Darryl Wood- Can’t Hide the Stoke

 

                        DARRYL WOOD- CAN’T HIDE THE STOKE

I was heading for my first surf session in the Great Northwest, my truck following Darryl Wood’s truck on the winding backroads west of Port Angeles. It was February of 1979, air temperature about 38 degrees, and I had thought I’d left my surfing life, and what it had become, occasional and too-city-centric, back in San Diego.

But then, a month into my new life, a storm that destroyed the connection from the Olympic Peninsula to the rest of the state set up my connection to Darryl, early northwest surfing pioneer, trailblazer, a guy who actually learned to surf in the frigid waters, who had attacked the rude waves of Westport, Point Grenville, Seaside, and a dozen spots, some still secret, in a short john wetsuit. 

Darryl, de facto leader of the small tribe on the Straits of Juan de Fuca, was another commuter riding on the hastily-set-up passenger-only boat across the Hood Canal. What had, a week before, been a tour boat had a route within sight of the still-connected half of what had been the world’s longest, at over a mile, floating bridge. The Olympic Peninsula half of the concrete and steel structure was separated at the middle, pushed, the connecting structure acting like a twisting hinge before it gave way, the  bridge sunk in seven hundred feet of water by the combined pressure of sudden-and-focused waves driven up a forty mile fetch by hurricane strength winds, a radical outgoing tide.

Darryl and another Port Angeles guy (whose name, sorry, I’ve forgotten) were workers on a construction project at the Puget Sound Naval Shipyard in Bremerton. Six or eight other Civil Servants, split between several carpools, and I were on the same boat.

Yeah, a literal usage of the old metaphor.

The State of Washington had set up a bus on the civilized side, and, and it was another half hour on a bus, each way, plus delays. People talk.

“No surf?” Darryl laughed. “No, you’re right; there’s no surf.”

But, this the next weekend, there we were, me with a borrowed wetsuit, my sister’s board (the only one I hadn’t sold) in the back, no gloves, no hood, following Darryl. And then, up a hill, with a slolom-like gravel road ahead down and around trees and stump farms, a flatter plain in the distance, then a line of trees, then water; the truck ahead of me stopped. I stopped. Darryl, a guy who seemed, to me, extremely calm, ran over, opened the passenger door on my vehicle.

“Isn’t this exciting? Are you excited?”

It was. I was.  

Then again, neither of us were even trying to hide the stoke.

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Tim Nolan and the Wave of the Day

TIM NOLAN AND THE WAVE OF THE DAY

“Isn’t there an age limit on surfing here?” Erwin Dence, 2005, Twin Rivers parking area, Straits of Juan de Fuca.

Tim Nolan was loading his boards with another older fellow, both of whom responded to the question by checking out who asked it. I was a mere fifty-five years old at the time and had been back into surfing for less than a year.

Tim was sixty-one. Like most of the surfers north of Santa Cruz and north of forty, he was a refugee. In Tim’s case, he  had learned to surf in Palos Verdes.  He studied boat design and engineering in college, owns a business designing boats,  and, like many of us, had a portion of his life in which he wasn’t surfing. “The trick,” he said, “ is to never quit.”

“Yeah, well; I never quit; I just realized at some point I hadn’t gone in eight or, maybe even ten years.”

Then, properly introduced in that surfers-in-a-parking-lot way, I asked if I could expect, or even had a chance at a worthwhile surfing future, considering my advanced age and all.

Taking an appropriate time to consider, Mr. Nolan said, “Your best years of surfing are ahead of you.”

Slow-forward to January 1, 2013. I arrive at the same beach an hour and a half after first light on a stormy-looking day. Long walls are breaking, some up to head-high on the sets. Tim, on his SUP, is the only one out. I yell a greeting from the parking area as he finishes up a wave in the shorebreak.

When I get suited-up and out, he says, “You must be hardcore.” “Why?” “Because you’re here.” Then he takes off on a couple more from sixty yards farther up the reef than my line up spot, goes in, gets dressed, drives away. Knowing something about him, and how long he typically stays out, I can only theorize he must have gone out at dawn. And now he’s driving seventy miles and probably going to work. Harder core.

