EASTHAM – On the floor of the now long-closed Jasper’s Surf Shop, which opened in 1967 in a garage behind a gas station, were several inches of Coast Guard Beach sand. You were, in spirit anyway, already at the beach when you walked in the door.
Propping open the door back then was an old oar known as “Bobby,” said Rick Weeks of Orleans.
On the land directly behind Jasper’s was a small cottage colony. Surfers, including Weeks for a time, lived there.
And when the waves weren’t good, as the story goes, on the grounds of Jasper’s there would almost always be several surfers in various stages of relaxation and story telling. There was, it is said, a vibe to the place.
In the middle of it all was Mike Houghton – “Houghty” to his many friends – the helpful and outgoing owner of Jasper’s. There he was and still is in so many memories, cracking jokes or telling his own stories while also renting, selling and even loaning out surfboards, sometimes to people he had just met.
“He was much bigger than he seemed at the time,” said Weeks, 73, who is now a professional surfer on Stand-Up Paddle. “Houghty had a big impact on how the Outer Cape evolved,” he said.
Houghton, who died in July at 80 years old, owned and operated Jasper’s for the 40 years that it was open – from 1967 to 2007. Jasper’s operated in two different locations – each for 20 years. The first location, with the sand floor, has grown into a legend through the years.
This is a story about Houghton and the community of surfers, lifeguards and others that he nourished by virtue of operating what longtime surfer Chick Frodigh, of Pembroke and Eastham, called, “the best surf shop I’ve ever been in.”
“What’s better than a surf shop with a sand floor?” said Frodigh.
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“Basically, Mike had the kindness to allow us all to live around his shop. There was no escaping it. There was a Jasper’s aura. I think his biggest influence was just allowing us to congregate and be kids,” said Weeks.
“That was the place to go,” said Willy “Wipeout” Lindbloom, 73, of Eastham. “The sand floor inside, all the surfboards, and the people.”
Mark O’Connell, 57, who grew up in Yarmouth and now lives in San Diego, discovered Jasper’s in the 1980s. He remembered the surf shop having “a positive cool mellow vibe. Everybody talking surfing. Everybody being helpful. And the cottages in the back with the hippies living back there. You could see the longboards leaning against the cottages in the back.”
“It was just a cool vibe, “ said O’Connell. “The more I went in, the more stoked I was.”
A lot of it had to do with Houghton and the atmosphere he created, said O’Connell. Houghton “was just a super cool cat that cared about everybody,” he said.
“The more I went in, the more stoked I was.” – Surfer Mark O’Connell
Ken Merrill of Dennis said, “I was new to surfing in 1987… I remember going in there and he was sitting in his little captain’s chair and he had this aura. It was like you were talking to somebody that was a surf legend.”
“The minute you stepped in that store, you were a surfer,” said Merrill. Merrill got so inspired by Houghton and surfing that he now owns more than 100 surfboards and has a museum of vintage boards in his basement.
“Mike’s attitude was good, clean fun,” said Weeks.
“The environment created by the surf shop came from Mike. He hired good people. Everybody that worked there was really nice. Those people attracted good people,” said Weeks.
“In the eighth grade, I was a pretty shy kid,” said Frodigh. “Walking into a surf shop was pretty intimidating. But Mike would immediately make you feel right at home. He was just a really nice guy, and kind of the cornerstone of surfing on Cape Cod.”
“Jasper’s was a place you could walk into and see the new boards, grab a magazine and talk to the guys. There was a social aspect of just being part of that scene,” said Frodigh.
And, of course, there was that sand floor. Matt Rivers, whose father was head lifeguard at Nauset Beach and thus grew up going to Jasper’s, remembers seeing the sand floor and thinking, “You can do this? This is a store? The sand floor, the couches, the keg parties. It was a genuine surf shop owned and run by surfers,” he said.
Rivers, who owns The Pump House Surf Shop in Orleans, which he opened in 1996, said Jasper’s was “just a hub. If you were coming to the Outer Cape to go surfing, if you didn’t stop there on your way to the beach, you stopped there after the beach.”
“Just to walk in and feel the sand between your toes and share a coffee with Houghty was special,” said Rivers.
“You would walk in there and people would just be sitting around on ripped beach chairs or on a driftwood log,’ said Houghton’s nephew, Nicolas Nobili, 55, of Eastham. Nobili worked at Jasper’s for many years. “And you could always count on potentially having a cold one,” he said.
