INTERVIEW BY JIM MURPHY
INTRODUCTION BY JIM MURPHY
PHOTOS COURTESY OF SID ABRUZZI
Sid Abruzzi a.k.a. Johnny Morocco is the godfather of the New England surf/skate mafia. With a face that launched a thousand spliffs, ‘The Package’ has skated, surfed, and partied over the last 50 years with no end in sight. After reaching rockstar status with Big World in the mid ’80s, Sid’s infamous Water Bros. Surf shop brought vert skating to the beaches of Newport, RI. In the late ’90s, with the creation of Skater’s Island: A skatepark for the vert soldiers, like himself, who waited through the terrain drought of the 90′s for a place to skate. Now after being swindled out of his own skatepark creation, Sid is back in black with Water Bros. and ready to jump over the tradeshow fence and make somebody bleed. Back-stabbing, broken trust, snow plows, pit parties, pool coping, tattoos, surf dreads, 63′s, jobless, homeless, Loud Ones, cold ones, mini ramps, skate tramps, 9-to-5, stay alive, suicide, we can’t decide, Donkeypunch, out to lunch, it’s a Big World, it’s a Big World. this is Sid’s world. welcome to it.
Sid, where were you born?
I was born in Newport, RI, August 12th, 1951. It was the hottest day of the summer. That’s over 50 years ago. I’m adding it up for you. I’m in my sixth decade of living and my fifth decade of skateboarding and surfing.
When did you start surfing and skating?
I started skating first because we were trying to simulate what we saw in the water. It was the classic story of the kid taking apart a pair of old roller skates and putting it on a two-by-four. That was me. Then the store boards came out in ’62. Chain stores were selling them for $9.99 for a complete. There was nothing else but a complete. Life was complete. I kept skating through high school, but surfing really started taking control of my life. I was 14 years old, I had my own board and I was going to the beach all of the time. By the time I was 16, I had a Volkswagon van full of surfboards and skateboards.
“I walked in the tradeshow and all of a sudden I’m like a hero. I’m a blown-up superstar and don’t have a nickel to my name.”
Where were you skating?
We skated wherever they were building new houses. Every time there was a new housing development, they would pave the streets, so skate spots were named after housing developments. Continental Village was a series of ranch houses being built on a slight hill so it was like, ‘Where you guys gonna skate today?’ ‘We’ll be at Continental Village.’ There were no quarter pipes, then.
Were you seeing any pools in the neighborhood?
We were too young to even know about pools. This was still during the time of clay wheels. We weren’t even into the urethane wheels yet. It was late to mid ’60s, when urethane came out. By the time the industry started swirling, I was already in the business of selling.
How old were you when you first started up?
I turned 18 in ’69, the ‘summer of love’ and went to New Jersey to buy surfboards because no one had them around here. On the way, we’re driving around and all the traffic was lined up going the other way. They were all going to Woodstock.
Were you figuring you wanted to go to Woodstock then, too?
To be honest with you, we were tripping on a tab of acid. I had my dad’s car and I pulled over on the side of the road because I was laughing so hard. I had no intentions of going to Woodstock. I picked up six surfboards and drove my ass back home. I came back with the surfboards and we sold them. The guy I was working with says, ‘You did a good job. Go get six more.’ So we got six more. In ’71, we opened up Water Bros. in that little shack. That shop lasted for 20 years.
You went right into business out of high school?
I don’t think I was business-minded, but at the time, the only way to make money was to become a pro or sell so you can stay in the business.
You were looking to become a pro surfer?
No, not a pro surfer. I just didn’t want to do anything else but skateboard or surf. The only way to stay in it was to sell. I guess it’s like a guy that likes weed: he might as well sell it so he gets it free. This was before sales reps. We had no magazine coverage on the whole East Coast. There was no Florida market like there is now. ‘Surfer’ magazine out of Dana Point, CA was the only publication and they didn’t show skateboarding. Then skateboards really started happening in ’73. We were buying all completes. A complete sold for $19.99-$29.99.
Were you competing with department stores?
Whatever was going through all those department stores was the cheapos. They weren’t on it enough when it really started. Once that urethane wheel came out, people were skateboarding for a living. They had the contests going. The new guys started doing all of the slides. Skateboarding was full-blown back then. It was like, ‘Yeah, we’ll take two sets of those.’ The chain stores were out of the loop, just like today. They still had their basic models. Those guys were still selling clay wheels and we were already into the first urethane.
Then they started building local skateparks?
The parks started happening around ’75, when the precision wheels came out. We were the first shop to sell the Road Rider 2s. We were chillin’ out at the shop, and the guys from Quality Products came in with Road Rider 2s and OJs. They said, ‘We want to give you some of these.’ He gave us Road Rider 2s with precision bearings.
Where were they making the Road Riders?