Moving to the middle of February, Archie Endo, Stephen Davis and I are surfing Port Angeles Point. The slow curve of the coastline and the steep angle of the swell combine to offer long rides close to a rough and rocky beach. After almost four hours, an equal number of in-the-tube thrashings and long drop/tube/walls, and several come-from- behind-to-the-wall rides, the long ones followed by the walk back up the beach, I can’t talk myself into crashing even one more time through constant sets to get outside.

I watch Archie parallel stance through sections, ease into a few turns down the waves, riding almost to the next takeoff spot around the curve, Muskets. After each ride, Archie paddles back against the current. Tanya, who went out slightly ahead of me, has also paddled back after each long ride. In the lineup I  told her someone should make an action figure in her image, not adding that her husband, Cash, had done the ‘walk back’ at least once before heading almost a half mile back toward the Elwha River to hit some possible rights.

Steve, for only the second time, is walking back up the beach. When I tell him I thought we were supposed to save a little for maybe surfing somewhere else, he says he’s got nothing left. Then he points out that fellow Port Townsendites Wade and Derrick, who were supposed to also ride with us, are out. Then he paddles back out.

As I walk back toward Steve’s van I notice some crazed SUPer, paddling, fifty yards off shore, in this direction. When he comes almost even with me, on cue, one of the biggest sets of the day approaches. It is at this point I recognize the paddler is Tim Nolan. He catches the first wave, farther out and sixty yards farther up the point than any wave caught this day. He leans back into it, paddle stuck hard under the lip.

Later, Steve would say, witnessing the ride from the regular takeoff area; “He was SO slotted.” From my angle, Tim rode on, and on, and out of sight. I have every reason to believe he connected with Muskets and just kept going.

On my way home I decide to call Darryl Wood, the first person I surfed this place with, just about this time of year, 1979. The call is partially to tell him P.A. Point is just as challenging, just as rewarding. Though I surfed there several more times that year, and have surfed the rivermouth side many times, I haven’t surfed this very spot since.

“I was out,” Darryl says; “at Muskets. It was better yesterday.” He asks if I Kneeboarded some waves. I admit I did. “I saw you. You got some pretty nice rides.”

Wow. Rare praise indeed. So, the next day, working in Port Townsend, I stop off at Tim Nolan’s office. He’s not there, so I tell one of his employees about the ride I saw. “He did say he got some long rides,” the employee says.

“Well, just tell him I saw him wailing,” I say.

Long indeed. Steve and I have now decided a long ride will be referred to as a “Nolan,” a very long ride as a “Full Nolan.” Something to aspire to now that I’m the very age he was when I first met him.

So, Tim; never quit.

Who Told You I Was Naked?

                        Who Told You I Was Naked?

 “And God said, “Who told you that you were naked?’” Genesis, Chapter 3, verse 11

 We’re all pretty sure God’s voice sounds like, and this is a little dependent on our age relative to Creation, John Huston (“Adam, where are you?”- acting as if he didn’t know), or James Earl Jones (“Luke, I am your fa-thuh.”), or maybe like an amplified voice of a deep-voiced policeman.

 I kind of believe God’s voice, this being pre-English, and, really, pre-language, probably sounded more like the language of dolphins, or whales. It’s not like I’ve heard God, but I have heard the recorded voices of John Huston, James Earl Jones, and an amplified deep-voiced policeman or two. “Do not get out of the vehicle.”

 That is not really relevant to this story. Really.

 And so it was, on a sunny-but-cold day, in an otherwise deserted parking area many yards from where I had been surfing, I was sort of half-leaning on the driver’s side of my mini-van, the vehicle pulled forward and tight against the shrubbery-covered rise.

 I was at that most vulnerable part of the wetsuit-stripping process, getting the legs over and off the feet, the rest of the suit inside-out on the pavement. Because I was alone I was not wrapped in the iffy-at-best towel. It has been my experience that towels, held by body pressure against a fragile tuck, are prone to falling, fully, to the ground, at pretty much this exact moment, and, because underwear is (are?) just one more thing to try to get dry in the northwest cold/damp, I was naked.