“What Is This Place Anyway?” – A Story About A New Surfer
“One day the Coke machine broke down,” said Kevin Foley, the first employee hired by Houghton. “Well I saw the Coke truck across the street at the Mobil gas station so I went and got the guy,” he said.
“We had beer in the Coke machine, Schlitz and Miller. So the guy comes in and looks in the machine and asks, ‘Is that beer?’” recalled Foley, 75, of Wellfleet and Key West. “Mike goes, “We own the machine.”
The Coke driver said that since Jasper’s didn’t buy from him, he could not fix the machine. “The guy then looks around and he goes, ‘What kind of place is this anyway?” recalled Foley.
“It’s a surf shop,” came the answer.
The driver, intrigued, started asking questions and a short time later, that same day, he bought a surfboard and a wetsuit which he then stashed at Jasper’s for his future trips to the Cape in his truck.
“As time went on, it became more than a surf shop. It became a destination. In the back were the cottages. It was like a whole surf village.” – Kevin Foley, Jasper’s first employee
Also, before heading on his way that day, after talking surfing with Hougton, Foley and others, the driver fixed the Coke machine.
Later, said Foley, the driver would often stop at Jasper’s on his trips to the Cape. He would leave his truck behind the shop, and catch a ride from someone in Jasper’s to the beach to go surfing for an hour or so.
“A whole slew of people came through,” said Foley. “As time went on, it became more than a surf shop. It became a destination. In the back were the cottages. It was like a whole surf village.”
The little surf shop was well-known.
“People would hitchhike back in the 60’s,” said Frodigh, 69, who first discovered Jasper’s when he was in 8th grade.
“Guys would leave Boston for the Cape and one guy had a sign that just said, ‘Jasper’s’. He would get picked up in two minutes. Someone was always going to Cape Cod to go surfing, and they were always going to Jasper’s.” Hitchhiking with a ‘Jasper’s’ sign “was pure genius on that kid’s part,” said Frodigh.
Back in 2013, Houghton told Cape Cod Wave that surfing is best described by the 1963 Beach Boys lyric, “Catch a wave and you’re sitting on top of the world.”
“It’s invigorating, riding a wave,” said Houghton. “Once you do it, you’d go anywhere for the experience.”
It’s also fleeting, of course, of course. It happens and then it’s over.
Maybe that’s what happened all those years ago in and around Jasper’s Surf Shop. Houghton created a place, a perfect sandbar if you will, that then created its own wave. For many in the Jasper’s community, they were on the top of the world.
The magical memory of youth tells a story, accurate or not. There are versions. Mostly they add up.
“You get some of these surfers and they can tell you stories for days,” said John Milliken, 67, of Eastham. Milliken met Houghton when he was 10 and worked at Jasper’s for decades. “Some of [the stories] are even accurate” he said.
He warned Cape Cod Wave not to totally trust the stories from one person quoted in this story. “Buy a nice box of Kosher salt when listening to [the person in this story],” said Milliken.
Salt taken for all. But still. Mythologically, to the outsider learning of the scene, all of this is pretty awesome.
Milliken, whose uncle Tommy Dill, owned the building where Jasper’s was located and also the cottage colony behind it, said, “In some ways it was a magical era. But magic is something that has no explanation. The thing is, there was always a reason, a train of thought, a logic to it all,” he said.
The Stars Aligned – How A Summer Kid Opened A Surf Shop
Houghton was born and raised in Woburn, said Nobili. “His mom, my grandmother, was an art teacher,” he said.
“Mike, as a teenager, worked at a gas station in Woburn for a guy called Sonny, who he thought of as a second father in some ways. Sonny took him under his wing and yes, Mike did the same for a lot of us,” said Milliken.
“As a kid he worked in a gas station, washing windows, oil changes, that kind of thing. It exposed him to different fun cars,” said Nobili.
Houghton, who went on to become a football coach and a hockey coach as well as a teacher, was athletic. “He played semi-pro hockey at one time,” said Milliken. “I recall him saying he went up to Canada” where he hit his wall, said Milliken.
As a kid in the summers, Houghton came to the Cape. His father passed away when he was young, said Foley.
