‘It’s about keeping the last little slice of history’

By on March 30, 2024

The Breakers on August 1, 1962.
Vermont Gilbert, Johnny Mausteller, Anna Kennis and Katie Mausteller all hang out in front of Katie’s cottage at the Breakers for their 4th of July bash a few years ago.
"The summer I lived there was 1980", remembers Jane Simmons Lawrence. "The guys that lived in the front cottage were all surfers. Most people in the cottages were college students. We all decided to have a luau party.
One of the cottages that was torn down.
Mary Schmader and Kelly Cassady, the last remaining residents at the Breakers.
Kelly Cassady’s Cottage.
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The Breakers on August 1, 1962.
Vermont Gilbert, Johnny Mausteller, Anna Kennis and Katie Mausteller all hang out in front of Katie’s cottage at the Breakers for their 4th of July bash a few years ago.
"The summer I lived there was 1980", remembers Jane Simmons Lawrence. "The guys that lived in the front cottage were all surfers.  Most people in the cottages were college students.  We all decided to have a luau party.
One of the cottages that was torn down.
Mary Schmader and Kelly Cassady, the last remaining residents at the Breakers.
Kelly Cassady’s Cottage.
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Recalling the heyday of the Breakers in Nags Head

By Maggie Miles | Outer Banks Voice

In the 1959 surf classic Gidget that helped bring surf culture to the mainstream, standing in his beach shack, easy going surfer Kahuna explains his counterculture lifestyle to the young and impressionable Gidget. “You mean you don’t work or anything?” she asks.

“That’s right, I’m a surf bum,” he tells her. “You know, ride the waves, eat, sleep, not a care in the world.”

His response reflected the unconventional, bohemian, anti-establishment lifestyle that many surfers live by. And that lifestyle is part of the legacy of the Breakers, a historic cottage court of small, rustic beach boxes located next to Galaxy Golf on Virginia Dare Trail in Nags Head. Built in the 1930s as an Inn for vacationers, the Breakers became a coming-of-age stop for young surfers, lifeguards, and local and visiting college kids and teenagers ready to ride the waves, eat, sleep, and most famously, party.

If you ask someone who was a young person on the Outer Banks between the 1960s and now, they may well have a memory from the Breakers. It was the first time they tapped a keg, the first time living on their own, first summer romance, first time staying up all night partying with live bands jamming into the wee hours before grabbing a board at sunrise to go catch a wave. The living was bare bones—no AC, no cable, no phones, stuff growing out of the carpet, crammed in like sardines. And they wouldn’t have it any other way.

“Youth, freedom, good times,” says Mark White, who lived at the Breakers the summers of 1990 and 1991 when he was 18 and 19 years old.

“The Breakers…ahhh, how do I even sum it up! It’s like living in a little beachside bubble that just stayed the simplistic same while the rest of the world around you seemed to be changing at lightning-fast speeds,” reflects Mary Schmader, one of the last of two residents who still live at the Breakers. “It represents a time in history that seems to be fading away from American culture.”

But while the property and cottages themselves haven’t changed (except for the wear and tear), they are vanishing. Originally built as a court of nine cottages, two of the last remaining four were knocked down in the past month, portending the end of an almost century-long era that recalls that original Outer Banks magic.

“The Outer Banks always had this allure unlike other beaches along the east coast. It is more raw, expansive, a secret little gem that was uninfluenced by the mainstream ways of the world around,” says Schmader, who has lived at the Breakers on and off since she was 17.

And while growth and modernity has certainly supplanted those olden days, the memories remain strong.

“From my high school days in early ‘80s till around ‘90 it was a go-to spot for ‘keggers’…at least in the summer months. The good ole days when college kids could come down and work and live cheap,” recalls long time surfer Rascoe Hunt of Gale Force Glassing.  “I met so many college girls between the breakers and ‘The Shacks’ [ at 5th St. and Beach Road] that live here now with careers and families…that became part of the fabric here.”

In the ‘90s, the Breakers became lifeguard housing for Nags Head Ocean Rescue employees, although non-lifeguards still inhabited some of the cottages. As it quieted down in the last decade, Holden McOwen got to experience the Breakers as a lifeguard during the summer of 2012.

“We would spend most nights at beach bonfires and lifeguard parties,” says McOwen. “We would wake up and check the waves at dawn, and if it was good, we would paddle out, then pass back out before work. We showered at Bonnett St Beach Access showers and jumped in the ocean every day. Life was simple, life was perfect.”

“The Breakers were basically a bunch of young, athletic, sun-kissed lifeguards, living our absolute best life,” says Vonnie Wescott, who lived there during the summers of 2004-2007.

And then there are the stories of debauchery that can’t be repeated. “What happened at the Breakers stays at the Breakers,” Joshua Everett told the Voice.

It also appears that partying contributed to the deteriorating condition of the cottages. Mark Small, who has owned the Breakers with his brother since the early 1980s, said that while tried to maintain the buildings as best they could, the parties ultimately won. But he’s okay with it.

