owner Sid Abruzzi was arrested in October of 1971 for refusing to stop surfing at a popular Ruggles Avenue surf spot. He was found guilty in district court by Judge Corrine Grande and decided to take action against the ordinance.
Two short months later, Abruzzi was vindicated when surfing at the spot was ruled legal. Today, Dec. 13, marks the 40th anniversary of the legalization of surfing at Ruggles Avenue.
Changing the Law
Before surfing there was legal, there was an ordinance with the City of Newport that forbid surfing from the corner of to which included surf spots at Cliff Avenue, Ruggles Avenue, and Marine Avenue.
“I had turned 20 in August of 1971 and was selling surf boards full time. We surfed at these spots and it was tiring to keep getting kicked out of the water,” he said.
Abruzzi said it was believed that the caretakers of one of the nearby estates would call the police, who would show up and whistle at surfers to come out of the water. He recalled one evening when he and a group of surfers refused to stop surfing.
“I stayed to the limit and they threatened to tow my car. When I finally came out of the water the police arrested me and gave me a court date in October 1971. I was found guilty in district court and they fined me ten dollars. I then put in an appeal to superior court,” he said.
While awaiting the hearing, surfers rallied at City Hall to try to convince the City Council to change their vote and the ordinance. The city kept the ordinance as it was, and on Dec. 13, 1971, the Superior Court hearing took place.
The judge ruled that the city did not have the right to restrict surfing in the area and the law was out of the city’sbounds.
The ordinance banning surfing in Newport hit home with a lot of locals, he added, who spent much of their time on the beach. Gomes and Abruzzi noted the Jenkins, Murphys, Hooks, Caseys, Walshs, and Burkes as some of the surfing pioneers in the Newport community.
The Rise of Surfing in Newport
In the early 1960s surfing was being introduced on the east coast and there were only a few surfers at the local spots in Newport, Abruzzi said.
“Once there were more people surfing in Newport the police took notice, and started making people come out of the ocean,” recalled Bill Gomes, of Portsmouth.
Gomes was one of the first individuals in Newport to begin surfing at Ruggles Avenue and other surf spots in the area.
“There were too many cars parked on the side of the road at Ruggles, Marine, and Cliff, and it was becoming too busy for the police’s liking.
“Long boarding was a style of the past, while short boarding became the thing to do,” recalled Gomes.
Shorter boards allowed for maneuverable tricks and allowed surfers to get air, which weren’t skills acquired overnight. “We didn’t have films back then that we could learn from. We learned from what we saw in Surfer Magazine or in California, and most importantly from watching each other out there surfing.”
Abruzzi recalled a friend who is now a surfer now in Santa Cruz and formerly of Newport, was so into surfing that when the police would threaten to tow his car he would yell, “Take the car and leave the surf racks!”
Gomes said one of his friends who did not cooperate with the police when they told him to stop surfing was placed under arrest when he came out of the water. This story was featured in Surfing East Magazine during the mid 1960s and gained attention toward the ordinance that banned surfing in Newport.
Abruzzi recounted one occasion he and other surfers rescued a fishing boat that capsized off the coastline of Ruggles. The surfers paddled all of the fishermen to shore on their surfboards, he said, and even after saving the fishermen the police still told the surfers to get out of the water.
“As a kid you looked for things to do, and around here surfing was it. We knew everyone out there in the water, even those who weren’t locals. We’d say ‘Oh that’s Joe from Tiverton!’ or ‘There’s the kid from Portsmouth!’ We watched out for our home court like in any sport, we looked out for it.”