Houghton’s mother started coming down as a renter for summers in the 1940s, said Nobili. “After a few years of renting, Mike’s mother bought a house down here near the windmill in Eastham.”
“His mother, Frances, was a very cool lady,” said Milliken. She was “well read, which formed her kids. And unlike a lot, she had blended in here in ways many simply don’t.”
“Mike grew up down here in the summer,” said Nobili. “He kind of got to know the local kid’s culture – the fishermen and carpenters and all the hard workers.”
The Cape was just beginning to really open up then, and modern roads were still developing to allow people to get to the Cape in short time.
That was just one of the changes happening in the decade or two before Jasper’s opened, said Nobili.
Meanwhile, and this figures into the story of Jasper’s later, Houghton’s sister, Pam and her husband, Conrad Nobili – Nobili’s parents – bought 13 acres of dune on Coast Guard Beach in 1959.
Nobili’s father, Conrad Nobili, an architect and a graduate of Harvard graduate school of design, built a modern house not far from Henry Beston’s famous, simple Outermost house, which was the subject of a well-known book by Beston.
“The house on the beach became kind of a local marvel because it was so different,” said Nobili.
Houghton used to visit his sister and her family at that house, said Nobili, who was not yet born but has heard all the stories.
That first year, 1959, Nobili said the story goes that “somebody came down and put a surfboard in the water and nobody really knew what this was. My uncle [Houghton] was fascinated by it.”
“Then in 1960, the national park [the Cape Cod National Seashore] came into existence,” said Nobili. “All of a sudden there was a huge parking lot at the foot of the dunes. All of a sudden there was early 1960s freedom, and interest in travel because it was easier.”
“All that type of stuff was percolating in my uncle’s head,” said Nobili.
Back then, he said, parents used to take their kids to kite festivals. That was the thing in the 1960s on the East Coast. Not surfing.
But, as a California thing, surfing exploded in the early 1960s into popular culture. There were surf movies. There was surf music.
As Frodigh later pointed out, “Surfing is the only sport that has its own music. There’s no golf music, no hockey music.”
Surf music, and movies were emerging onto the national consciousness just as Houghton was becoming an adult and starting his career as a school teacher and coach.
Houghton was an athlete, a skier, and a surfer. He had the summers off and a connection to Eastham.
When Houghton came down in the summers, he worked at the local service station, said Nobili. “He got friendly with the guy that had the service station,” he said.
That was Tommy Dill, Milliken’s uncle. He was a partner, with Houghton, when they opened Jasper’s.
“I first met him when he was working at the gas station,” said Milliken. “I was 12.” Milliken recalled that near the gas station there was “a guy called Randy who had a plywood shack where he was renting out surfboards. Randy went away after about a year.” Houghton noticed, said Milliken.
At the time, the front half of the building was a gas station and the back half, which was a garage accessed by a garage door, was vacant.
There had been a lawn mower shop in there, said Milliken. “Before that, there was an alignment shop with a pit… In its heyday, you could build a car in there,” he said.
But at the time, the garage was empty. Randy the surfboard guy was gone, creating a vacuum a short ways from the beach. Houghton, young and ambitious with summers off from his teaching job, “thinks this is the perfect spot” to open a surf shop,” said Nobili.
Jasper’s Surf Shop Is Born, 1967
In 1967, Kevin Foley from Leicester was living in Orleans and working at motel and a pancake restaurant. He liked to surf.
One day, he was with his friend Andy driving to the beach to go surfing when their car ran out of gas on Nauset Road on their way to Coast Guard Beach.
“All these surfers came by and loaded Andy and our boards onto their car. There wasn’t room for me,” said Foley. So he hitchhiked to the beach.
“I was hitchhiking when a Corvette pulled up,” recalled Foley. “There was a guy and a girl in the front. That was Mike and his wife. I crunched in behind them.” They went to the beach. “I went surfing with him,” said Foley.
That day, “He told me he was going to open a surf shop,” Foley recalled.
Houghton showed Foley the empty garage behind Tommy Dill’s gas station. “He was just starting. He didn’t have any surfboards. The garage had a cement floor,” said Foley, who came on board as an early employee. First, they put a carpet on the floor “so the surfboards wouldn’t get banged up.”
