It's a little thing called ratios...
Surfing is a game and a hustle, says Matt Warshaw. And Miki Dora did it with…style!
What do you know about Miki Dora? Anything? Maybe it’s as a vague apparition, or it’s the dusty odour of what we usually call a “legend”, maybe nothing at all.
I’ll be brief. Miklos Sandor Dora aka Miki aka Da Cat was a Hungarian-born surfer who inhaled the surfing dream hungrily. He flamed! He was style in the water, suits out of it, convertibles, Hollywood and movie stars. He was also a thief, a scammer and an impossible loner who travelled the world chasing adventure and waves, his only real friend a small dog called Scooter Boy.
A few days ago, the noted historian Matt Warshaw posted an entry about Miki’s step-dad Gard Chapin. (Read it here, it’s rad.) And, because Matt does history better than anyone in the game, I figured it was finally time for he and I to exchange on Miki.
Was he as great as they said? Does he still matter?
Between San Francisco (Matt) and Sydney (DR), we back and forthed.
BeachGrit: So you just posted a piece on the death, murder of whatever, of Gard Chapin, Miki Dora’s stepdad. And this interests me, because it reminds me of American surfing culture’s fetish for Dora and what he represents: rebellion, individuality, perfection of style. I met Miki a few times in France and was deeply unimpressed despite the fact he was surrounded by acolytes. What don’t I get?
Matt: Okay, but first — you met him? I never did. Tell me a little about it. I know that five people meeting Dora could easily have five different impressions.
BeachGrit: I was living in Hossegor and hanging with the guys from Quiksilver, mostly, and they were paying Miki to be Miki, as in a witty golf partner, living surf legend. And my pals kept asking, “Do you want to play golf with Miki?” And, me, being anti-nostalgia and terrified of being dragged down golf’s hole, kept knocking it back. The first time I met him was at Stephen Bell’s board factory out the back of Hossegor. Mark Phipps was shaping his boards, these eight-foot-ish gun things, beautiful, and I was there when Miki came to pick up a board. And, let me tell you this, Matt, he was a gorgeous old man, late sixties, this was just before he found out he had pancreatic cancer. He was wearing a sort of pleated sports shirt, big pants belted high, was six-two or so, and had coffee-coloured skin.
Matt: So in fact you actually weren’t deeply unimpressed. You were impressed!
BeachGrit: Yeah, I liked what I saw. And then that book All For a Few Perfect Waves (click here to inspect) landed and I liked him a little more. But why is he so fetishised? He must’ve been a pain in the ass to have as a pal. Why do you like him?
Matt: What he was really like as a person doesn’t interest me at all. Maybe he was a total dickhead, maybe he had a secret heart of gold, maybe he was acting all the time, maybe just some of the time. Who knows? Who cares what Dora was really like? What counts is what he represents. Surfing is a game and a hustle. For all of us, just on different levels. You want to surf a lot, you gotta hustle. You lie to your boss, your wife. You break laws, even if its just jumping lights to get to the beach faster. And . . . and . . . you try and do it with style! You out-style the fuckers! So Dora. I mean, never mind the surfing. He was either the most stylish longboarder ever, or in the top three, whatever. Forget that for a second. He’s smartest guy in the room. He owns a tux. He owns tennis whites. He can pick the right wine at Musso & Frank. He can talk about Europe. He does irony. He’s worldly, when every other hot-shit surfer, then and today, is completely lost on the other side of the coast highway. You like eye-rolling the Gudauskas brothers? How can Dora not be your man?
BeachGrit: …yeah, you’re right, he… played it. Did that part in Surfers the Movie do it for you? I still watch it.
Matt: No, exactly, I was just going to bring up Surfers: the Movie. It was Chas Smith, or maybe it was you, Derek, who said the whole point of us interacting as surfers — again, not counting the wave-riding part — is to be entertaining. To NOT be boring. So I would maybe amend that and add a few exceptions, but okay, for the most part I accept that statement. And on that basis Dora was so far out ahead of the rest, past and present, that nobody else really registers. And that’s exactly what you get in Surfers: the Movie. Christian Fletcher, Arch, Cheyne, Johnny-Boy, Rabbit, Owl — all these guys with rebel cred totally disappear once Dora’s onscreen. Just vanish. Dora’s amazing rant is the only thing anybody remembers about that movie. And a big part, a huge part, of why that rant is so perfect is that Dora admit’s that his life in a lot of ways is messed up. That he’s lonely. He was damaged as a kid, and he’s further damaged himself as an adult. His closest companion is a little fucking dog. In other words, yes, Dora’s out-styling everybody, and out-rebelling everybody, but he’s lost. He’s stuck. The fact that he died at his father’s house, because he didn’t have his own family, is incredibly sad.
