Surf, Turf and Mansions

A mid-September sojourn to Newport, Rhode Island can be remembered for so many things: bobbing yachts, fresh lobster, ghost stories and lighthouses, sailors, and the way they party…there are a slew of cultural, culinary and natural wonders to behold.  However, my preferred way to spend a sunny Saturday on the coast involves walking and surfing along Newport’s coastline; it’s relatively free, wholly invigorating and above all, historically significant.

Easton, or First Beach, is known for the Atlantic Beach Club – a muscle-shirted skimpy-skirted meat market set to techno-rave beats on any given summer afternoon – and, during the height of summer, for its rather putrid sewage smell.  Locals recommend Sachuest, or Second Beach, over one more hill and down into a more pristine stretch of coastline, surrounded by the Norman Bird Sanctuary, the secluded bay and cove known as Third Beach and cleaner, fresher ocean breezes across the breaking waves.

However, by mid- September, the waves of tourists and the smell of sewage subside, and First Beach beckons right up to the walls of the world-famous Cliff Walk, 3.5 miles of sweeping seaside vistas skirting Newport’s grandiose mansions from the golden age.   There’s a wrought-iron bench at the entrance of the trail, where I stop to stretch, catch my breath and contemplate the expansive horizon after a brief jog along the beach.   Many joggers and bikers enjoy the road that winds from Second to First Beach but once you start the Cliff Walk, it’s preferred to meander and simply enjoy the view.  The path inevitably narrows, winds through tunnels, descends to the edge of the sea across natural rock and tide-pools and eddies out at the top of the historical 40 Steps, where working class Portuguese and immigrant laborers would gather for dancing and merriment by the sea on their day off from laboring in the mansions along nearby Bellevue Avenue.

The Cliff Walk crosses Ruggles Avenue, where more accomplished surfers park and paddle out along a more rugged – no pun intended – break as waves crash over rocks and jagged shoreline outcroppings.  For my own more G-rated surfing pursuits, I choose the surfing section of Second Beach, accessed directly from the first parking pull-in. It’s impossible to miss, especially around sunset on a week-day with a decent swell.   The after-work crowd wraps up at the respective office and pulls in to catch the late-afternoon goodness.

I rent my surfboard and wetsuit at Water Brothers , just up the road from the Cliff Walk.  The legendary Sid Abruzzi has seen it all in the surf world and while he travels in the winter, chasing swells like skiers chase winter storms, spring summer and fall are prime Water Brothers season.  Messing around in the surf and managing to stand-up and conquer the white-wash during one prolonged session, I emerge victorious from one afternoon’s adventure and get a hot dog and a lemonade from the old-fashioned sundry cart.  It reminds me of similar carts along the beaches of Southern California, where I grew up digging holes to China in the sand and spending hours on my boogie board, conquering the white-wash.

When I head back to return the board for the evening, Sid tells me to come back whenever I want while I’m in town, and to call the Surf Report to find out what’s happening “out there”.

In the end, what I enjoy most are Sid’s surf reports, available twice a day, at 401-849-9283.  When I wandered into the shop upon a local friend’s recommendation, Sid greeted me like an old friend.  He set me up for the duration of my stay and told me to call the surf report for the heads-up on beginner conditions, and general wave behavior.  I love hearing his thick Rhode Island accent and his casual delivery of very important wave data: “this mornin’s looking knee-high; not a lot of activity this afternoon, I’m hearin’ ankle high but hey, we got a lotta great skate gear and baby doll tees so stop by and say hi!”

In fact, I add the Surf Report number to my contacts and leave it in my cell phone when I return home to the mountains, and to winter.   It makes me happy to know I can get a Water Brothers Surf Report when I least need it.

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