Joe Nuzzo third from the left. Photos supplied by Joe Nuzzo

Surf’s Up Around the World

Joe Nuzzo in the Ocean Waves

By Kelly Louiseize

Editor Jennifer J. Lacelle

Date May 19, 2021

When you drop down on a wave, there is no drug that comes close to the exhilaration of centering your body and letting the negative energy dissipate.

“You are on your own personal high,” says Joe Nuzzo, owner of Suncoast Surf Shop in Treasure Island, Florida. “If you have problems and the world is falling apart, go surfing. At the end of the day, you realize your problems weren’t all that bad. You should just go home and take a nap cause you’re tired.”

His words sound like they could easily be ironed on a T-shirt and perhaps they have. Nuzzo has traveled the world tasting the waves and vibing with amateurs and professionals alike.


Like many folks, his journey has turning, twisty roads but his constant passion has always been water.

He grew up in New York and moved to Florida with his mother and three siblings when he was 10-years old.

After coming out of the military, he went to California to begin a job with Hughes Aircraft Co. building cables with sodium. On his days off he went to the beach and was introduced to surfing.

“I loved it!”

One day when the waves were high, Nuzzo hurried his work along and placed ten cables in sodium where he was only supposed to do one-at-a-time. Somehow water got in there and the place caught fire.

"I lost my Job."

Jordy surfing (Suncoast Surf Shop employee).

Coming back home to Florida, Nuzzo landed a job delivering auto parts to garages and kept his surfboard in the back of his Volkswagen bus. What often should have been a 15-minute delivery ended up lasting an hour and a half.

“The boss was always curious why my hair was wet. I said if he installed air conditioning, I wouldn’t be sweating all day. But really I was surfing."

It was clear, Nuzzo’s free spirit was not to be harnessed by anyone but himself. Without a job and no place to sleep, he searched for rental space to open his own surf shop since he was receiving loads of interest each time he rode the waves. A landlord rented him space for $50 (USD) a month in a strip mall. During the day he sold T-shirts, stickers and surfboards and at night he’d turn the table on its side, grab his sleeping blanket and nod off.

In the morning, he’d use a hose to wash then drive up the east coast to Bill Feinberg and purchase a few boards. Eventually, those numbers began growing. On one occasion, he was on his way to purchase 10 boards when the transmission on his psychedelic bus died. He made it to Bill’s but could only afford three boards. That was when Feinberg introduced him to credit. He “credited” him 20 boards and each time he sold one, Nuzzo would slip a cheque into the mail back to him.

Meanwhile, local authorities wanted him and his pot-smoking, wine-drinking hippie friends off the plaza property. It was Christmas when the landlord evicted him. However, what often comes in the form of crisis can end up as opportunity.

"So, I started a surf club and called it the Suncoast Surf Syndicate to raise money to buy property that no one could take away.”

Membership cards ultimately garnered $900 (US). Coupled with his mother’s $200, Nuzzo was able to make a down payment on an old 1920s military barrack waterfront property that was going for $6,000.

At the time it was used as a Motorola Television shop. Before proceeding, he called the city anonymously and asked if his business license was still valid if he changed locations. They told him it was. Armed with this information, he signed on the dotted line and off he went to begin a life at 9841 Gulf Blvd. The mortgage was $93 a month. That was in 1966, and he’s been there since.

Almost six decades later, an estimated 400 to 500 boards are sold from Suncoast Surf Shop each year. Not only has he made his passion for the sport his way of income; he’s made it his life. On the water he’s instructed thousands of people, some who became ardent professionals like Corey Lopez whose father, Peter, opened a store 10 years ago on Indian Rock Beach. Also, Michell Richards, a Canadian from the East Coast, who opened surf programs in Mexico and Cape Breton.

“She is one of the few people I know who really applied her surfing skills. She’s one of my favourite people, she’s a sweetheart.”

It seemed Nuzzo’s chilled attitude was a magnet to everyone including music idols like John Prine, Jimmy Buffett and Jimmy Hendrix.

“If you put out good energy people know that. John Prine had millions of fans, millions. He left a mark. Jimmy Buffet and I are still friends.”

Often, it was his shop that would support musicians through ticket sales. Band members like Led Zeppelin, Pink Floyd would come in and help drum up sales. It was how Jimmy Buffet landed his first gig on a rented boat with 80 people. Even Jimmy Hendrix walked into the shop and started shooting a game of pool.

Outside the surfing and music circles, Nuzzo involves himself in not-for-profit agencies geared to helping children. At Christmas he delivers 1,000 presents at an annual party and

there is always someone canvassing the shop for donations.

“I don’t know how to say no.”

At 78-years old, he has no plans of selling his business anytime soon, but he does intend to spend more time fishing.

After all, almost 60 years in business should afford a man some down time.

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