BeachGrit: I was actually very impressed by the way Dora died, tanning by a pool in Montecito. I thought it a very civilised and beautiful way to depart. Can you describe those final couple of months?
I just know what I read in David Rensin’s book All for a few Perfect Waves and from what I heard from Steve Pezman, who visited Miki a couple weeks before he died. I don’t know if it was all that beautiful. A lot of pain meds, a lot of morphine, a catheter. But yeah. He was out there tanning. At some point an old friend came by in a Ferrari and took Miki out for a long tear-ass drive through the Santa Barbara hills. Right up till the end, if the pain left, Miki made jokes and laughed. And he made amends to people he may have hurt or offended. He was gracious.
BeachGrit: Is there a contemporary equivalent of Dora?
Matt: Noa Deane yelling “Fuck the WSL!” at the SURFER Poll, and being thought of as rebellious — it almost makes me glad Dora died when he did, so he didn’t have to witness how far we’ve sunk in terms of being cool and different and maybe a little dangerous.
Who doesn't want a French Bulldog's opinion?
Do you love French Bulldogs? Of course you do but guess who has the grandest French Bulldog ever? That’s right. Best surfer in the world (2004-2011) and his falconer and designer girlfriend Coutney Jaedtke! Over the course of the last three months, Ask Pam, an advice column that has covered topics as diverse as the insignificance of life and the Solange-Jay-Z rift, has become a much loved and much visited part of BeachGrit.com.
At first, Pam’s answers were simple keystrokes. I’d send Courtney the emails; she’d fire back Pam’s replies. Then Pam wanted audio. And so we set-up a little soundcloud account for Pam to upload her answers.
And, now, thanks to the computer skills of her master Dane Reynolds, Pam has become… animated!
You may have seen this before, here, nowhere else, but you should see it again, for sure. And if you’d like to be included on Ask Pam, send an audio file (voice memos on an iPhone works perfectly) and a photo of y’self to either [email protected] or [email protected].
And if you don't it just means you a) have never lived near cold ocean or b) are too poor to move away.
I grew up on Oregon’s desolate central coast. The weather was bleak and wet. The waves were stormy and windblown and cold and filled with sharks and cold and freezing and windy and very cold. I would wear two wetsuits. Two. One over the other. After every surf I would get a large hot chocolate at Davey Jones’ Locker in Charleston and it would not warm me up so I would also get a Hostess apple pie that I couldn’t taste. When I went and got a physical examination my resting body temperature was two degrees colder than normal. Burrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrr!
But it seems as if cold water surfing is all the rage these days. Freezing water surfing! Chris Burkard has, of course, made it his thing for years and today Wired Magazine honors him with a big feature. He tells them, “I felt like the photos I was shooting weren’t going to outlast me. I realized that I needed to look other places. I needed to look north and look south and find places where there weren’t a ton of people.” Do you know why there are not a ton of people very north and very south? Because they are frozen to death. They cannot taste hot chocolate nor Hostess apple pie and their resting body temperatures creep downward and they die.
Read the whole Burkard feature here.
And stay warm, my friends.
We always dream about the waves we would ride. But, if given the chance, would we?
Sometimes sitting at home in California or New South Wales or Florida or Brazil we dream of tropical waters and bigger waves. But how big? It is easy to mentally surf still images and even easy to place oneself alongside a hero, dropping in to a throbbing beast. But there is always a pleasant song overlaid, isn’t there. And always a feeling of possibility. But, really, how big? How big would you go and still feel fine?
This little clip by Ryan Moss takes us from dreamy to uh-oh in Tahiti. Tahiti is magical and her waves are magical but think, as you watch, about yourself here. In which minute would you tap out? One? Two? Three? Me? I’m out after the first wave. But what a wave it would be!