Ruggles, the Real Cost of Localism in Surfing

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Ruggles Ave

Up until a few weeks ago the wave at Ruggles Ave in Newport, RI was kept in obscurity. Few people knew about the break. The local surfers kept it quiet; they did not want a crowded lineup. Then the fate of the wave was in question. Hurricane Sandy damaged parts of the famed Newport Cliff Walk. In order to repair and protect the walk the Rhode Island Department of Transportation proposed building a stonewall that would serve as a break wall. To complete the construction 200-foot temporary causeways would need to be built. The causeways would sit in the middle of the surf break at Ruggles.

The Newport surf community was up in arms about losing their wave. Sid Abruzzi headed an effort to stop the construction. With the help of Clean Ocean Access, they started a petition via change.org, which got over 6,000 signatures from around the world. Abruzzi was featured in several newspapers around the country, speaking about how important the wave is to Newport. The effort was successful, Ruggles was saved.

Ruggles Contstruction

While the local Ruggles surfers appreciate the attention and effort to save the wave, they have a dirty little secret, they don’t want people to come surf their wave. After talking with non-Ruggles surfers in the community and researching the spot via the web I discovered numerous accounts of tires being slashed, cars being keyed, and people being physically threatened. These tactics were all means to regulate the number of surfers in the lineup.

Another tactic was refusing to reveal the name and location of Ruggles. Numerous articles were written about Newport surfers, and at the request of the surfer the name of the break location was not included.

In all the commotion to save Ruggles, the crew failed to stop and listen to what was really going on. The head engineer from the Rhode Island Coastal Resource Management was against the proposal. The Newport City Council was against the proposal. The opposition was because the proposed construction could impact the economy of Rhode Island.

Hospitality and tourism is the second fastest growing industry in the state and currently ranks fourth overall. The tourism industry brings $2.31 billion into the state and supports over 66,000 jobs. Newport is one of the main draws to Rhode Island, with the Cliff Walk being one of the crown jewels, attracting an estimated 800,000 visitors annually. Altering the Cliff Walk had the potential to impact tourism for the state. The risks of the initial proposal far outweighed the gains, which made it unrealistic and unlikely.

While the construction proposal was probably not going to happen, if the wave at Ruggles was really at risk, the localism of the Ruggles surfers would have be one of the biggest threats to the wave. There are two camps in the Newport surf community, those who are welcome at Ruggles and those who are not. The not crowd is the larger of the two. The result of this rivalry is many surfers were apathetic to the plight of saving Ruggles. The interest was in protecting tourism and the environment, not the wave. Many could have cared less about the surf at Ruggles Ave. The prime reason they did not care about the wave, it was difficult to care about something they had not attachment or connection with.

WB Only

Now that the Ruggles has been saved, there is a looming question; now what? With an outpouring of support from around the globe many people may feel a connection to the wave because they were part of the fight to save it. Wouldn’t it be a shame if the thanks those surfers get is a keyed car?

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