Tim Nolan is, unquestionably, a legendary boat designer. Architect might be the correct term. He is also one of the first people I met out on the Strait, when I got back into surfing, at somewhere over fifty, after a complete absence from the water for somewhere between eight and ten years. And I sucked. I should say he was one of the first people I met who was older than me.
“Hey,” I said, “isn’t there an age limit on this sport?” Tim said something like… I don’t really remember, not nearly as snarky or as profane as I might have. Nice, actually; but I was still, mostly because I did still suck, kind of polite. “Is there a life for a surfer, like, my age?” “You will find that your best years are still ahead.”
Tim was pretty much right. Sort of. There is nothing I would trade for my time learning to surf, switching from a mat to a board (1965), going on surf adventures, alone and with friends in my teens, surfing comparatively uncrowded Southern California spots in the 70s, coping with the San Diego surf ghetto mentality up until I moved here at the end of 1978. I didn’t expect to have any kind of surfing life in the northwest. I have. In fact, even if I don’t include my early years of surfing less and less frequently, I have now been surfing longer up here than I did in California. Not as often, to be sure.
There is some unknown number of people who call themselves surfers. It is remarkable how the origin stories can be similar. Tim and I both started young, stuck with it for years; surfed less and less as career and family responsibilities or other distractions took control of our surfing time; and then we tried to get back into it when those forces lessened (somewhat).
Okay, I can’t really relate to those who learned to surf at a camp or a wave pool or tried to learn in their forties or something like that. Great. I guess. It’s fun, huh? Surfing, surfing well, takes a certain level of persistence, commitment. If I make a distinction between real surfers and surf enthusiasts, and I do, Tim Nolan is a real surfer.
He will always be older than me; three or four years; and as long as he stays with it, I have hope.
Here are some historic images grabbed from an 8 mm movie my father took of me surfing below our house at Abalone Cove in the summer of 1960. My board is balsa, a gift from my brother who bought it from his friend Dave Gregerson for $3.50 after it had been stripped of glass and surfed finless at Haggerty’s and thrown off the cliff as a sacrifice. The board was waterlogged and ends were split and embedded with rocks and pebbles. I dug out the rocks and trimmed and bondo-ed the nose, but the tail was toast. I cut out the last 12” in a V shape with my Dad’s saw and glued up some pieces of balsa salvaged from life jackets that had failed the rip test used by the Coast Guard in those days to see if the canvas was rotten. My employers at that time, operators of the Marineland of the Pacific excursion boats noticed that the Coast Guard inspector was gentler during the lifejacket tests if they drank a coffee cup of whisky first.
So, I sawed the rubber off the salvaged life vest sections, glued them together and made a new tail. I got resin, catalyst, fiberglass and pigment from the Maritime Supply store in San Pedro and went to town. I forgot to add catalyst while I was doing a yellow and green abstract pigment job on the deck, so I put in twice the amount for the gloss coat, which sort of worked. The deck got waxed and was supposed to be sticky anyway. The board was heavy, especially for a 12-year-old to carry down a cliff and then another half mile walking on rocks. But the board surfed well. It caught waves, coasted through sections, and was unstoppable once I got it to the water. In the movie, I am catching the most and best waves and getting the longest rides, same as I try to do now. (forgivable at the time because my Dad was watching, less so now because I’m not sure he still is..) The quality is pretty fuzzy, having been copied from aged 8mm celluloid movie reel to VHS, then to DVD, and then to JPEG via Screen Capture, but it captures, for me, the moment and thrills of my first summer surfing as if it were yesterday.
We had consistent 1 to 3 ft waves at “Alpert’s Reef” (named by my neighbor, friend, and surfing mentor Jeff Alpert) all that summer, and then it never broke again for the remaining 5 years I lived there.
It only takes a few moments of talking with Tim Nolan to realize his love for the ocean is real, it is deep, deeper than merely sliding a boat or a board across the water. He is a waterman. I can’t do justice to his or anyone else’s feelings about, really, anything. I will give Tim a chance to share his relationship with surfing in the future. I already have a few more photos. Thanks, Tim.
Meanwhile, there are a few other real surfers I would like to feature in the future. We’ll see.