Suncoast Surf Shop founder Joe Nuzzo, a longtime fixture on St. Pete Beach, died Thursday morning under hospice care.
The 78-year-old U.S. Navy veteran had been diagnosed with leukemia, according to Nuzzo’s friend Steve Kubiak, who served as his caregiver in recent weeks.
Nuzzo opened the first Suncoast Surf Shop in 1966, at age 22. “I was just doing it for the lifestyle and the fun,” Nuzzo explained in a 2018 Catalyst profile. “I had a dozen T-shirts, a couple surfboards, some wax and some stickers, and that was it. Whatever money I made, I’d spend as fast as I got it in.”
Over time, the slacker surfing fanatic became a savvy businessman. He paid $6,250 for an old TV repair shop on Gulf Boulevard, at the southern end of Treasure Island, in 1967. The shop became a go-to and hangout for generations of Florida surfers – along with hippies, beach bums and bikini girls, musicians, a cross-section of people.
Always the common denominator was Joe Nuzzo, an easygoing man with charm to spare, the sort of friend who’d give you the T-shirt off his back.
“Joe was a fun-loving guy,” Tom Gribbin said, “incredibly young at heart. He was still a big kid, so everybody was attracted to him, because of that. Everybody wanted to be around him – from the old geezers to the young kids. He loved life.”
Nuzzo became fast friends with singer/songwriter John Prine, who moved to Pinellas County in 2005, and the two were often inseparable.
Prine died of Covid-19 in 2020.
Nuzzo, who was married and divorced twice, is survived by his 20-year-old son Jonah.
A Celebration of Life will be announced soon.