Surfer/Writer/TEDx Speaker
Ronnie Brown surfing Ruggles. Photo: Mike Incitti.

Ronnie Brown surfing Ruggles. Photo: Mike Incitti.

The Inertia

One of Rhode Island’s most esteemed waves is in danger. Forty years ago, local surfer Sid Abruzzi battled the law in order to surf the break off Newport’s famed Cliff Walk at Ruggles Avenue. At the time Newport prohibited surfing in that area. After being arrested and charged, Abruzzi’s persistence paid off and Newport changed the law allowing surfers to enjoy this wave.

Today, however, the wave at Ruggles is under threat once again.

Hurricane Sandy spared much of Aquidneck Island, but the historic Cliff Walk sustained considerable damage as a result of the storm. The Cliff Walk has a rich history. It has been in use since pre-colonial times. Today, the 3.5-mile walk is part of the National Recreational Trails and is one of the most popular tourist spots in Rhode Island. People come to admire the views, fish, and of course, catch great waves. The storm washed away sections of Cliff Walk and caused other parts to collapse. Six months have passed since Sandy hit and still some parts of the walk are closed because of the damage.

With federal disaster funds the Rhode Island Department of Transportation (RIDOT) developed a $6.8 million plan to erect a stone buffer that would sit 2.43 feet below the mean high water mark. The intent of the buffer would be to offer the Cliff Walk protection from future storms. However, temporary 200-foot causeways would be built into the famed break to transit heavy equipment required to construct the stone buffer, effectively destroying the wave. In addition, there is concern among local environmental groups that altering the natural wave action would vastly harm the ecosystem.


Sid Abruzzi of the Original Water Brothers Surf Shop and David McLaughlin, founder of Clean Ocean Access, have responded with a social media assault against the plan. A petition created on has collected over 6,000 signatures. The movement has gained traction and a great deal of support.

The Newport City Council stated at their regular meeting on April 9 they are in favor of protecting the Cliff Walk and the local surf break. About a hundred local surfers and others interested in protecting the Cliff Walk attended the meeting to show their support.

The Rhode Island Coastal Resource Management Council (CRMC) does not support the initial RIDOT proposal. The CRMC is recommending RIDOT develop an alternative plan.

Opposition has caused RIDOT to reconsider the initial proposal and work to develop a new plan. On April 12 a working group will meet in Newport to begin brainstorming alternative plans. Sid Abruzzi and David McLaughlin have both been invited to the closed-door session. The goal is to find an amenable plan that preserves the natural playground Cliff Walk offers residents and visitors alike.

Save a wave. Sign the petition.


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