Mid-Winter Strait Session Report

You might notice the snow, the hat, the lack of any waves actually showing; you might wonder what that is in the background. A chunk of land? No, it’s a board.

tim nolan

I got to this spot at 8am, trying to beat the wave-killing high tide, surprised (and a bit worried) at the treacherous conditions (the parking area, not the waves); this, in my front wheel drive car (rather than the all wheel drive work van), and after driving good (not icy, not compact snow) conditions on surf route 101.

I was too late. Or too early. High tide was at eleven. Tim had been out since seven (first light), picking off set waves, sliding across the outside sections, easing out when each wave mushed-out.  It wasn’t exactly barreling, but Mr. Nolan was getting the most out of each ride. Gliding. Cruising.

So, I was hanging out.  On my way west, I had followed a woman (I think her name is Hannah) from Joyce (one of only a small group of true locals) in her full-sized SUV, at about 60 mph; slower, much slower when negotiating highway 112s downhill slalom course.  Once I turned into and over the remnants of the snow-plowed curb and onto the pullout road, I was committed, wheels in the deep ruts, plowing  through the iced-over snow between the ruts. Ahhhhh!

Hannah (possible Hannah) pulled perpendicular to the beach, and soon joined Tim in the water. Meanwhile, I tried to find a less-snow-choked area to park, way too worried to pull out of the ruts. I finally backed into a position under a tree and behind one of those Sprinter vans, the ruts deep and muddy.

NOW, I have to give Hannah a lot of credit for her commitment.  A mother of two kids, she was surfing when (apparently- one doesn’t ask) seven or so months pregnant, and then (evidently) only several weeks after delivering her third child.  When she did get out of the water, I went over to tell her I thought she might have been speeding (again, I was keeping up), she told me she got the short straw, and her husband (Dave, I’m pretty sure) would get to surf when it (hopefully) got better.

Meanwhile, the tide still rising, me still waiting, a guy who delivers mail to Neah Bay wheeled his (classic, short wheel base) big-tired Jeep into the parking area, straight into a divet, jumped out, lit up a smoke, walked over toward me.  “I have to admire your confidence,” I said. “Oh, I can get out,” he said.  “I’m not a surfer,” he said, using his cigarette to draw a line across the horizon, “this any good?”

“If the swell doesn’t fall off or the angle doesn’t change, or…” He wasn’t really interested. He wasn’t a surfer. He probably did burn out half of his clutch trying to rock back and forth (forward and back, I guess), before ‘locking-in’ his lugs (I hope that’s the term for putting it in four wheel drive), and getting out; no doubt lighting up another smoke.

About this time a small-sized pickup with (only) two boards in the back makes the turn and slides through the ruts, pulls up and cranks a left, straight toward the water. “Four wheel drive?”  “No, it’s rear wheel drive.” “Oh.”

I recommended another (not secret) spot he might try with the high tide. Somewhere in here he (John, from Auburn) bought an Original Erwin t-shirt from those I still have (all now large or extra-large) in the Toyota.  When John couldn’t get out, he tried to put chains on the back tires. Not so easy.

A guy who had, evidently, walked in from the highway, helped me push John’s rig back into the ruts. When the pickup made it to the blacktop the guy said we’d met before (“Oh, okay,”) and introduced himself with, “Luke (I hope that’s right). No one knows who I am, but everyone knows my girlfriend.” “Who’s your girlfriend?” “Kim, Kim with the VW bug.” “Yeah. Kim. I think I was out the first time she surfed at ________ ______.” As Luke walked away, evidently going to look elsewhere for waves, I said, “Luke. Yeah. I’ll remember you the next time.” “Sure. That’s what you said the last time.”

Meanwhile, the guy from the Sprinter suits up, goes out on a Lib-tech (small, short) board, and a guy with two longboards on his all-wheel-drive pickup, who watched but didn’t help push John’s truck, suits up, says he thinks the east wind will blow it out by the time the tide drops, and besides, “It’s not crowded.”

Longboard Guy (didn’t get or don’t remember his name) grabs a really long board, makes a negative comment on SUPs. “You know, at San Onofre, they have to go to one end of the beach.” “Fine. I do say anyone under 60 who rides one is a _______.”  Now, I only decided to blank out the word I always use here is it might be considered sexist. So, maybe I should replace pussy with whimp. Not sexist.

About this time, a regular-sized SUV pulls in.  It’s Cole, a guy I’ve seen quite a few times out on the Strait, and a friend.