Quality Products in Cranston, RI was the first manufacturer of the ‘holy precision wheel’. They had it going for about four months before NHS came in. Then everything went over to NHS. Meanwhile, people down in Florida were making Stokers. But Water Bros. was one of the first two shops to have precision wheels.
Did they blow out or what?
Yeah, they actually did blow out, but we sold the shit out of ‘em. We used to buy them by the hundreds. Every Sunday, there used to be 100 surfers that would go skate when there were no waves. On the weekend, we’d either go to Providence or Boston. We were some of the first guys to skate Boston City Hospital. Then we started skating pools. That’s when the scene started going. Now it’s the mid ’70s and it’s all about skating transition. The trucks and the boards are getting wider. Tony Alva gets in ‘People’ magazine. Things are flying.
When was the first time you met Alva?
I met him down at Cherry Hill. He had so many groupies around him. We sold a million boards for him. Everything is great. Skateboarding is bang, bang, boom.
Where was the park with the midget?
That was Malden skatepark. Jake Phelps was one of the players. When the surfers went to the city, we started getting a little territorial. Zero Gravity was always the meeting place where Jake, Kevin Day, all the Newport guys and all the Boston guys met. The strip bar across the street had a midget with the tuxedo at the door.
You’re skating Malden and Zero Gravity closes and a couple parks show up in Rhode Island?
Nothing really lasted more than four or five years.
What happened next?
The Sex Pistols came to town and turned everything upside down. The music scene started changing. From that day on, the skateboarding scene became the skateboarding punk rock scene.
Were you in a band?
We started Big World in ’81. After hearing the Sex Pistols, everyone picked up a guitar and started playing. We made little albums and tapes. It was all crazy punk rock shit. We never paid any attention to the long-haired hippie shit. We were always into our own hardcore metal punk. My brother ‘Magoo’ was the guitar genius. He kept us all in line. We always had drums in the house, and we had a bass. Jeff Thompson appeared on the Newport scene. We saw the Pete Dunning ramp. All of a sudden, it’s the mid ’80s. I actually sold Water Bros for a Marshall amp. I sold it for $1000 and bought a Marshall, just so I could have it in the band. This was after being at the shop for 10 years. I was fried.
Skateboarding was dying, so you moved on to music?
Those guys were still carrying the flame in Newport. You had the mohawk guys running around skating like hellfire. But for me, it was all about the music. At the same time, Freddy and those guys were starting to come into the limelight with Alva. And ‘Thrasher’ was just getting started.
What did you think when you saw ‘SkateBoarder’ turn into chicks jumping horses over rocks?
Those jackasses had to do that, because no one was looking at the magazine, anyway. They didn’t kill ‘SkateBoarder’ by loss of sales. They killed it by becoming gay.
Tell us about the Big World days.
We were a hit with all the locals. We played all original songs and Mike Nagle a.k.a. Nick Stingley made us a lot of stage props. He’s the best. He’s Iggy Pop incarnated with Alice Cooper make-up and the whole thing. We had a great show going. We played with Iggy Pop three times, and we opened up for the Tubes…
INTERVIEW WITH SID’S MOM – RUTHIE
Tell us about Sid’s first skateboard.
Sid got his very first skateboard, and off he went. Next thing you know he came home and said, ‘l lost my skateboard.’ He was skating across Broadway, slipped off and the skateboard went right down into the sewer. His father was alive then, so he got all the troops together. The city had to come out, take off the lid, go down under and pull out this dirty, dirty skateboard. I can’t tell you I washed it. He and his father did the washing. It was great. I love skateboarding.
What’s it like to be Sid’s mom?
It’s a blessing. I wouldn’t trade him for anything.
What was it like having a skate ramp in your backyard?
There could be 10 skateboarders in the yard and the grass would be over their heads, but they wouldn’t mow the lawn. Everyone brings their dogs. That’s the way it’s always been. The dogs all get along, so that makes it nice.
Didn’t they do a little partying down in the pit?
I close my eyes for those things. That’s their business.
What would you say to parents whose kids are just starting to get into skateboarding?
Encourage it 100%, because it really is wonderful. They’ve got a great group together. The only thing is, if they’re out there for a while, they like food (laughs). So have some food somewhere. And they love dogs; everyone brings their dogs. It’s a great life. It really is.
What do you think is the future for Sid now that he’s got his shop back?
He’s very happy. He did find out that he has a lot of very good friends.
Why do you think skateboarders get a bad rap?
I think maybe it bothers some people if they’re trying to get out of the way of skateboarders on the streets. That would be the only time they’d bother me. They’re all great and they’re very well-behaved. They’re very nice to me. I’ve had no problems with any of them.
Oh, you’re saying I’m beautiful? (laughs)
Oh, you are beautiful. Thanks, Ruthie.