Remembered as the metaphorical “Mayor of Treasure Island,” Joe Nuzzo died in hospice care on Thursday, September 23 and left behind a community of coastal friends, family and his iconic Suncoast Surf Shop at 9841 Gulf Blvd.
His shop, opened in 1966, paid homage to the blazing beach summers of Nuzzo’s youth.
He was a U.S. Navy veteran and opened Suncoast Surf Shop at just 22 years old. Despite hailing from New York, over the next 55 years, Nuzzo and his shop would go on to become a favorite of the Gulf Beaches community.
“He’s loved by everyone, definitely by me,” younger sister Geraldine Nuzzo-Carl said. “I’m just so hurt over this. He was like my best friend. I called him everyday. He’d give the shirt off his back to anyone.”
It was Nuzzo-Carl who ran the shop when her brother was traveling the world with his surfboard.
Nuzzo hit the waves in Barbados, Costa Rica, Puerto Rico – and when he wasn’t globetrotting, the ex-sailor volunteered with Surfers For Autism in Pass-a-Grille.
“Joe was just happy; he made friends everywhere he went, and knew people all around the world,” said friend Gail Gilchrist. “He truly was the man, the myth and the legend…Joe hung with Jimmy Buffett before he was Jimmy Buffett.”
Gilchrist, who met Nuzzo in 1983 while haggling over the price of a pair of sunglasses at his shop, remembers him as family.
“If he invited you into his life, he would take care of you emotionally,” Gilchrist said. “He lived his life to the fullest every minute of the day; that’s why it was so hard seeing him go.”
Nuzzo is survived by his 20-year-old son, Jonah Nuzzo.
“Jonah was his world for the last 20 years,” Gilchrist said.
According to family and friends, there will be a memorial service held in Gulfport on the date of what would have been one of Nuzzo’s iconic Christmas parties, December 14.
“His wishes were to be buried at sea and to have a big party with lots of music,” Nuzzo-Carl said. “So that’s what we’re doing.”
Find updates on the celebration at fb.com/surfingsince1966.