“I know what sex and partying leads to. It’s kind of just the cost of doing business,” he laughs. “I was young once.”

Small remembers never knowing what he was going to find during his scheduled maintenance visits. Once, he recalls arriving with a crew for a scheduled roof removal and as he and his crew removed the first section of the roof, they found a man and woman staring up at them in their birthday suits.

“It was an incubator for burgeoning romance,” he recounts.

A few of them even got married, including Manteo residents Phil Forslund and Hannah McOwen Forslund. She didn’t live at the Breakers, but he did. She met him at a party elsewhere, but she came to a casual lifeguard hangout at the Breakers.

“And the rest was history,” says Forslund, remembering a few of the funny memories that they shared in those initial days. “Like one time the sink fell off the wall, and Phil and I had to scramble to put it back on the wall with water spraying at us.”

But it wasn’t always such a party house, according to Allen Berry, grandson and great-grandson to the original owners who built the cottages and lived on the property in two of the homes. He either lived at the Breakers with his parents or stayed with his grandparents on and off throughout the 50s and 60s.

He has fond memories of running around with the children vacationing at the cottages and getting invited to go see The Lost Colony a few dozen times. He’d walk down the street to Dowdy’s Amusement Park and work there operating the mechanical toys. As he became a teenager, Berry worked on his grandpa’s crabbing boat on the weekdays and helped clean the cottages on the weekends. And of course, like everyone else, as soon as he got home from work, he would grab his board.

“I would get home around 1 or 2 o’clock, grab my surfboard…lift it up to get it across the road and then drag it to the ocean and I spent the rest of the day in the ocean surfing. That was my daily thing was crabbing, surfing, working in the cottages and hanging around the neighbors that lived across the street. Just a very simple time,” says Berry.

As the future of the property is uncertain, Schmader and the other remaining renter, Kelly Cassady, are relishing what could be its final chapter, although Small says he’s not in any rush to sell.

Cassady says although the Breakers may be in what you could call its retirement phase, the magic of its history is still palpable. She says the past few years living there have felt like adult summer camp—though they’re still enjoying a few beers here and there. Known for their tiny size, Cassady says she likens it to living in a cozy little shoebox.

“You look out your window and see who’s there. It’s a sense of community and it’s like, you’re right there across from the best break on the beach,” says Cassady. “We wish we could buy it and retire here and have our little community together here forever. It’s about keeping that last little slice of history. It’s one of those places. It’s really special and you can feel how special it is. I’ll rent that cottage as long as he’ll let me.”

 



Comments

  • Parker Perkins

    Lived in the Breakers the Summer of 89. Before then in old house on Memorial behind old go cart track for 2 years. We were all from JMU/fraternity brothers — lifeguarding or waiting tables. Best summers ever. I still love OBX

    Saturday, Mar 30 @ 2:17 pm
  • Ronnie Ballance

    As a lifetime resident of the outer banks of some 70+ years now, my family knew the Parkers, Henleys, and the Berrys of the Breakers Cottages. Life was hard but much simpler in the 60’s. In the early 90’s I was fortunate enough to catch Mr Small the owners of the Berakers demolishing some of the old cottages. I asked Mr. Small if I could have a little 1 BR cottage before it was demolished, Mr Small informed ok as long as I could get it off the property before they got to the demo. I jumped at the chance to get a piece of history and as luck would have and with generosity of Julian and Steve Bray of Bray’s house movers, we quickly moved the old cottage from Nags Head to the rear year of my home in KDH where the last time I looked it sits today. I wanted to save a piece of the history of OBX and the Breakers. So part of the breakers cottages will hopefully live on. Another small piece of OBX history. Many of the cottages of the multiple cottage courts through out the outer banks were saved, moved and are being lived in today.

    Sunday, Mar 31 @ 6:18 am
  • 1990s teenager on obx

    I did not live there, however, my husband of 18 years did, and has told me some hilarious stories. I am a few years younger and I happened to work at the pink elephant, now galaxy golf and the surfslide. Snug harbor was right down the street (of course torn down now). Had to constantly round up employees to come to work at the breakers and snug harbor. Of course i am no Saint, I remember sleeping in a chair while people played golf at 9 am and woke me up to pay. Ugh, not a proud moment.
    Hopefully the land owner will consider something like tiny homes, because that is what these cottages were! Unfortunately, if I remember correctly Dare county doesn’t want to entertain having those.
    The breakers have survived and weathered many storms, and I applaud land/home owners who still cater to the wonderful workers who provide the community with the services they expect….or it’ll become another tragedy of evicting locals to get rental income of air bnb proportions. Doesn’t seem like the county is too concerned…
    After 40+ years of “whining” I guess I’m finding new accommodations as well, but definitely not in this county, very sad. I love the obx, but the red tape for the people that provide us/and our tourism are forced to leave.

    Sunday, Mar 31 @ 12:19 pm
  • Paulette P Ezzell

    Why not tiny homes?

    Monday, Apr 8 @ 1:41 pm