Somewhere in here, knowing I couldn’t concentrate on surfing if I didn’t think I could get out of the parking lot, I side-slipped and rut-rode my way out to the highway, considered parking on the side of the road, but, with the snow piled on the fogline, decided the odds of someone (like a log truck or an RV) side-swiping my vehicle were pretty high, and counting on my ability to get out twice, I pulled back in; still parallel to the beach.

Somewhere around 10am, Tim Nolan gets out of the water. Since I’d spent quite a bit of time leaning against his all wheel drive (says it right on the car) Suburu, I give him a hand with his board.

“Are you catching up to me yet?”  He meant in age. “Yeah, I think so. You were working it, man.” “Thanks.”

Incidentally, Tim is 71, I’m 67, and his continued commitment to surfing continues to be an inspiration to me.  When I first met him, probably 16 years ago, he told me some of my best surfing days were still to come. And he was right.

If you surf on the Strait of Juan de Fuca, you probably recognize Mr. Nolan. A boat designer in Port Townsend, Tim participates in flat water SUP races, has paddled every bit of the Strait (on purpose), and helps out in some community support activities that I only heard about from others.  That says something about his character.

So, Cole and his buddy came over to Tim’s car. He showed us the results from his Apple watch. He had travelled 3.9 miles during his session, with red lines (a lot of them) showing each ride. “About half of that (somewhere around two miles) is surfing.”

Very impressive.  I kind of thought I was getting a contact high from my proximity to the two younger surfers. Legal, of course. Just to make sure, I touched Cole. “Yep; now it’s a contact high.”

I went out at mean high tide. The wind changed to west rather than east; more people came out, including, surprise, Adam Wipeout (who showed up when I had told myself I was going to catch five more waves and was down to one); so I kept surfing.

On the way back, after I had to back up, gun it, probably damage my transmission to power through the pile at the highway, I figured out the whole experience- three hours of driving (there and back), three hours of waiting, and three hours of surfing.

No Apple watch, lost track of number of waves. And, if I factor in the wetsuit donning and un-donning, and the stops at Costco, Walmart, the DISCO BAY OUTDOOR EXCHANGE; yeah, 12 hours or so. SO, GOOD.


Sharing Waves With (and Snaking) Dane Perlee (and his Friend)

“No,” I said after this surfer I’d already realized was really good responded to my only slightly insincere apology/explanation for taking off in front of him, this after he had taken off in front of his friend, and both of us, in reality, were only going for that wave because we didn’t believe the farther-outside guy could make the section; “what I said was ‘I like people who are willing to share; because I’m really not.’ See?”
So, with only three of us out on the rights, he was right, I was wrong. His buddy hadn’t make the first section, but he did make it from where he took off (typically too far up the point) to where I took off (typically the perfect spot). Seeing he would make it across, and already committed, I turned and headed for the peeling shoulder.
It’s probably not a spoiler that the rider I inadvertently snaked was Dane Perlee. I didn’t know that until the after-surf beach recap. What I knew is I had picked up Archie, not yet twenty-four hours home from four months in Asia, and obviously exhausted, and we headed for our favorite spot on the Straits of Juan de Fuca. This was the peak of whatever Spring swell we’d be getting for the next week, and I was actually holding off from leaving earlier in the day to time the arrival with the dropping tide, and, hopefully, still be ahead of the predicted strong west wind.
Just before we rounded the final turns, I bet Archie that Tim Nolan, known to take off from Port Townsend at four am, would be there. “Okay,” Archie said, “we’ll bet a Costco hotdog.” “Oh,” I said, “then, for extra credit, I’ll bet Tugboat Bill is also there.”
By the time Archie agreed, ‘there’ was ‘here,’ and there were no parking spots on the water side of the parking area. Tim was there, Tugboat Bill was there; Clint, who owns his own boat repair place in Port Townsend, was there, and… well, we all check the same forecasts… way too many people were there for waves only slightly larger than the ones I’d surfed alone at the still-weak height of the previous week’s swell.
When someone pulled out to travel farther west, I backed in. There weren’t THAT many surfers in the water, and some of those who did hit the dawn patrol were actually done and loading up. AND the rights, as I hoped and predicted, were starting to work. Not big, just peeling.
BUT (wow, I’m using the all caps too much- still not even close to illustrating how frothed and excited I get when MY RIGHTS are working on the almost-all-lefts Straits- maybe I should add some !!!!!!s- Nope), suiting up outside the vehicle next to mine, two guys were eying the rights. Lustily.
“You’re not thinking about the rights?” The one guy just smiled, nodded, and pointed (to the rights). The other guy, grabbing a distinctively-shaped longboard, said, “We can share.”
So, it was on. Archie got out first, pulled into a couple of insiders, stylish parallel stance into the shorebreak.
Somewhere in the session I mentioned to the surfer later revealed to be Dane, “Hey, I saw you doing some of those Alex Knost bottom turns.” You know the ones; casual drop, stand/turn, arms to the side, body leaned impossibly toward the wave. “No,” he said, “those are my bottom turns; he got those from me.”