“We decided to name it after the first person that walks in the door. Well Tommy Dill’s mother’s old basset hound walked in. His name was Jasper.” – Kevin Foley
They put the surfboards, best as they could, on skiing racks. “There were no surfboard racks,” said Foley. “The whole surfing industry was in California. There was nothing on the East Coast.”
As they were converting the garage into a surf shop, “We were trying to think of a name,” said Foley. After going through different options, “We decided to name it after the first person that walks in the door. Well Tommy Dill’s mother’s old basset hound walked in. His name was Jasper.”
“The first year, we only had ten boards,” said Foley. “We rented them out at ten bucks a day. We had no counter, just a table.”
Soon, the floor became covered with sand. The idea came from when Foley on a surf vacation saw a sand floor in a small surf shop in Florida. That surf shop is the now-famous Ron Jon surf shop, said Foley. “Mike was all for it,” said Foley.
“We just drove down to Coast Guard Beach. We had a four-wheel drive pickup truck and we backed it onto the beach. We did like two or three truckloads,” said Foley.
“That first year when I would go surfing, I would tell everybody about it,” said Foley.
“No one knew about it at first,” he said. “We didn’t even have a sign.”
But people found out. Word was spreading, often from Houghton and Foley. “If you are doing something that is healthy and you like it, why wouldn’t you want everybody to do it,“ said Foley.
“Surfing culture was just beginning,” said Foley. “It was just starting to take over. And at first, surfers didn’t have a good name. They wouldn’t work. They would steal food.” That was the image, said Foley.
“My mother said surfers are dirty,” said Foley. “I said, But Mom I’m going to be in the water for five hours a day.”
The bad image of surfers was somewhat widespread, said Foley. “There was a girl whose mom would’t let me go out with her because I was a surfer. She said I would only care about surfing, which was kind of true.”
He was mesmerized. He remembered going into to a newsstand Cambridge when he was young just to read the surfer magazines. “I’d read the magazine over and over again,” he said.
Working in Jasper’s, Foley had found a community of kindred souls.
Houghton was well aware of the magazines. He stocked them and, often, the boards featured in those magazines.
Surfers began to find Jasper’s. Word spread, plus there was now a sign. It was easy to see from Route 6. And, being behind a gas station, it had the natural ability to attract many who at first were just stopping to get gas.
They also saw a small cottage colony, owned by Dill, that was right behind the surf shop.
“When you made this slog of a trip down to the Cape,” said Nobili, “the first thing you saw that wasn’t a house was this gas station and Jasper’s surf shop.”
The Jasper’s community arose from “kind of a combination of location and timing,” said Nobili. “I think Mike had a good sense of what the vibe in the country was, as well as of surf culture and that mystique.”
“It was the 60s and 70s,” said Milliken. “We had just come out of wondering if they’re going to drop to a bomb on us, then thinking about are they gonna send our asses to Vietnam. So we didn’t care. What’s it matter if you end up dead in a rice paddy.”
Surfing, to many, is what mattered. Jasper’s offered an anchor of sorts. “Mike had the gift of gab,” said Nobili. “He loved talking and he made whoever it was, anybody, feel welcome and comfortable.”
“He was slightly older but not so much older that [surfers] didn’t identify with him. He was the cool older brother, or a little bit of a father figure,” said Nobili.
“He was the adult in the room,” said Milliken. “Mike was not a father figure, but a very benevolent uncle and sometimes the ringmaster, and God knows there were enough clowns.”
“He was in many ways the key to it all,” said Milliken.
“Kevin Foley had the classic Scooby Doo van painted with the Jasper’s logo,” said Nobili.
In the early days, Jasper’s had a competition surf team and Foley, Weeks and others traveled the East Coast in that Scooby Doo van, attending surf contests and connecting with the greater surf community.
Over time, said Foley, “lots of really great surfers came to Cape Cod to go Jasper’s. We treated them like heroes.”
Surfer Al Peterson, who later worked at Jasper’s, surfed in a few competitions on the Cape. He never traveled. “Before my heat, I’d be so nervous… Mike just looked at me and said, ‘You’re gonna be fine,’” he recalled.
Nobili and his brother, Conrad, grew up in their father’s modern house on the dunes of Coast Guard Beach. The house, built by his father, Conrad Nobili, was known as “Conrad’s beach house,” said Nobili.
Houghton would often give directions to surfers to walk down the beach to that house, where there were often good waves. Nobili was a child at the time.
