After having just mentioned Greg Noll a few days ago, I found out last night that he had just died, yesterday. It hadn't even been picked up by Wikipedia yet. It hit me in a weird way. He was a surfing legend, one of the first big wave riders, all-time and all that jazz. It is like rock 'n' roll losing Chuck Berry. But that's not what made it feel weird. What made it unusual was that it felt like a friend had passed away. As I mentioned in the post a few days ago, I met him a few years ago in a parking lot outside a supermarket. I'd actually seen him about a half hour earlier just inside the entrance of the Target store next door to the grocery store. There he was, just standing there in shorts, flip-flops and sweatshirt with the sleeves cut off, holding one of those big ass plastic mugs with a lid and a straw (the type favored by soda pop fiends and highschoolers at their first keg party). He was looking around as if he was looking for someone. I thought to myself "That looks like Greg Noll, but that couldn't be him, he lives in Crescent City." (Crescent City is in Northern California just south of Oregon.) I went about my business figuring it was just a doppelganger.
Leaving Target I was headed to my car. I ran into my cousin and walked with her in the same general direction. We were approaching a truck with a Noll Surfboards sticker on the tailgate. Ordinarily I would just figured it a coincidence. I see those stickers occasionally, as the surf shop (now owned by his son) is just about seventy miles north. But this sticker was centered in the middle of the tailgate, with pin-striping around it. So, this sticker held more significance to whoever...wait! Could it be?, I thought. I stopped, and muttered to my cousin something like "Want to meet a big wave legend?" She begged off and said goodbye. I walked to the side of the truck and saw the silhouette of a big guy in the passenger seat. Noll is big. A bruiser. I figured that if it was him, I'd never forgive myself if I didn't do something. I approached the car door. It was Noll. I just walked up and before I could get past "Mr. Noll,..." his hand was already out the window, to shake.
Here's the weird part. I wasn't nervous at all. Later I chalked that up to having read his memoir, Da Bull, and watched enough semi-recent interviews to know his matter of speaking. He cusses in all the right places, using it as color, not to cuss for cussing sake, That is an art. It almost seemed as if I knew him, there was that sort of one-on-one comfort in conversation, like have having a beer with a buddy.
He was waiting for his wife who was in the grocery store. As our conversation was going on (15 or 20 minutes at that point) I apologized for taking his time and he said something to the effect of "Hey, it's alright. I'm just sitting in a truck waiting for my wife," and the conversation lasted for several more minutes. He talked about his brother (who lives in east county San Diego), the boat he just bought (and was to be docked here), his love for San Diego (Sunset Cliffs in particular), his son, the crowds in line ups these days and then the conversation went to his relationship with Miki Dora. I asked him what he thought about the Miki Dora biography that was published a few years earlier. The two had been friends since they were about ten or twelve, and Noll is quoted heavily in the Dora book. Contemporaries, Noll later favoring the North Shore of Oahu (Waimea, Sunset, Pipeline and Makaha) and Dora at Malibu. They both had rough edges but Dora was a scammer and a thief. A rat fuck. Anyway, once Noll got started on Dora, it was off to the races. This story and that, how they met, the wave they shared at Waimea that was shot during the filming of Ride the Wild Surf. (Noll was the stuntman for the surfing scenes and had gotten Dora, a four foot and under guy, a job doing it. The trouble was, Dora was not at all comfortable in huge surf. Noll knew that. Tee hee, friend.)
Every story would lead to another, and every other segue he would say, "oh wait, that's in the book" and start on another one. Here I was, getting first hand stories, stories that weren't in the books, about a legend, from a legend. Let's take that Chuck Berry comparison again. It would be like asking Chuck Berry about Bo Diddley and have him generously offer up story after story. It was the surfing equivalent of that. He was genial, down to earth and warm in a no bullshit way. No wonder it seemed like a friend died.
I have no clue what music Noll liked, but I have to wash out that surf music with something. In the late fifties surfers dug jazz. And in 1959, what would have been Noll's third year on the North Shore, Dave Brubeck's "Take Five" was a jazz smash hit.
Dave Brubeck Quartet - Take Five mp3 at Time Goes By
Greg Noll at Encyclopedia of Surfing A great page with videos, a profile and articles from years past.