Saving Gracefully

Posted by on Apr 26, 2012 in Uncategorized | No Comments

Recently I had the pleasure of interviewing Tim Dorsey who shared with me his design for living. A lifelong lifeguard at the famed Seal Beach in California and surfer since age 11, this 70+ guy is anything but a beach bum. He’s a voracious reader; can speak authoritatively on most any subject (with the exception of technology… although at our meeting he was sporting a new iPad, accessorizing his well-worn Speedo, a hand rolled-in-Zihuatanejo cigar, and white “dress” t-shirt); and can tell you a story about any town or city in America… mostly because he’s either been there or engaged someone in such an involved conversation that he knows the inside scoop as if he’d lived there. For the last ten years, Tim has made a little beach village in Mexico his home where he surfs every other day and is singlehandedly in charge of providing much of the local color as well as the local lore.

KR: When did you start surfing?

TD: I started surfing at Seal Beach when I was 11. Pat and Blackie August were my mentors. They were my neighbors and Robert (KR: their son…featured in the movie Endless Summer) came over one day and said, “My dad is going to show us how to ride on waves”. That day changed my life. I got up on a wave and never looked back.

KR: Were you guys the first to surf in California?

TD: There was a hard core group in LA, but in Orange County, Blackie was the first to introduce surfing to the local kids. He really is the father of surfing in Orange County. We were all young kids who were doing it and we weren’t considered a very acceptable bunch. People called us “water beatniks”. But it was just because it was something new that no one really knew about. Once the movie “Gidget” and the Beach Boys songs made surfing popular, it became much more acceptable.

KR: When did you become a lifeguard? And did that cut into your surfing time?

TD: I became a lifeguard at Seal Beach in 1959 and retired in 1991. It was a magnificent career. We saved a lot of lives. I helped develop uniformity in the training of lifeguards for open water beaches. Jim McCloy (Pat) from Texas A&M was the main guy who put the program together… and I was a part of that. And yes, I could only surfed on my days off.

KR: How did you end up in this town in Mexico?

TD: In March of 1983 there was a huge storm that took out the pier at Seal Beach and big chunks of Southern California… so my girlfriend and I decided to head south in search of a nice warm place. We ended up in Ixtapa, Mexico which was nothing but a few small hotels and a bunch of potholes (KR: it’s now huge high-rise hotels, complete with a Club Med and water parks). I asked a local taxi driver if he knew any place to surf. He said he would show me a secret place that no one knew about. So I climbed into the taxi and he took me to this beach. I had no board, but stood on the beach making a mental note of this beautiful left-breaking wave. So, then in 1991, my friend, Jim Vanderheiden and I came back to surf and stayed in Zihuatanejo. We left town every morning at 5am to drive out here to surf. I was hooked. Bought property on the beach, built my house and moved here.

KR: How do the numbers of surfers on the waves compare now to then?

TD: You know this is a world-class wave here which is consistently so 340 days a year… you won’t find these kind of conditions anywhere else in the world. Change is inevitable, people are going to discover this place and you just have to adjust. The thing I have a problem with is that Americans come down here with such an attitude… “we’re going to show these Mexicans”.. and it’s actually their country and we’re guests.

KR: Do you want to describe the entourage that goes everywhere with you (and are right now sitting at your feet)?

TD: I have five full-time dogs… and four cats… but one has one paw in the grave.

KR: And, by “full-time” do mean you have part-time pets as well?

TD: Without sounding critical (because you know what they say… “you point a finger at someone and get three others pointing back at you) (KR: I had to try that with my fingers to get what he meant…and, you know, he’s right!) These dogs are not mine, they are surfers who saw these dogs in the street and thought it would be great to “save” them. But then when it comes time to go home, their girlfriends say “I don’t want that dog in our house”. So they give them to me.

KR: Have you always been an animal lover? Is that why you are that go-to foster home guy?

TD: No, I never had a pet before I got to Mexico. My “pet” was always just my surfboard.

