88-Year-old ‘Surfing Patriarch’ Rescued From Burning Brighton Beach Surf Shop
Richard Lisiewski, 88, the original owner of the Brighton Beach Surf Shop in Long Beach Township, could have lost his life if Matt Letts, deputy chief of the Beach Haven Volunteer Fire Co., hadn’t noticed that the attic of the second-floor apartment above the shop was on fire early Sunday morning, Jan. 22.
Letts was driving on Long Beach Boulevard near 86th Street just after 2 a.m. when he noticed smoke in the vicinity.
“I was driving south on the Boulevard, right around the time the fog was lifting,” said Letts. “It looked hazy in that area. I thought it was kind of weird, but they’re doing a lot of sewer work in the area and thought it could be just exhaust from one of the machines. I got a block or two past and smelt the smoke and immediately turned around.”
After calling in the fire to the Ocean County Sheriff’s Department, Letts kicked in the door of the residence to alert Lisiewski, who he then helped escort out of the building with local police.
“Richard was not aware. He was asleep; we had to wake him up,” Letts stated. “A couple minutes, probably less, after I went in, Long Beach Township PD officers arrived and assisted me as well.”
The fire was successfully put out with assistance from the Surf City, Ship Bottom, High Point and Stafford Township fire companies. The Beach Haven First Aid Squad and fire company auxiliary also responded along with the Ocean County Fire Marshal’s Office.
“I would just like to say I’m glad I was able to do what I’m trained to do,” said Letts. “I know anyone else with the training would do exactly the same thing. I’m very happy Richard was not injured at all. (It was a) classic case of ‘right place, right time.’”
Lisiewski, who began building the Matador and Collier surfboard brands commercially in 1962, originally opened the surf shop in 1966 as the Brant Beach Surf Shop on 34th Street in Brant Beach. The business was moved to its current location in 1981.
Lisiewski built wooden surfboards for his personal use as early as the 1950s, according to his daughter, Caroline Unger, of Ship Bottom. Lisiewski’s son, Michael, is the present owner of the business.
Although surf memorabilia dating back to the ’60s along with personal belongings were lost in the fire, Unger said the family is thankful that “our surfing patriarch” was safely rescued.
The cause of the fire is still under investigation by the fire marshall’s office.
— Kelley Anne Essinger