Surf’s up for the 44th year of the storied Cape Cod Oldtimers Longboard Classic
In the waning hours of an August afternoon, a line of nearly two-dimensional, vaguely rocket-shaped monoliths rises from the sands of Wellfleet’s White Crest Beach. Maybe 25 of them? Towering a good head or two, taller than anyone in the throng of some three or four hundred people who scurry and move about the sands with unexplained purpose. A megaphone barks out messages that carry and dissipate in the sound of waves, breeze and the chatter of voices all speaking at once. It’s sometime just after five o’clock, and an uninformed observer bearing witness from the mountainous dunes of the scene down below could be forgiven for wondering why so many folks have gathered when the beach has just closed for the day. The tide should be ebbing, about midway out, into the prevailing southwest breeze, and the collision of water and wind should charge the waves, pump up the chop.
Although over two hours remain before the sun ducks behind these dunes, already the landscape feels and looks somewhat magical, and some monoliths gleam in bright, festive colors, like lifeguard red, while others offer varnished wooden surfaces that wink in the sunlight. To the observer from a perch on high, the scene looks ritualistic, tribal, a Stonehenge on the beach, before the vastness of the Atlantic and its waves rolling in from the east. Now people are standing directly in front of these monoliths, and the crowd hushes as announcements ring out. There’s a pause as the assembled raise their phones or actual cameras, then the announcer continues. Suddenly, the people before the monoliths turn, embrace the sides of these structures, sling them under their arms, and dash into the water with them. The Cape Cod Oldtimers Longboard Classic is now live.
The Cape Cod Oldtimers Longboard Classic is an event that everyone who’s in the know understands, but to outsiders, it defies convention, and perhaps classification. As Peter Hartley wrote in a 1977 article for the Cape Cod Times, “Exactly what the third annual Cape Cod Oldtimers Surfing Contest was [as it was then named] never became completely clear—and it wasn’t even important.” Of real importance was, and still is, the overall vibe, the scene, the love of life, of the beach and of surfing. Now, in its 44th official year—47th if you include the three from 1971-1973—Oldtimers is like the beach itself; even though its sands have shifted over time, its essence remains true to its conception.
The beginnings of Oldtimers are a little foggy, or rather they have a lot to do with Kevin “Foggy” Foley. Foggy had been working and surfing at Jasper’s, the epicenter of the Cape Cod surf scene, in Eastham, since 1967, when owner Mike Houghton picked him up hitchhiking and offered him a job. Though California controlled most of the surf industry back then, shops like Nauset Surf and Jasper’s had developed followings—a cult-like (in the best, obsessed sense of the word) interest in surfboards—and the scene had gripped the Outer Cape. Foggy recalls midnight flights arriving in Hyannis, laden with boards. “People would come out to the airport to buy them, right there,” he says. At about this time, a young entrepreneur named Jim Jenks was starting a little apparel company called Ocean Pacific, or OP. Jenks wasn’t content to just stay in California. “They would drive from Arizona all the way along the Gulf, then up the East Coast,” Foggy recalls. In the winter of 1970, when Foggy was working as a ski patroller at Waterville Valley, Jenks came up to ski for a couple of weeks, and this is when the idea for Oldtimers began to gel. “Jim told me about a surf festival in California called the Stone Steps, where you had to drink a beer before each heat,” Foggy says. The following summer, 1971, Foggy and the rest of the crew at Jasper’s put on their version of the Stone Steps at Coast Guard Beach in Eastham. “I was one of the older guys—I was 24,” Foggy recalls, “so we called it the Oldtimers.”
While Foggy Foley admits to being the founder of Oldtimers, he says that it doesn’t mean much. “It had more to do with Jasper’s Surf Shop; there are hundreds of people on the Cape who wouldn’t even be here without that shop.” The first year, about 30 surfers participated, and news outlets even picked up the event. So in 1972, they did it again. This time, the contest had an added feature. “One of the lifeguards, Chris Hafferty, had a brother who was a helicopter pilot, and he had him drop him in from the air,” Foggy reports. It was stunts like this, along with the “surfers’ stomp” after-parties overflowing with beer and “wipeout” punch that helped propel Oldtimers forward. Jack Farley was a lifeguard buddy of Foggy’s from back home who arrived on the scene in 1967. “I’d work with Foggy helping fiberglass the skegs onto new boards,” he recalls. “I’ve been a participant and helper ever since the beginning.” In addition to his involvement, Jack was also named the 1987 “Old Timer of the Year,” and the one year that he didn’t surf, he earned the prestigious “Chicken of the Sea” award. Foggy would move on to working on boats, jobs that eventually would take him away from Oldtimers, but he still carries much fondness for the event.
Mike Houghton, the owner of the legendary Jasper’s, has been a key player not only in the beginning of Oldtimers but also throughout its evolution. Though Jasper’s is no longer in business, its alumni still help organize the event. At one point, Houghton even “bought” the name Oldtimers from Foggy. He and other organizers such as Allen “Big Al” Peterson and Kenny Norton guided Oldtimers through a number of changes. Houghton says, “Originally it was the Cape Cod Surfing Contest. Different shops promoted it, and it brought in teams from Connecticut, New Hampshire, Rhode Island. But it was getting too serious, so we changed it to be more for the local scene.” There are only a few real rules, such as no wetsuits, no leashes, and every board must be at least 9 feet in length. “But there also secret rules,” says Houghton. “Like if you’re trying too hard or getting too competitive, you’re not going to win. It’s more a gathering of the tribe than an actual competition.”
Also, in the spirit of fun, turning a profit was never the objective, but Mike and the guys at Jasper’s were starting to make money from Oldtimers, mostly through the sales of shirts and of tickets to surf movies that they’d play the night before. Since they didn’t really want to cash in on the party, they decided to incorporate Oldtimers as a nonprofit and donate the funds that they raised each year to Big Brothers Big Sisters. After Kenny Norton, one of the founders, passed away in 1980, organizers decided to use some of the money for a scholarship in Norton’s name for students who graduate from Nauset High. “The funds depend on how much we raise,” says Houghton. “One year it might be four students, or it could be two, or six. Our scholarship is different, though. We see grades from the first term, just to see that they went, and then we give money to help out with their second semester.”
The Oldtimers contest has since moved to White Crest Beach in Wellfleet, known in the old days as Surfers’ Beach or as Four-Mile, since it was four miles from Jasper’s. Lifeguard Mike Bentz, a former head guard and current co-head guard at White Crest, has participated “at least a dozen times in the lifeguard category. There are usually about 20 male lifeguards, and another group of women lifeguards.” All together, there are now 11 categories, with names like Social Security (surfers aged 62+), Corporate Office Types (40-49), Puppies (21-29), and, of course, Oldtimers (50-61). Awards, also unique, include Honorary Oldtimer, Rookie of the Year, and others.
2018 marks the 44th annual Cape Cod Oldtimers Longboard Classic, on Sunday, August 12 at 5 p.m. Bentz says, “A lot of people you haven’t seen all summer will turn up. Everyone will be showing off their old classic boards, and the parking lot is quite a scene. I look forward to seeing these guys every year—and to admiring the collections of boards.”