Stylish bottom turns (compare and contrast) by Dane Perlee, Alex Knost, and Donovan Frankenwreiter. Stolen from Google.

After I had to bail, awkwardly, on another wave we both wanted, and he was (again) going to make, and I jumped on the next one; after I said, “Well, I’m just going to have to be the guy farthest outside,” and asked of Dane and his friend, “Which one?” as each set arrived, after I saw Dane hang five, then ten, his board dropping, and after he casually pulled it back into trim without leaving the nose, I asked, “You’ve surfed here before?”
He tweaked at some possible earplugs under his hood. “I’ve been surfing since I was nine.” “Seventy-nine?” I asked, “I moved here in seventy-nine.” “No, I was born in 1979, but I’ve been surfing since I (already capitalized) was nine.” “Oh. So, you obviously know what you’re doing. Where’d you learn to surf.” “Washington State.” “Oh, and where are you from? (I always ask this)” “Westport.” “Oh. Yeah. Sure. They have some well known surfers from there.” I was thinking Tom Decker, but I said, “Like Dane Perlee.”
“That’s my alter ego,” he said. “Which one do you want?” I asked, adding, loudly, looking at an incoming set, “Three.” Since I was the outside (there seems to be an issue between ‘inside’ as in closer to the peak, and ‘outside’ as in farther out) surfer, I took the second one instead.
By the time the waves, and Archie and I, gave up, the Westport surfers were gone. Tugboat Bill and his crew were gone. Tim was on a beach chair, strumming a ukulele next to a heavily sun-screened kid on guitar, next to a fire (yeah, I’d think cliché if I hadn’t broken out my harmonica and briefly joined in, getting talented surf guitarist Archie to borrow the kid’s guitar and whip out a few licks). Tim was with some other folks I don’t really know, obviously willing to wait for the waves to come up with the tide. Maybe they did. I had to get back to work (after a trip to Costco for a few things and one Polish dog, the other for reserve).
“That was Dane Perlee,” Tim said. “I didn’t realize it. He said his dad owns The Surf Shop in Westport. Al Perlee. Did you notice the board he was riding? He shaped that himself. Wide tail, very thin. He’s good. Did you see him on the nose? He kind of dropped then…”
“Wait! Dane Perlee?” That was me, but also Clint. Everyone, really. As excited as I was that I’d (at least in my mind) held my own against (really, ‘against’ is the right word to describe how I think- first compete with myself, then everyone else) someone of his ability, I was most anxious to talk to my daughter, Dru.
“A connection with Dane Perlee? Uh huh. Yeah, the connection is,” Dru told me, on the phone, called at work in Chicago as soon as I had consistent cell service, “back when you were in those surfing contests in Westport (late 80s, early 90s), we were the kids playing on the beach. Me, Sean (her brother), Ruth or Mollie, whoever came with us, Dane Perlee, his sister, Hana; we would play while our fathers surfed.”
“Oh, yeah; that’s what I thought.” “And then, in high school, I’d compete against them in the Knowledge Bowl. He was a year older; I think his sister was a year younger.”
What I remember is, when Dane was probably 13 or 14, seeing him, from the bluff at the Jetty, pulling off a perfect sideslip from the nose on a grinding four footer; probably one of the standout images in my Westport mindfiles.
“Well, he’s, like, a grownup now. I guess, probably… thirty-five.” “Yeah, dad; guess so.”
Later, between dropping Archie off and changing vehicles, I got a call from Adam “Wipeout” James, asking about the session he couldn’t wait for, having hit choppy windswell the afternoon before. “Dane Perlee? Yeah, I’ve surfed with him a few times. Westport. Talked to him…a lot.” Of course. Name-dropping Adam. “He shapes his own boards,” I said. “Yeah, Osprey Surfboards.” “Um, yeah; I heard that.”
Adam never asked me how I did. If I say I held my own, wave count-wise, against a world class surfer twenty-eight years younger than I am, I’d be leaving something out.
I was happy to have someone of that caliber at my favorite break, happier he was willing to share…
…again, because I’m really not all that fond of sharing.