“It had a great break,” said Nobili. “He would send surfers down to our beach house. That became a destination for some of his quote-unquote clients.”
Nobili’s family welcomed the surfers, he said. “It was like I had all these other older brothers,” said Nobili. “There were college kids, some rowers from Columbia, some of them were local kids,” he said.
“Every now and then, my parents would quote-unquote adopt them for the summer. They’d pull out a sofa, give them a place to sleep. They showed up by default by the virtue of my mother being Mike’s sister,” said Nobili.
“This all kind of informed my brother’s and my upbringing, the idea that the beach house was a very fun, summer thing. Lifeguard related. The lifeguards would do their run down beach for exercise. They’d run a mile down the beach, sit on our porch for ten minutes and then run back,” he said.
Looking back now, Nobili said, “It was a moment in time. It was absolutely priceless.”
The beach house was destroyed in the blizzard of 1978.
Though others were sad, Nobili recalled, “My father was laughing. ‘Before I built it,’ he said, ‘I figured it would last ten years. I cheated the ocean by eight years,” he said. Those last years were when Jasper’s first opened.
After the house washed away, Nobili at 12 and his brother Conrad at 15, moved with their family to the center of Eastham, and both began working at Jasper’s. By then, Jasper’s was renting sailboats and the Nobili kids were helping mount them for Houghton.
Everyone remembers those years forever, of course. Young adulthood. Your twenties, finding your way as an adult, is an intense time. The fact that these years are engraved in the minds of the people in this story is not all that unique.
What is unique and almost unbearably cool is where and how some of the people in this story lived those years.
“I was in the middle cottage,” said Mary Rimavicus, 71, of Eastham. She was in the cottage colony in the summers of 1969 and 1971. “I spent a ton of time at the surf shop. I made a ton of friends. I loved Mike and his wife, Carol. Mike was funny, but a little bit older. You could talk to him. He was just a great guy.”
“He allowed everything to happen,” she said.
“There was a bulkhead at Jasper’s, right outside the door. That bulkhead, all of us would just sit there and hang out,” said Rimavicus.
“We would sit on that bulkhead for three hours a day,” said Weeks. “It’s where we all hung out. We’d check in every day… Just talking, shooting the shit. It wasn’t a day if you didn’t check in there.”
Peterson, 67, of Eastham, first started going in when he was 12. “The bulkhead guys were the guys I wanted to be when I was growing up,” he said. “If I was stopping by to rent a board, I’d eavesdrop to find out what these guys are talking about,” he said.
“That was a culture of its own, just to hang out on that bulkhead,” said Nobili of the bulkhead culture that he saw as a child visiting his uncle’s shop. It was still going strong when he started working at Jasper’s in 1978. “That was a collection point for some of these kids. There was some stability.”
“We had all these characters,” said Foley. “They just showed up and we accepted them.”
It is the oddest business strategy, but it worked. “Everybody that was hanging around was good for business,” said Weeks.
Surfers were cool, and cool sells. Foley recalled young men stopping by to rent a surfboard to put on top of their car “just to meet girls.”
Thus, having a bunch of surfers hanging around the surf shop was, in fact, brilliant marketing. But it was more than that, and marketing wasn’t even the point. These were friends.
“Everybody kind of respected him,” said Peterson. “There were no boundaries set. Everyone just kind of knew that Mike was running a business.”
“He absolutely loved it,” said O’Connell. “He loved the people that were hanging out.”
In fact, often people who didn’t work there would help customers. “It was free labor,” said Peterson.
Jamie Demetri, manager and buyer for The Pump House, a surf shop in Orleans, bought her first surfboard from Jasper’s when she was in high school. Houghton, she said, “has always been kind of a permanent fixture in the surf culture, and in Eastham.”
That presence had an effect on her, she said. Demetri remembered going to Jasper’s and “seeing these seeming adults doing things that adults aren’t supposed to do, like being asleep in the middle of the day in a beach chair in a surf shop.”
It was then, Demetri said, that she realized life offered more options than she had been led to believe. “The whole point of Jasper’s was to show you didn’t have to follow the rules our society said you have to. You don’t have to work a 9 to 5 job. It doesn’t have to be a sterile environment. You can really enjoy your time.”
