Surfers Paddle Out To Honor One Of Their Own

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The sun glinted off the glassy Atlantic last Wednesday as dozens of surfers, fresh leis around their necks, paddled out from the Westhampton Beach surf spot known simply as “Jetty 4” to pay tribute to one of their own the best way they knew how.Vincent Zorbo, known as “Uncle Vin,” was an avid surfer best known throughout the community for his kindness, positive outlook and endless energy.

He died on February 8, a day after his 65th birthday, after a battle with prostate cancer.

“He was just a great role model and a positive influence,” the older of his two sons, Justin Zorbo, 32, said this week, recalling the wide array of friends his father made. “He touched everybody.”

While dozens watched from the shore, close to 70 surfers in wet suits from across Long Island, and even some from as far as Hawaii, braved the single-digit temperatures and formed a circle in the calm ocean on February 12, splashing water into the air to symbolize Mr. Zorbo’s soul rising to heaven.

Mr. Zorbo grew up in Syosset and lived in Northport for a period before moving permanently to the East End in the early 1990s. He owned a small home on the water in Remsenburg, and lived most recently in Westhampton. He studied environmental science at Long Island University’s C.W. Post campus, and worked at Photocircuits in Riverhead and Glen Cove for more than a dozen years before taking a job at Symbol Technologies in Hauppauge, where he worked for another 13 years. He later was employed for a time at Speonk Lumber, and most recently for SunStream USA in Hampton Bays.

Mr. Zorbo was also a faithful and devout Catholic, who taught religious education classes at the Church of the Immaculate Conception on Quiogue. He was also active in the Knights of Columbus.

“He was very warm, and he always had a positive attitude,” Ginny Zorbo, his former wife, said this week, explaining that they remained friends after separating. “He was an outstanding father and a devoted son.”

The Reverend Joseph Mirro, pastor of the Church of the Immaculate Conception, described Mr. Zorbo as an outgoing man who cared for others. Despite being ill, Mr. Zorbo went to the church the day after Hurricane Sandy made landfall in the fall of 2012 to ask how he could help, Rev. Mirro recalled. Mr. Zorbo then spent several days gathering food and clothing for those displaced by the storm.

Mr. Zorbo spent his summers in college surfing. That way of life wore off on both his sons, Justin, a lieutenant with the Fire Department of New York who lives in Montauk, and Chris Zorbo, 30, a professional lifeguard in Hawaii.

The family took plenty of trips to prime surfing locations, including Barbados, Tortola, the Dominican Republic, California and Hawaii.

“He used to take little kids out and set them on their way,” Justin Zorbo said, explaining that his father took many younger surfers, and even a few older, more established surfers under his wing. “He was definitely a fixture in the surf community,” his son said. “They’re his people—Long Beach to Montauk.”

Even on the coldest days in the middle of winter, when the surf and conditions were far from ideal, Mr. Zorbo would say, “I just gotta get wet,” his son recalled.

Tom Abbatiello, head lifeguard at Rogers Beach in Westhampton Beach, said he met Mr. Zorbo at Mary’s, a break near Lashley Beach, about 25 years ago. Almost instantly the two became close friends, along with Michael Palmer, another avid surfer from Westhampton Beach, who died in 2009 at age 58 following a two-year battle with cancer.

Mr. Abbatiello’s wife, Pam, a nurse who cared for Mr. Zorbo after he fell ill, described her close friend as “the nicest person you’d ever want to meet.”

“He never had a bad thing to say about anybody,” she added.

The couple said Mr. Zorbo was like family to them. “He hated to be alone,” Ms. Abbatiello said. “We just included him and he was always tickled.”

At age 63, Mr. Zorbo passed the rigorous ocean lifeguard certification test, a goal he set for himself while recovering from his first spat with illness. “I was there cheering him on,” Mr. Abbatiello recalled. “It was a very awesome thing to see.”

Mr. Zorbo spent that summer three years ago working alongside Mr. Abbatiello as a lifeguard in Westhampton Beach.

When he wasn’t surfing, Mr. Zorbo could be found on the dance floor, his friends and family said. “He would tear up the dance floor,” his oldest son recalled.

During their various trips to the doctor, Justin Zorbo would often ask his father if he had any advice to offer. Ultimately, though, his father always pointed to his life—how he enjoyed every moment and took pleasure in everyone he met—as the best advice he could give.

“He was so stoked on life—just a positive ray of energy,” Justin Zorbo said.

In addition to his two sons, Mr. Zorbo is survived by his parents, Fran and Gus Scutari of Syosset. Family and friends said he also leaves behind many broken hearts because “to know him was to love him.”

The family received friends at the Follett and Werner Funeral Home on Mill Road in Westhampton Beach on February 11. A funeral Mass was celebrated at the Church of the Immaculate Conception at 11 a.m. the next morning, followed by interment at the Westhampton Cemetery.

Memorial donations in Mr. Zorbo’s name may be made to East End Hospice, P.O. Box 1048, Westhampton Beach, NY, 11978, or the Surfrider Foundation, P.O. Box 2681, Amagansett, NY, 11930.

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