin lifted the tail of a shortboard decorated with Waterbrothers and Red Bull stickers. The board belonged to his brother, the late Patrick “Shep” Martin, who recently passed away while surfing Marine Avenue, which is visible on the other side of the bay formed by Rough Point and Ochre Point. The 2012 Doris Duke Surf Fest was dedicated to Shep’s memory. Next to Shep’s board, Brian Sargent picked up one of Andy Irons’ personal boards, while Peter Fagin looked down on a Carson/Salick commemorating the life of Rich Salick. Three memorial boards honoring three good people, all sorely missed.
Bill Shockley, a fine artist and craftsman from Charlestown, RI, whose functional surf art graced the hill in front of the mansion, overlooked the surfboard-covered lawn and described the scene as “great craftsmanship with an artistic flair.” Keith Kyle, whose law firm donated a custom Tora Surfboard for the fundraising raffle, noted, “Each board is a unique piece of sculpture and a piece of surfing history. It was a great opportunity to see how different shapers viewed the hydrodynamics of their boards.” David Levy, shaper of Levy Surf Designs LSD Surfboards said he saw an evolutionary message in the progression of surfboard design from each era: “Don't live in the past, move forward and improve on the old.” Fellow shaper Neil Tora of Tora Surfboards said, “The coolest thing was seeing the evolution of handshapes starting before my generation.” Kevin Cunningham of Spirare Surfboards commented that, “There were a couple really nice older boards from Hobie and Noll that I liked. There was a Jim Phillips twin-fin that had an outline similar to a lot of modern small wave-boards out now. Cool to see the origin.”
While many people were captivated by the craftsmanship and design ideas of various generations of surfboard makers, just as many experienced a true personal connection to what they saw. Mike Ryan, a lifelong surfer from Westerly, RI, said, “What caught my eye was a beautiful Corky Carroll Space Stick. That was the model I rode in the early ‘70s. I lived on South Pier Road in Narragansett and could walk out the front door to see if Monahan’s was breaking. I was 19 or 20, could surf all day, had a beautiful girlfriend, and knew everyone in the lineup. It was a great time of my life and seeing and holding that board allowed me to relive it for a moment. Very sweet.” Alan “AT” Thompson came up from Satellite Beach, FL, for the event and said he rode a multitude of these old boards learning to surf in Newport, RI, and Mez said, “The coolest, most poignant thing that hit me when I was looking down at all the boards was that I was, more or less, looking at 50 years of my surfing life laid out so beautifully before me. That alone was worth the 1,300-mile drive to be with all those great people from the New England surf tribes.”
Waterbrother Logan Hill viewed this year’s happening as an “unbelievable crossing of friends from all walks of life. I thought it was awesome. You got the wealthiest people on Bellevue Avenue hanging with the heavy metal people. It was cool.” Keith Kyle said, “Without sounding too corny, what caught my eye is that the Surf Fest had a great positive vibe to it. It was a gathering of water brothers and sisters from both sides of the bridge and it was a great time to catch up with old friends and meet some new people like the guy from Pennsylvania who showed up with a ton of boards.” Clean Ocean Access’ Dave McLaughlin reflected that, “Clean Ocean Access’s focus has always been on protecting, maintaining, and preserving the environment of today so that future generations can continue to enjoy ocean activities. So to see 70 years of surfboards and meet over 1,600 people who care about waveriding was awesome.”
Hosting this melting pot of people and keeping everyone entertained and happy was Sid Abruzzi. Bill Shockley noted, “Sid was a perfect representative, ambassador, and organizer who carried it off with aplomb — a real diplomat and a gentleman.“ Mike Ryan said, “I've known Sid since we were on the New England competition surf circuit back in the late ‘60s. We've never really hung out, but he has always been warm and welcoming to me. I suspect he treats everyone else in the surf community that way and that spirit has a way of spreading, and that makes surfing in Rhode Island somewhat unique.”
Liz Spoden of the Newport Restoration Foundation, who set this whole thing in motion last year, said, “Everyone at the NRF is pleased with the turnout for Surf Fest. In addition to enjoying the display of boards, many visitors had a great experience inside the house, watching surf videos, seeing Doris Duke’s own 1960 Velzy board, and exploring art and the exhibit, ‘Passport To The World: Doris Duke, The International Traveler.’ Narragansett, Bacardi USA, and Harbor Town provided the bar, while Clean Ocean Access provided support for our on-site recycling efforts as well as a unique education experience for visitors. Houlihan, Monaghan, Morrissey & Kyle donated a custom-made Tora Surfboard for our raffle. We pride ourselves on being a place where the community can gather and learn. And that’s just what we experienced with Surf Fest.”
Mez added, “I've been to many unique surf events and gatherings and the Doris Duke was in and of itself as unique, fun, and visually captivating as any I’ve ever attended in all the years that I’ve called myself a surfer, which is a long, long time.” Mike Ryan was struck by “How surfing has managed to become ‘legitimate’ and yet at the same time retain its ‘edginess.’ Here we were on the lawn of a Newport mansion but dressed in T-shirts and shorts with long hair and three days of facial hair. Sid is most famous, perhaps, but all of us have been arrested or threatened with arrest for the simple act of surfing, and yet here we are 40 years later strolling around the lawn sipping cocktails and society is now cool with surfers doing that. We haven’t changed except to grow older. But somehow, by not giving into societal demands and insisting on being allowed to follow our passion, we were able to change society’s perception. And Surf Fest reflects that perfectly.”