Adventures with the Mojave Phone Booth book now available Deuce of Clubs Book Club: Books of the Weak

To Deuce of Clubs index page

All For a Few Perfect Waves: The Audacious Life and Legend of Rebel Surfer Miki Dora

Miki Dora (2008)


[HARRY HODGE] I visited Miki in November 2001 at the invitation of Miklos Sr. and his wife, Christine. It was very difficult for both Miki and me. He was so weak he couldn't come to the table for lunch with the family. However, later we went outside to the bench in a corner of the yard where the sun streamed in. I asked Miki if he spent much time here. He replied: "Gotta die with a suntan." (xiii)

To Dora, surfing was more art than sport, and he wanted a clean canvas on which to express his personal connection with the ocean and waves. No wonder he never got over his frustration, resentment, and desire for revenge on the "muscle-headed beach jocks" and landlocked kids who mobbed his beloved once-empty waves at Malibu and elsewhere after the movie Gidget debuted. When the beach party exploitation flicks that followed set off a youthquake that popularized a fun-in-the-sun lifestyle and its distractions for a new generation of Southern California kids, he watched as a golden era of natural balance between waves and riders was consigned to the commercial slag heap of new market trends. Now and then, in the years to come, he even regretted having worked in those quickie flicks as an extra, stunt double, and technical adviser. (9)

In school damn near everything was concocted around the buddy system. They never left you alone. But with surfing I could go to the beach and not have to depend on anybody. I could take a wave and forget about it. — Miki, Surf Guide, 1963 (26)

LINDA CUY: I don't think Miki wanted to be a lawyer, or an actor, or a wine merchant. Miki was what he was, and that was enough. It's simple: Miki's life was all about a few empty waves. What do you have to do, how do you have to live, to get those few empty waves? (87)

MARCIA MCMARTIN: I have a photo of him holding up a gold bar, and he always traveled with gold coins, because he said he needed something negotiable if he got in a jam. Paper money was no good. (89)

MIKE DOYLE: Miki was always generous with financial advice. One day when we were younger and I was collecting Coke bottles on the beach to turn in for money, Dora said, "Buy gold, Doyle. The entire world economy is going to collapse. Buy gold." (89)

TUBESTEAK: Miki was dressed like Groucho Marx—glasses with eyebrows. Wore a multicolored coat. Fisher and I sat in the back of the auditorium, listening to the surfers scream for the show to start. I saw this "Groucho" guy come up from the bowels of the stage. Then he snuck behind us and said, "Are you ready to go?" He said, "Stand back," and pulled the jar of moths out of the valise and unscrewed the cap, and up they went, swirling in formation and dove right for it. Greg Noll screamed, "I know he's here!" We snuck out until they saw the projector light and dove right for it. (98-9)

KEMP AABERG: For someone who got into all sorts of arguments, Miki was afraid of actually fighting. If a big guy yelled or threatened him, Miki's clever reply—and I saw it work on more than one occasion—was, "I'm sorry, I didn't know it was you!" It worked like a charm. (113)

STEVE PEZMAN: Unfortunately for Miki, his talent also brought acceptance of his downside. (116)

SKIP ENGBLOM: All artists are outlaws, but not all outlaws are artists. If you're involved in your art, you're forced to be an outlaw because art dictates that you can't follow the rules. Miki's life was his art and his art was his life, so therefore he had to continually be this outlaw in order to maintain that art form. The art form was Miki Dora and the Miki Dora canvas of existence. Miki constantly fine-tuned the business of being Miki Dora. That's the only business he had. He was his product and he wanted to ensure its survival. (121)

DUANE KING: On the set of one of the beach party movies, I saw Miki come out of the guitarist Dick Dale's [LINK] trailer. He wore a shit-eating grin. About half an hour later Dale freaked out. "Oh my God, my jewels are gone!" I looked at Miki and he still wore this grin. It's circumstantial, but if I had to bet, I'd bet he took them. (140)