 Spiritually, technically, legally; my condition of undress was the very definition of ‘naked’ at the exact moment that the yellow school bus appeared. It had taken the two mile trip from the main road, obviously on a mission, had come down the last hill, and was just rounding the last curve onto the entrance/exit end of the flat, barely-wider-than-one-lane-dead-end-road/parking area.

 I did say I was on the farther side of the van, right? Still, I was scrambling- pull, step, pull, my clothes on the driver’s seat. By this time the bus, still 75 yards away, was parking, parallel to the bank, and was unloading. “Towel, towel, where’s my towel?”

 Now, I do believe I had a wool cap on.

 What to do? Do I jump inside, most of my black non-superhero surf suit caught in the door, pulling my clothes over me, wait until the group passes?

 No, in desperation I moved faster; bent down, yanked the now-knotted legs, one at a time, off. Now, it would be amusing if, at that moment, someone walking several dogs appeared from the beach side. Nope, not this time. Pullllll, pull, kick, get those now-bunched, now-clinging undies onnnnn!

 Yeah, I was fine as the group approached; shirtless, maybe; embarrassing enough; rude, but not, technically, illegal. Did I mention I had a cap on? And, thankfully, the school bus had been filled with adults.

 “Surfing, huh?” “Uh huh.” “You must wear a wetsuit.”  I pointed to the dirtied, black pile. No more than one passing adult appeared shocked. Maybe two. The others, well, they were going on a field trip to observe beach wildlife.

 An improvement in wetsuit removal I just learned, and not a second too soon, involves pulling the bottom of the legs tight, then slightly over the heels. The step-pull-step-pull method becomes so much easier, even with the tucked towel barely holding.

 I did once have a terry cloth robe I could wear during beachside/roadside wetsuit removal. But, hanging it in a dampish garage to dry, it, instead, got sort of mildew-y. Besides, it kind of made me look like a pervert.

 Thanks for reading.

Tom Decker and Jeff Parrish

                        TOM DECKER AND JEFF PARRISH

“You almost killed your buddy. You’re a kook and you shouldn’t be surfing here.”

Jeff Parrish is married to Ruth (formerly Hodgson) a schoolmate of my daughter, Dru, so, yeah, I’m about Jeff’s father’s age.

Jeff and I had a few (each memorable) sessions on the Straits, he coming from Seattle, a ferry and thirty miles before I had to leave home to rendezvous at Discorery Bay. Or, several times, usually around Christmas, he would be at his in-laws’ house.

Frustrated with trying to ride a thruster in typically small conditions, he purchased a long board on Craigslist. This day was probably his second or third time on that board.

Jeff was, he said, so desperate for surf that, when we met at McCleary, he agreed to do the driving. He wanted to try Point Grenville, one of the first places surfed in Washington, a place off limits to non-natives for years.

Because my son Sean had worked on his Masters in Public Administration degree at the Evergreen State College in Olympia along with those in a concurrent Tribal Program, I had checked out Point Grenville. Since nobody told me I couldn’t, while Sean was busy, I walked out onto the beach. I could see how it might be good, imagine hippie/surfers camping on the bluff.  

After Jeff and I made the hour drive from Aberdeen, we saw as much as we could from the bluff, then went to town to get a one day pass or something. With most of the folks on the Reservation busy with a funeral, the person on the other side of the glass at the police station said, “Just go. Just today, though. Huh?”

We drove across a couple of little creeks to the far end, a little hook of a bay. We could paddle across to a point with what looked like four footers breaking with some shape. I was for it. Instead, we drove an hour back to Aberdeen, twenty miles farther to Westport.

Days at Westhaven State Park can be divided into two categories: Days you can paddle out through the waves, and days when you must either paddle out along ‘the wall’ or jump off the jetty. This was a ‘wall’ day, six feet plus, with, maybe, five guys out. One of those guys, we would soon discover, was Tom Decker, long known as one of several local enforcers.

Another surfer was making the long walk from bluff to water at about the same time as Jeff and I. He was telling me about how he’d just ripped it up at the Groins on his new board; but now the tide was too high, and, oh, hadn’t he seen me before at Twin Rivers? Probably.

