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.

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