2016-12-29 / Front Page

Plans for New Skatepark Underway

By Olga Enger

Mayor Harry Winthrop recognizes Sid Abruzzi for his past and future support of surf and skate with a symbolic key to the city at a fundraiser for a future skateboard park. (Photo by Jon Dillworth) Mayor Harry Winthrop recognizes Sid Abruzzi for his past and future support of surf and skate with a symbolic key to the city at a fundraiser for a future skateboard park. (Photo by Jon Dillworth) Local surf and skateboard icon Sid Abruzzi was recently honored with a “Key to the City” for his decades-long advocacy to safeguard the sports on Aquidneck Island.

“We wanted to honor Sid for his tireless work with the surf and skateboard community, most recently for his efforts to help rebuild the existing skatepark for the kids,” said Newport Mayor Harry Winthrop.

The mayor presented the key to Abruzzi at a “Water Bros Holiday Bash” fundraiser held at Parlor Bar & Kitchen on Dec. 23, which raised money to replace the dated skatepark at Easton’s Beach. The event hosted a lineup of five bands, featuring a return of Abruzzi’s own punk band, “Big World.”

Abruzzi built the original skatepark in the 1970s, before it was boarded up and later rebuilt by the city.

There is no official record of how many people have received a Key to the City, but the honor is reserved for community members who have made extraordinary civic contributions, said the mayor.

The energy behind the proposed new skatepark is fueled by Rogers High School student Tim Boucher, who is reminiscent of a young Abruzzi and took on the cause as his senior project.

“I grew up skating that skatepark. That thing aged with me. I’ve been watching it fall apart in front of my eyes. One day a rail fell down, the next day I saw cracks,” said Boucher. “For my senior project, I thought, ‘How can I change the community in a positive way for generations to come?’ And the skatepark was the answer.”

After the fundraiser, he has raised around $25,000 in just two months. A state-of-the-art skatepark will cost around $150,000, said Boucher.

The city plans to tear down the existing skatepark as early as this winter, but did not plan to rebuild it.

“The mayor is beyond on board,” said Boucher. “He comes in and checks in on us all the time. The city wants to see this project happen. We have had nothing but positive feedback from the city.”

Abruzzi’s own legacy began in 1971 when he made waves for the local surfing community with two audacious moves.

At that time, it was illegal to surf at Ruggles, which is now one of the most popular surf breaks in New England. After coming in from the water, the young Abruzzi was arrested for violating the city ordinance. He was fined only $10, but fought the law and eventually won in the Rhode Island Supreme Court. After the ruling, Newport changed the ordinance, securing a lasting victory for local surfers.

That same year, Abruzzi opened his shop Water Brothers in a shack behind Johnny’s House of Seafood, which eventually became the Atlantic Beach Club. For the next two decades, Water Brothers sold and rented surfboards, built the skatepark, hosted competitions, held surf classes and attracted some of the biggest names in skateboarding, such as Tony Hawk and Christian Hosoi. Since then, Water Brothers has developed into a well-known brand within the surfing and skating communities across New England.

“It was the greatest childhood ever,” Abruzzi told Newport This Week in an interview last year. “That’s where a lot of the local kids established themselves, who are still surfing and skating around the world. It was the Wild West. It was a dream, and it lasted a long time.”

However, after 21 years of summers that local surfers still hold close to their hearts, “the dream” came to an end.

In 1992, Peter and Harry Kyriakides bought Johnny’s House of Seafood to convert into Atlantic Beach Club. When Abruzzi heard the news, he cut short a vacation to California and drove directly to the shop from the airport.

“I remember that day precisely when Peter and Harry bought it,” Abruzzi said. An attorney walked up to Abruzzi’s car and announced the skatepark would have to be boarded up by December.

Abruzzi moved Water Brothers to Memorial Boulevard where it remained until he closed it last year. He continues to sell his brand online and at pop-up stores.

In 2013, the esteemed surf break at Ruggles was once again in jeopardy, after the Rhode Island Department of Transportation (RIDOT) proposed to repair Cliff Walk using an armor stone, which would compromise the wave. Abruzzi’s advocacy, which eventually convinced officials to find an alternative approach, made national headlines and the story hit major surf magazines across the globe.

If Boucher’s efforts to build the skatepark resemble Abruzzi’s activism, it is not a coincidence – the skate and surf legend has been his lifelong mentor.

“As a kid, I was a big skateboarder. I worked at the skate shop since I was around 11. Sid threw me right in the scene. If it wasn’t for Sid, I wouldn’t be where I am,” said Boucher. “My greatest opportunities in life have come from skateboarding and surfing.”

According to Boucher, the fundraiser attracted a full house, largely because of Abruzzi. “If one person really deserves the Key to the City, one native surfer and skateboarder who has done so much for the scene in Newport, it’s Sid.”

To keep updated on the project, follow “New Newport Skatepark” on Facebook.

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