SKIP ENGBLOM: Miki was honest about his dishonesty. He'd always let you know you were a rube. People try to use deductive logic on Miki, like if this means this, then this means that. But in reality, only Miki knew what he thought and why he did what he did. He was like a diamond. We usually focus on a facet, the brilliance, the light. But no one ever sees the entire stone. And once it's set, there's always a hidden part underneath. (141)

"Man would yield his sovereignty to an immense power . . . one that does not destroy, or even tyrannize, but one that serves to stupefy a people, reducing them to nothing better than a flock of timid and industrious sheep. —Alexis de Tocqueville (191)

As they drove, Miki would also talk about his apocalyptic vision for America's crash and fall. "He said the world's economies were based on false pretenses, and that the gold standard of $35 an ounce would be dropped and he was going to make thousands of dollars an ounce. He also showed us some of his gold stash—he bought some while we were together—but we were afraid to touch it." (193)

ALLAN CARTER: I've said it before and I'll say it again: Miki was a like a chimpanzee on a motorcycle with a loaded shotgun. Everything's flying and you don't want to get in the way. (198)

ALLAN CARTER: Miki and I also always traveled with medals because in South America, with all these dictatorships, they love anyone who looks like the military. I had a Good Conduct medal because I was once in the army, and I stuck it on this tan wash-and-wear suit from New Orleans. The minute they saw me they kicked old ladies out of the way to roll out the red carpet. (198)

LINDA CUY: I finally met Marcia the day Miki and I packed his Volkswagen van in 1974, getting everything ready to go to New Zealand. I was just dying. I said, "If you take Marcia you'll regret it because she doesn't surf. You'll be this little houseboy running around, doing stuff for her because that's what she's used to. If you want someone who is a companion, who'll do sports with you, play tennis, go surfing, rough it, ride horses, hunt wild pigs in New Zealand, then you want to go with me. So you decide." He went with her. He made a big mistake. I would have gone to South Africa in a second. (218)

JIM KEMPTON: Miki's mind was criminal out his gain was minimal, just like with the credit cards: so small-time as to make you wonder if he was really as crafty as everyone thought. Also, stealing passports is a slimy thing since it puts the person you do it to in heavy jeopardy. (239)

LINDA CUY: One of his common expressions was, "You're gonna leave me one day." It was almost like this purveyor-of-doom thing. If you think about it, women do leave one day. (250)

PETER DAY: Miki said that one day, while sitting in his cell, "I heard this voice from a cell down the hall. I knew that it was Charlie Manson, so I yelled out to him, 'Hey Charlie! Is that you?' And Charlie went, 'Miki. Surfer Boy. Is that you?'"
ALAIN GARDINIER: Miki said Charles Manson knew him through partying with Dennis Wilson, from the Beach Boys. Manson was like a king in jail and suddenly Miki was a star, and it was really inconvenient for him.
PHil GRACE: In the version he told me, while being taken across the exercise yard by some guards, Miki said he saw this wild-eyed guy who looked at him and straightaway said, "Hey, Mick the Prick! Great party!" Miki went into great detail, so even if he made it up, I thought, Great story! (267-8)

Like other larger-than-life figures, willing or unwilling, Miki didn't want to pay the personal tax of simpering cretins being inconveniently interested in the character he'd created (that bored him), or the real Miki (why should he have to explain himself to anyone?). Which is not to say he kept everyone at arm's length. Although he enjoyed the pursuit and the game, in a deeper part of himself, he relished an authentic meeting of the minds, and someone who could get him right.
Whenever confronted with a potential article that he'd declined to cooperate with—and often even when he had cooperated—Miki would fire off an angry letter and famously quote Ayn Rand's The Fountainhead. "I do not recognize anyone's right to pilfer one minute of my life, nor any achievement of mine, no matter who makes the claim, how large their number, or how great their need." He did not credit Rand. (321)