Paddling next to the jetty isn’t exactly easy, either. There’s still a version of the extra-deep Westport impact zone, bouncy chop, waves to duck under or crash through. Partway out I heard the unmistakable sound of a surfboard smacking full-on into a rock. The owner of the board was swimming. “My son’s out there. Tell him I’m going in.”

“Okay.” I never saw his son. Once I thought I’d made it out I was instantly confronted with an outside wave. I turned turtle, and, I swear, instead of being pushed back but clearing the wave, my big board me hanging onto the rails, was lifted, straight up, just like a submarine broaching way too fast. Or, think whale rider, upside down.

The waves offered two options: A quick left toward the jetty, or a longer right, followed by trying to fight back out. The longer the ride, the worse your chances. So, catch the soup in, battle the wall back out. And, seconds after getting back out again, there’s another outside wave. This is another Westport feature; a wave six inches higher can break fifty yards farther out.

On one particular outsider, the only other surfer who wasn’t Tom Decker, Jeff, the guy who ripped the Groins, or me, decides he should make a bottom turn as close to me as he can get without actually touching. And I get thrashed by the wave.

Three or four waves into the session, my ears already plugging up, I notice Jeff is hugging the jetty, the peak at least fifty yards away. I also notice Tom is sitting inside of me, I’m getting cleaned up, and he isn’t. I also notice Tom and the Groin Ripper are now engaged in some verbal fisticuffs.

Tom Decker was the first surfer I saw ripping across six foot lefts at Port Angeles Point, on the Lower Elwha Reservation. This was early 1979, before access there became restricted. Tom lived as close to the waves as he could, surfed as often as it broke. I borrowed a wetsuit from him a couple of times, negotiated for its purchase, didn’t end up buying it.

When I surfed in my second of the Ricky Young-run longboard contests in the late 80s, early 90’s, seeing Tom was to be in my heat, I told a local I’d heard Tom had moved to Bellingham or something, tried his hand at video production. “Maybe, but he’s been living here awhile.” Yeah, he won that heat, but didn’t win the next.

Still, it’s not like Tom would recognize me. I saw Tom on one of the trips I’d made to Westport with Sean while he was still attending Evergreen.  Each trip featured a late session, a stay at one of the several No-tell Motels, an early session the next morning, sand left in the shower. Mr. Decker was in a car at the pot-hole scarred parking lot overlooking Halfmoon Bay, inside the harbor. He had a dog and a short board inside.

One observation that is almost always true about a guy over fifty who rides a very short board is this: He knows how to surf.

I asked the guy if he knew Tom Decker. He looked me over for a moment before saying, “Yeah, I know him. (another moment) He’s an asshole.”

Back to the jetty session. Evidently the Groin Ripper had irritated Tom by trying for several waves and not catching them. Criminal. I told Jeff I was getting out. I could barely hear, and getting constantly caught inside was really pissing me off.

Jeff and I both went for the same peak, side by side. Jeff started to pearl, bailed to one side, his board jumping, sideways, toward me.

When I came up I was shouting. “Damn it! You do something like that in Hawaii, they’ll kill you.”

That’s what I’d heard, anyway. I caught the next wave. I beat the first section and was going so fast, busting over little choppy sections, farther and farther from the jetty. For some reason I was almost laughing. I caught some soup, proned into a reform, did a few turns. When I got to the beach, Groin Ripper was waiting, ready to report on the unwarranted verbal abuse an the walk back. “Who is that asshole, any way?” Well.

On the next wave, Jeff came in, practically sprinting past us.

By the time The Ripper and got to the bluff, Jeff was down the path and Tom Decker was the only guy out. I guess that would have made him happy.

Sometime after we’d changed out, loaded up, headed back, towards McCleary, after I apologized for snapping, Jeff asked if he’d almost killed me.

“No, not really.”

“Well, that’s what that guy said.”

“Oh.” It’s rude to take a nap if there are only two of you in a car. Somehow, and I’m pretty sure I told Jeff this, I felt kind of good. Tom Decker had pretty much called everyone around a kook. But, not me. Trying to clear my ears, I guess that made me kind of, I don’t know, happy.