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Beach legend Joe Nuzzo dead at 78

Bill DeYoung



Joe Nuzzo opened the Suncoast Surf Shop in 1966. Photo by Bill DeYoung.

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.”

Prine (left) and Nuzzo.

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.

RELATED STORY: Surf’s up! Treasure Island’s Joe Nuzzo reflects on 52 years in business


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  1. Avatar

    Mattie the Surfer

    September 23, 2021at3:16 pm

    Suncoast Surfshop is where I bought my first paddle board and Joe was always nice. I felt at ease around him. RIP “Shaka”

  2. Avatar

    Dene Donovan

    September 23, 2021at3:27 pm

    Jonah, my heart goes out to you and your family. You have 2 amazing angels now. I miss seeing your dad at Backfin Blue.

  3. Avatar

    Michael Kellestine

    September 23, 2021at6:01 pm

    Rest in peace my friend hopefully when we get there you’ll be sponsoring another softball team

  4. Avatar

    Johnny Ray

    September 24, 2021at8:13 am

    Joe my friend gonna miss your smile and your kindness and the rides we took in your old Ford Falcon drop top. RIP brother .

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    September 24, 2021at9:33 am

    So sad to hear. I loved his shop and him! I found him about 27years ago when my daughter went to Eckerd College. When we finally moved here, I went to his shop every chance I could get. Deepest sympathies to his son, family and friends.

  6. Avatar

    Andy n Sandi Bezanilla

    September 24, 2021at12:39 pm

    so,so sad to hear…first time in s.c. surf shop was in ’76 when it was single story, sand floor, and smelled of sex wax! great, fun loving, one of a kind. gone to soon, much love and comfort to his family and many, many friends. peace, andy n sandi

  7. Avatar

    Frankie Cramer

    September 25, 2021at4:37 am

    Endless summer surfing the never ending wave. So long Joe. We’ll see you at the best beach for evermore.

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    melissa sarra

    September 25, 2021at8:52 am

    my friend my friend..dream well..Ill always remember your kindness.

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    Brad Apold

    September 25, 2021at11:20 am

    Joe was such a wonderful guy, he will be greatly missed 🏄‍♂️

  10. Avatar

    Jeanette R Bulatowicz

    September 25, 2021at1:38 pm

    Ohh how sad.. our family sends our love and comfort to Jonah and family.
    Joe really meant a lot to us through out the years raising our daughters to surf and love our Beach ❤️

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