KIM FOWLEY: Miki didn't learn how to take the surfing torch and run through the future with it. He sat on the beach and based everything on a culture of a post-James Dean rebellion, pre-Beatles alternate lifestyle. He didn't take the audacity of the party crasher and learn how to package that rebellion into something that somebody would pay for.
James T. Farrell writes about it in his Danny O'Neil trilogy, which, to me, were really significant Irish-Catholic 1930s books. There were all these great guys in the eighth grade and ninth grade at the Catholic school, who fucked the girls with big tits on the fire escape. Then they could go into the street and be gods. Later in the book they become their uncles and their dads who died young as butchers or plumbers; but for that brief moment they're heroic and geniuses and could lead armies just by walking to the store and stealing a tomato.
Probably Johnny Fain and Miki Dora had great moments in a small window of time, and when that window of time passed, they didn't break the pattern and reinvent. They stayed there, and that's the tragedy. In life there's hardly anyone who's both charismatic and good at something. When there is, even for a brief moment, they're one of the privileged, like Miki. I had no idea what happened to him. All I ever heard was, "Oh, bad boy. Buccaneer Bandito stuff." I said, "Oh, good. Well, tragedy poster boy." When you're given gifts of male beauty or athletic prowess, then the world is your wastebasket. Even if you make mistakes, you look good doing it. It's like waiting to see Johnny Thunders die onstage. People would go to see these guys fall apart. The rapid ascent is a turn-on, and the descent is equally fascinating.
Miki didn't so much reinvent as relocate. Yet here we are, all these years later, still talking about him. (322)

GREG NOLL: I could see his mouth moving as he spoke on the screen.
"My whole life is this escape; my whole life is this wave I drop into, set the whole thing up, pull off a bottom turn, pull up into it, and shoot for my life, going for broke man. And behind me all this shit goes. Over my back: the screaming parents, teachers, the police [laughs], priests, politicians, kneeboarders, windsurfers—they're all going over the falls into the reef; headfirst into the motherfucking reef, and BWAH! And I'm shooting for my life. And when it starts to close out I pull out and go down the back, and catch another wave, and do the same goddamned thing again." (330)

[Miki Dora:] If you are willing to accept the assertion that surfing is a colossal waste of time, then I'll concede I've wasted my life. But in a better and more graceful manner than any of my two-legged counterparts, no matter what the cost or consequences. (333)

GARY YOSH: Miki had a self-made book, about two inches thick, of every traveling scam he could think of. He'd had it typed out like a dossier. He gave it to me once before I had to travel somewhere. He said, "Read this and you'll see what tricks you can pull." My wife also read it and said, "This is terrible." (337)

"I don't think he's on solid ground," I said. "He's this master manipulator, chameleon-type guy. When you asked him that, he immediately thought you meant an autograph. In certain circles, he's a legend. But outside of those circles, he's just a guy who's gotten older and hasn't really done much, and nobody really cares."
I think that was Miki's worst nightmare, being just another guy. (346)

SCOTT HULET: What's interesting about Miki is that he was actually never an active opponent of society—but he never joined it, either. He was free of either side, which meant he was truly free. I owe a lot of my sense of social irresponsibility to Miki Dora. I thank him immensely. (349)

MIKLOS DORA SR.: While he could still talk he was very civil. He'd thank me and thank Christine every day, two or three times. I am very happy that he came home and he spent his last few months here. It would have been horrible if he had not. But I tell you what's surprised me most, the honest truth: that Harry Hodge and Tom Adler and others would talk about Miki like he was the greatest individual on this earth. I remember at one lunch that Christine and I looked at each other and I said, "What goes on here? Are we so bad that we don't see it?"
We got telephone calls and e·mails from his friends, from everywhere, who not only thought of Miki as a surfer, but as a good man. I was very happy to hear it. He was a Nureyev on the surfboard. He was fantastic.
But I have to be honest: Beside that, I think my son wasted his life. This is the father talking. Still, he was my son and I always loved him. (430)

DEREK HYND: Dora was the master of all he surveyed, even if he was an asshole. He was aware of who he was. (439)

Buy this book

To Deuce of Clubs