Tim Nolte has been known for years for his surfboards, but he’s quickly garnering attention as the shaper for hand-crafted, high-end paddleboards. – by Cathy Baldwin
“I’m really good with my hands—that’s where my skill is,” says renowned surfboard and paddleboard shaper Tim Nolte.
That’s being modest. To date, Nolte’s produced over 17,000 custom surf and paddleboards.
Nolte’s been shaping boards for decades, having gotten his start repairing surfboard dings in Virginia Beach. “I graduated high school in 1982, and started fixing boards as a teenager for shops up there,” says Tim. “Then friends wanted boards, so I was making them in my backyard.”
That talent turned into a full-fledged business, and Nolte opened a factory in Virginia Beach that he ran for 17 years. Nolte, his wife Claire and daughter Alex moved to the Outer Banks in 2001 to “get out of the hustle and bustle”.
Nolte set up shop across the Wright Memorial Bridge in Currituck where he began making and selling custom surfboards. Since the 1980s, Nolte’s been known for his surfboards, but he’s quickly garnering attention as the shaper for hand-crafted, high-end paddleboards.
Ahead of the Curve
Not long after moving to the Outer Banks, Nolte bought a canoe oar and began to ride a tandem board with Alex. It was paddleboarding in its most basic form, and the beginning of a new chapter in his career.
As the sport caught on, Nolte found he was fixing other manufacturer’s paddleboards and saw their design flaws. “A stock board made overseas is painted with car automotive paint,” says Nolte. The result is that they scratch over time as the paddle hits the board. He also found that the decks were weak in overseas boards. He knew, with all of his experience, that he could make a better board.
And build a better board he has. “All my SUPs are high-end,” says Nolte. “They take about 30 hours; the way I build them is very complicated.”
“My method comes from building composite sailboards,” explains Nolte. “They have a Styrofoam core, which is lightweight and strong.” To strengthen the center of the board, Nolte adds a deck insert and covers them with a high-density, full deck wrap.
Everything, from the cutting of foam out of giant Styrofoam blocks to glassing to marbleized painting is done in his shop in Currituck. Each board is numbered and signed.
A Love of the Sport
Nolte tests his boards out regularly—and has fallen in love with the sport in the meantime. “In the summertime I paddle at least three to five mornings a week,” he says. “I ride an 8’6” board… it’s really short.” Nolte explains that while shorter paddleboards are more difficult to ride, they make faster and sharper turns—making it more fun for an experienced paddleboarder. “Short boards are more maneuverable,” says Nolte.
“I started with an 11’ board and have graduated all the way down to an 8’6”. The trend is like surfboards, going smaller,” says Nolte.
He notes the sport’s growing popularity, and attributes that to its wide appeal. “It’s a much easier learning curve than surfing,” says Nolte. “Many different walks of life can do it—you can be 70-years-old or a little kid.”
“Standing up you have so much more visibility,” says Nolte. “Reading the waves, being able to catch them—and you get twice as long of a ride. It’s got more glide than a surfboard.”
Nolte has plans to start a surf school with Rob Mulloy of Outer Banks Stand Up Paddle. Mulloy occasionally helps Nolte out at the shop with the paddleboards. “I wanted to get into that,” says Nolte, “To get back outside more.”
But he admits that shaping boards—both surf and paddle—will always be an important part of his business. Even with the paddleboarding buzz, he still spends about half of his time shaping surfboards. It’s where he started, and what he’s still most known for.
The paddleboard scene in other coastal communities keeps growing, and Nolte sees that spreading to the Outer Banks. “It really hasn’t hit here yet—not like it has in other places,” says Nolte. “But it will.”