Houghton, said Demetri, realized business “wasn’t just about making money. He created a safe space where people could be happy. Mike would always keep his eye on the underdog, people who fell through the cracks, who didn’t fit into the box you’re supposed to fit into. He gave permission for people to live a less traditional lifestyle.”
Through the years, said Demetri, “I’ve gained a better understanding of exactly what was happening at Jasper’s. The surfers weren’t just sleeping in beach chairs. It was a different lifestyle. There’s more to it than there was on the surface.”
Demetri, now a member of the Eastham Select Board, said, “I’m happy that I get to run a surf shop for a chunk of the year.”
“Like walking into The Tonight Show.”
“When you walked into Jasper’s, he just made you feel at home,” said Frodigh. “You’d see all these beautiful boards. You’d be like a kid in a candy store.”
But there was another aspect of Jasper’s,” said Frodigh. “It was like walking into The Tonight Show. They were always in there cracking jokes, giving each other jabs.”
“The best thing about Mike is that he had the best sense of humor,” said Rimavicus.
Houghton gave everyone nicknames, said Milliken. Among the nicknames Cape Cod Wave heard of were people called, “Foot,” “Foggy,” “the Pinheads,” “Crouch,” and “Stretch.”
“He had a wonderfully dry wit,” said Milliken about Houghton. “He could zing you and you wouldn’t know it for a few hours. It was that dry.”
Rivers said when he opened The Pump House in 1996, Houghton was very helpful and supportive, but he also remembers Houghton “always teasing me about using the vacuum and sweeping.”
“He had a gentle wit about him,” said Weeks. “What started as a chuckle would bring you to your knees, the way he could come back.”
The life of a surfer back then seems to have generally gone like this: In the daytime when there were waves, they were surfing. When there were not waves, they were hanging out at Jasper’s. Nights were spent at various restaurant jobs.
And nights off, there were parties.
Lindbloom, aka Willie Wipeout, threw the biggest ones. They were epic by all accounts.
Lindbloom talks of “three big ones.” There were a few hundred at the first couple, and “the next one, on the Fourth of July, we had a thousand people.”
There was a band, kegs of beer, and a special concoction of Lindbloom’s that included several alcoholic beverages, and some fruit and ice. He called it “Wipeout.”
He still makes it and brings some every year to the Cape Cod Oldtimer’s Longboard Classic. (Because research is important, this unbiased reporter can report that Wipeout is delicious.)
Lindbloom, said Milliken, may have paid his way through college by selling tickets to his parties. And, said Milliken, Lindbloom was thorough in his planning.
“He’d have it in a fairly isolated place, but then Willie would go around to all the neighbors and tell them about it and invite them, and if they didn’t want to go, he would give paid restaurant reservations for the date of it so they wouldn’t have to be home and hear it. It wasn’t adversarial, it was cooperative,” said Milliken.
Beyond the legendary parties at Wellfleet’s Duck Harbor or “the gut,” it seems every day was a party at Jasper’s.
“Someday, I’ll write a book called, ‘A Party Every Night’ because there was,” said Milliken.
“There was a giant party circuit,” said Weeks.
Sometimes at Jasper’s, there was a film and then a party.
“Surf movies would go around from town to town. The filmmakers would rent a hall, usually in cahoots with the local surf shop. When the movie “Endless Summer” came through, Mike sort of sponsored it,” said Milliken. That was at Eastham Town Hall, he said.
But often, films would just be shown behind the surf shop, he said.
“If the waves weren’t good, we’d all come to Jasper’s and drink beer and show surf movies. We’d use the garage door as the screen for surfing movies,” said Foley.
“We had a lot of parties and stuff,” said Foley. “Everybody just drank beer. We didn’t do any drugs, said Foley.
When Eastham Was The Wild West – “It was a different time back then.”
“We had a damn good time masquerading as a business,” said Milliken.
“And it was a very different world,” he said. “Nowadays, I’ll sometimes see an old dog sitting with a bunch of young puppies saying something like, ‘Bear in mind, you couldn’t get away with any of that now. It would rain on you big time.’”
“There were two crazy lifeguards who worked for the town,” said Milliken. “They had a thing going on between then and the cops. One had a motorcycle and he drove it around town and they had eight millimeter movies of the cops chasing them around town.”
