Mike Howes*

Long Beach Island was the last frontier of the Jersey Shore back in the 1930s. Wedged between Asbury Park and Atlantic City, the rugged and windswept barrier island had almost no development, save for a small tourism district on the south end and a smattering of bungalows to the north — most belonging to fishermen and hunters.

There was one locomotive trestle — but no paved roads or traffic lights, and not a surfboard to be seen. That changed in 1937, when surfing legends Duke Kahanamoku and Tom Blake gave a demonstration in Atlantic City. Long Beach Island teens Gordon “Mike” Howes and Henry “Stretch” Pohl were in attendance, and their suspicions were confirmed: it was possible to ride a surfboard on Jersey Shore waves. 

Up until that point, locals had been riding waves on whatever they could get their hands on, from canoes and belly boards to repurposed house doors. Howes was one of the early experimenters. Referring to his mother’s ironing board, he told the Los Angeles Times, “It was just about the length and size and shape to ride waves with.”

Howe and Pohl helped bring surfing to Long Beach Island, with Pohl organizing surf lessons and contests and Howes focusing on water safety. Together, they joined the Red Cross as water safety directors. In a 1975 article on water safety, The New York Times called Howes “one of the Red Cross’s most knowledgeable and experienced professionals.” The paper quoted Howes as saying, “There is no reason for young, healthy people to drown. They get in trouble because they panic. The whole key is understanding the water. And yet, to my knowledge, there are no educational programs in ocean swimming on the Eastern seaboard.”

During those early days of surfing, Howes and Pohl made it their mission to organize local water safety education classes for the Long Beach Island lifeguards, beach patrol, and even residents. They held countless demonstrations locally and regionally, teaching lifeguards about the rescue paddleboard and lifesaving techniques that are still relevant today. They also wrote myriad disaster preparedness articles and water safety manuals that were distributed around the world. 

Gordon “Mike” Howes was inducted into the East Coast Surfing Hall of Fame in 2000.