KR: I know recently you lost your favorite pet, Priscilla. How did you come to have a goat?

TD: Well, as soon as I built my house, I asked a local where I could buy a lawn mower. He told me he had one and would deliver it tomorrow. I asked him how much and he told me it was free. I thought, “wow”. The next day he arrived in a Jeep and opened the back and pulls out this baby goat.

KR: Did she do the job?

TD: Oh yes. For ten years. She had a great life. Most goats down here end up in the stew.

KR: I would say. Always loved seeing her leading the pack each day as you took the dogs for their daily walk on the beach… You always wore that straw hat with the plastic horn on the top that you used to call Priscilla back to the group if she wandered up to a house to find grass for munching. What ever happened to that hat?

TD: Well, one day I came home and found Priscilla with her front hooves holding down the hat and was wildly ripping it apart. There was no getting that thing back. When she was done all that was left was that little metal trumpet piece.

KR: I guess she’d just heard that horn one too many times. Does it ever get lonely down here?

TD: No, there is too much to do. You’ve got yard work; got to keep the generator running.. the tanks full. And you meet the finest people in the world here… B- movie Hollywood types who want to live under the radar; artists like Damian Hirst, and Julian Schnabel. I’ve met Richard Gere down here and Mexican actor, Pedro Armendariz. If I hadn’t moved down here all I’d being seeing everyday are the same Seal Beach people.

KR: How ‘bout in the waves? Have you met anyone interesting in the waves?

TD: My eyes are so bad … I could be surfing next to the devil and would just ask him if he was having a good day.

KR: Did you ever get married?

TD: I got married when I was 62. It lasted for three months. Remember, no pointing fingers.

KR: Oh, right. Any wrap-up-the-interview comments?

TD: I would recommend this lifestyle to anyone… this is the greatest place to live.. beautiful weather; great weather; the best people

KR: Wait, aren’t we supposed to be keeping this place a secret? I guess you could at least divulge the beach motto…

TD: Looking bad; feeling good!


Tim Dorsey (past Chief of Lifeguards at Seal Beach and legendary big wave surfer) with friend and neighbor Corky Carroll (5-time US surf champion and first professional surfer)


It would appear that Priscilla feels it beneath herself to do the yard work anymore… and leaves it to migrant animals who happen to be passing through


One of Tim’s many lawn “guys”


Another, on break


Tim and his entourage walking the beach…when he still was in possession of his horn hat


Priscilla’s preferred hat


Tim’s large shell collection


I walked into Tim’s house and interrupted Priscilla’s dinner


Tim shows up for this interview with his entourage


The latest addition to the entourage was lying at my feet


Local Lore as told by Corky Carroll:

So, this morning I am sitting on my deck having a coffee after my morning surf session when all of a sudden I see the Iguana (Corky’s name for Tim) running down the beach at full speed. It’s amazing how fast the dude can still run at 70 years old. He is yelling and pointing at something in the water. A few people are standing there looking at it too, along with a couple fisherman. Upon closer look it appears to be a head bobbing up and down just outside of the shorebreak. I am thinking, “oh no, I hope that’s not a dead body or something.”

So the Iguana goes charging out into the water and dives into the shorebreak in a move right out of Baywatch. I guess he didn’t realize it was low tide and was only a few inches deep. He kind of came to an abrupt halt, belly in the sand. Great moment. But in a flash he was back up and swimming out to what appeared to be somebody either dead or in big trouble. Once a lifeguard, always a lifeguard.

When he reached the head it turned out to be attached to a lamb. We get a lot of animals wandering into the surf in front of our houses to cool off. Cows, burros, horses and even an occasional family of pigs. But I haven’t seen too many sheep in the shorebreak. Anyway, the Iguana swims in with the lamb, who is limp and appears dead. Once on the beach he starts giving it “mouth to nose” resuscitation. Everybody was standing there in amazement when about five minutes later that little lamb spit out some seawater and let out a “baaaaaaaaa.”

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