“Back then, everybody knew everybody. Now, there’s enough cops in the town of Eastham to fend off a German invasion. That’s why you can’t do what we did back then.”
“It was a different time back then,” said Nobili. “One of the guys would say he was too hungover to deliver a boat and so I would take the van at 14 years old and drive to Campground Beach and pick up a sailboat.”
“I don’t want to say it was the wild west,” said Milliken. “But Eastham was a town of 600 people that no longer exists,” he said.
Despite the stories of nightly parties, Foley said, “We lived a pretty clean lifestyle. We were runners. We ran the Boston Marathon with some surfers,” he said. And, of course, they were surfers.
Lifeguards & The Softball Game
The lifeguards at the Cape Cod National Seashore became part of the Jasper’s community by the second year in business when Houghton got into supplying bathing suits to lifeguards at the Cape Cod National Seashore, and then at all the National Parks, said Foley.
The lifeguard suits were good for business. Houghton diversified. Besides surfboards and boogie boards and sailboat rentals, and the bathing suits, he became a partner in a T-shirt shop.
But Jasper’s was still just a little shop with a sand floor located behind a gas station in a small New England town.
When people from off Cape would call Jasper’s to order bathing suits, “they thought they were dealing with some big corporation,” said Weeks. “Mike would answer the phone and when they asked for Mike he’d say, ‘I’ll get him,’ and then say ‘Paging Mike Houghton’ and wrinkle papers like it was going through a microphone.”
When Patty Pike Greene, who is still a lifeguard at 55 years old, first became a lifeguard after arriving for the summer from her home in Troy, New York, in 1987, she was directed to stop at Jasper’s. She was told she should introduce herself and pick up her bathing suit.
She would be staying at lifeguard housing. “It was shit for housing, but it didn’t matter. You were staying on the Seashore. It was fantastic,” she said. Upon meeting Houghton at Jasper’s, she recalled that Houghton knew the reputation of each of houses.
“He’d be sort of the tour director,” said Greene. “There’d be a twinkle in his eye and he’d be laughing. He knew where all the crazy older lifeguards used to live,” she said.
Inside Jasper’s, Greene found “an eclectic group of dudes in there on the sandy floors.”
Over time, she said, her and other lifeguards “started getting invited to happy hours on Friday nights at Jasper’s.” And Houghton impressed her as “the quintessential Cape Cod dude who knew everything about everything. Just to hear the stories and hear the folklore of years gone by was a treasure,” she said.
And through the years, she said, Jasper’s was always the first stop I would make every year” when she returned each summer to lifeguard, and her last stop on the way home to upstate New York.
One of the highlights of those summers stood out to her were the weekly softball games.
For 50 years, Foley said, there has been a Monday night softball game between a Jasper’s team and a rotating roster of two different lifeguard teams from different beaches, as well as a team anyone can be on. Jasper’s is in every game, said Foley. The other teams take turns as the opponent, he said.
“It’s still going on,” said Foley, even though Jasper’s closed in 2007.
When Greene first arrived as a lifeguard, she recalled being told by Houghton, “See you at the softball games.”
Greene recalled one particular game that, after the game ended, “we decided to keep the party going.”
“I was maybe 40-something at the time,” she said. “Well one of the lifeguards pulled out a home-made slip and slide, a half-assed trash bag kind of thing,” she said. “And nobody was doing anything with it,” she said.
“So Houghty looked at me and said, ‘Patty, get them going. Bring it up a notch.’”
“For you, Houghty,” she said to him.
“So I stripped down to my underwear and bra and went on the slip and slide. Everybody joined in, sliding over the rough bumpy ground with rocks and exposed roots. We ended up bruised and banged up. I had huge bruises on my legs and hips,” said Greene.
“He always encouraged the mischievous, but it was clean. It was borderline, but he wanted to see the crazy joyful lifeguards,” she said.
“I am so thankful for the joy and laughter,” said Greene, “and also the ridiculous, and that twinkle in his eye.”
The Oldtimer’s Longboard Classic
In 1974, Houghton started Oldtimer’s Longboard Classic, a surf contest/party at the end of summer.
The surf contest with several age group categories was not about the age of the surfer, but rather the 1960s longboards and 60s surf culture.
“The Oldtimers contest wasn’t really a contest,” said Milliken. “It was a bunch of us getting together after the season to say, ‘Oh shit, we survived,’ and have a few beers and see people you haven’t seen all year because they’ve been working their asses off too.”
At the contest, there is always an announcer that injects humor into the event. In recent years, it has been Edward Gurnett. In the early years, the announcer was Houghton.
“There was a lot of talking,” said O’Connell. “If you fell off of the board, there was a joke. He would come up with some quip and the whole beach would be laughing but of course you wouldn’t hear the joke because you were in the water.”
While the contest began as simply an end of summer party, it has since morphed into a fundraiser for Big Brothers Big Sisters of Cape Cod & the Islands. Some of the money raised also goes to the Kenny Norton Scholarship Fund — named for a former employee of Jasper’s.
While Houghton had always organized and run the Oldtimer’s Classic, in recent years before his death, the Pump House had taken over many of the duties. “Once he closed his doors, it was such an honor for him to approach me and ask, ‘Hey, would you help carry the torch of this contest,” said Rivers.
“It’s a lot of work, but it’s an honor,” said Rivers.
“With the Pump House taking over, they are still young,” said Peterson. “It can go on another 40 years.”
After Houghton passed away, several surfers gathered to do a traditional memorial paddle-out to honor his life. Milliken did not attend. “That’s west coast kumbaya bullshit that he and I did not subscribe to,” he said.
Still, whether Houghton subscribed or not, many felt moved to attend. Maybe it was just kumbaya bullshit. But maybe it was to trade stories, laughs and memories. There’s certainly a rich catalogue of all.
“I can’t tell you what Mike meant to the surfing community, but I can tell you what he meant to me,” said Milliken. “He was always kind. He always watched out for you. He always had your back.”
As for surfing, Milliken said Houghton “liked it. He wasn’t very good at it.”
But he wanted others to love it. O’Connell remembered going into Jasper’s and being curious about surfing. “I asked if I could rent a board. He said, “Here, take this one.’ He didn’t even charge me. It was the second time I met him, the second time I was in the store.”
“We watched out for each other,” said Milliken. “Mike watched out for everybody.”
Peterson remembered, “All the guys would come in. There were different groups. He wouldn’t be close with any one group. He was close with all of them equally.”
“There wasn’t one person that knew Houghty that didn’t love him,” said Rivers. “He just had a way with people.”
“I’m going to miss him terribly,” said Greene. “It’s going to be a whole different ballgame. We owe him by continuing nonsensical joy that surfers bring.”
Demetri said, “He created the foundation… It’s our responsibility to keep that structure sound.”
“I am grateful for all the joy and laughter, and also the ridiculousness,” said Greene.
As Weeks said, summing it up for many Cape Cod surfers, “Jasper’s was a thing you needed in your life every summer.”
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I remember as a kid hearing the stories and seeing the pictures wishing I was around in those days. To be a surfer back then on the Cape must of been something truly special. I know the equipment wasn’t as good as what I grew up on but I know the stoke was just as good if not better. The stories i heard made me want to have epic surf stories of my own. And I think allot of us cape groms got some pretty dam good stories. Some of my first memories were Jaspers sand floors.
My dad (bug sully) was my idol in and out of the water. He was a jaspers team rider and also the spirit of cape cod surfing.
I have much respect for all my fellow cape surf locals. It’s not easy to be a surfer on the cape. But it is definitely rewarding.
My name is Frank Spencer. I have an absolutely beautiful classic Jaspers Surf Shop Eastham, Mass
Light blue front pocket style t-shirt with an awesome sun design and surfer on the back.
One of my favorite t-shirts of all time. I probably got it multiple decades ago. Great t-shirt…..it’s as much a credit to t-shirts as it is to surfing.
I’m age 64 now and possibly one of the worst “surfers “ there ever was. Even the fact of living less than a mile away from the beach in Daytona Beach, Fla in the 1960s………..I could never even manage to standup and catch one single ripple.
I was no better on Cape Cod in the 1970s……………..I was much better at buying t-shirts…………..Then a career as an accountant.
I live my Endless Summer Surfing Fantasy by owning my vintage Jaspers Surf Shop t-shirt.
My dreams might not completely disappear…………Possibly at the Senior Center whirlpool bath I can hop on my board and finally Catch a Wave.
Never let your dreams disappear ( at least not your surfing t-shirt).
Frank C. Spencer