For twenty years, Miki "Da Cat" Dora was the king of Malibu surfers—a dashing, enigmatic rebel who dominated the waves, ruled his peers' imaginations, and who still inspires the fantasies of wannabes to this day. And yet, Dora railed against surfing's sudden post-Gidget popularity and the overcrowding of his once empty waves, even after this avid sportsman, iconoclast, and scammer of wide repute ran afoul of the law and led the FBI on a remarkable seven-year chase around the globe in 1974. The New York Times named him "the most renegade spirit the sport has yet to produce" and Vanity Fair called him "a dark prince of the beach." To fully capture Dora's never-before-told story, David Rensin spent four years interviewing hundreds of Dora's friends, enemies, family members, lovers, and fellow surfers to uncover the untold truth about surfing's most outrageous practitioner, charismatic antihero, committed loner, and enduring mystery.
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About the Author
David Rensin worked closely with Louis Zamperini for many years and cowrote Devil at My Heels, as well as fifteen other books, including five New York Times bestsellers.
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All for a Few Perfect Waves
The Audacious Life and Legend of Rebel Surfer Miki Dora
What we call fame is nothing but the sum of all mistakes circulating about one individual.—Rainer Maria Rilke
I'm a freak of nature and don't fit in with anybody.—Miki Dora
On December 29, 2001, shipwrecked on his sickbed at his father's home in Montecito, California, his withering, jaundiced body still remarkably tan from the sun in whose sustaining grace he had spent nearly every day of his life, Miki Dora slowly dictated two brief paragraphs as a female friend printed the words on a small sheet of lined note paper. They began: "I, Myklos [sic] Sandor Dora, under the circumstances I find myself, I have no alternative but to leave all my personal effects to . . ."
Four days later, the undisputed king of Malibu in its glory days, whose beyond-graceful feline self-possession and uncanny wave artistry had earned him the nickname "Da Cat," and the accolade then that "At the perfect surfing spot, on the perfect day, Miki Dora is Probably the best surfer in the world," was dead at sixty-seven of pancreatic cancer.
Had Dora been just another top surfer from a bygone era he might have washed quietly into the back pages of Sports Illustrated or Surfer magazine years ago. Instead, in his heyday and Malibu's—before and for a short time after the 1959 movie Gidget explosively popularized an edge-dwelling sport enjoyed by a rugged and eccentric few and changed it (many say for the worse) forever—Dora not onlydominated surfing style and soul, but unlike his contemporaries, many of them break-the-mold wave-masters in their own right, transcended both. Dora's God-given gifts in the water coupled with the living theater of his complicated, comic, nonconformist personality, both on and off the beach, made him what they could never be: a legend in his own time.
And yet . . . in a flawed and restive life framed against the backdrop of a sport and postwar America coping with radical social change in the '50s and '60s, and later, after he abandoned Malibu and California in the mid-'70s to roam a world enduring its own growing pains caused by what he saw as First World corruption, ecological disaster, and the death of the individual, Dora found himself trapped in a black hole of celebrity between the soul-sucking consequences of his iconic talent, charm, and mystique, and his hermetic instinct to reject the spotlight because he believed that nothing in life was more valuable than total personal freedom—no matter what the cost to himself, and often others.
Many desire personal freedom; few actually seize it. Dora did and hung on with all his might, to his betterment and detriment.
If it meant never having a real job, never marrying, never having children (at least that he knew or acknowledged; there are rumors), finding love with an assortment of enraptured women and true love mostly late in life with the loyal canine companion he considered his "child"—he embraced it. If it meant using forged passports and fraudulent credit cards, for a time, to sustain his world travels, or simply scamming you out of a few bucks or a free lunch—he'd risk it. If it meant lamenting environmental ruin, seeing conspiracy and Big Brother everywhere, and pining out loud for the good old days he knew could never return, while predicting the imminent Apocalypse—he'd broadcast it. If it meant dodging the FBI, doing prison time, going expatriate, trusting few and revealing himself to fewer—he'd keep that secret. If it meant flexing his irresistible star quality and rapier wit to live on the kindness, gullibility, or fan worship of strangers, and be reached Poste Restante in odd corners of the world—he'd work it. If it meant avoiding the press, fiercely protecting his public image as someone who never "sold out," leaving a string of breathless movie producers and publishers at the altar, and writing audacious semifictional travelogues for surf magazines that added an ago-boosting literary dimension to his artistic canon and put a few dollars in his pocket—he'd string them along. If it meant being a Rorschach test incarnate that inspired obsessive projection and transference like a sacred text demands constant re-interpretation—he'd be it without even breaking a sweat. If it meant being a delightful dinner companion, courteous guest, friendly to friends' children who could immediately sense his own childlike nature—he'd enjoy the moment. If it meant being estranged from his parents yet unable to cut the cord, befriending the occasional odd or interesting younger man or woman and treating them in embryo as he wished he'd been treated (then testing them to make sure they wanted nothing from him), forever rejecting authority, and seeing most human interaction as a competition to be won—he'd endure the consequences. If it meant speaking out against the commodification of surfing, the tidal wave of corporate groupthink, the sell-out mentality of surfing peers poised to profit from their sudden "careers" or celebrity—he'd bite the hand. If it meant forever baptizing himself in the most intimate communion with the ocean itself, a mystical congruence that he couldn't and wouldn't explain to just anyone no matter how hard they pressed—then let the ritual begin.
Reclusive and gregarious, cocksure and cryptic, primitive and urbane, solemn and witty, canny and reckless, uncompromising and mercurial, contradictory and unequivocal, Dora was surfing's most outspoken practitioner, charismatic prince, chief antihero, committed loner, and enduring mystery.
He wanted it that way. Except, of course, when he didn't.
This much is certain: Mild Dora's is the greatest surf story never told. It's all about surfing, and it's not about surfing at all.
Loner. Rebel. Outlaw. Wanderer. Legend.
Those who knew Mild Dora, those who wished they had or never had, all agree: there will never be another character in surfing like Mild Dora o one. Not even close.
Which is not to suggest that anyone ever really knew him.All for a Few Perfect Waves
The Audacious Life and Legend of Rebel Surfer Miki Dora. Copyright © by David Rensin. Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved. Available now wherever books are sold.
Table of Contents
Foreword Harry Hodge xi
Same Son of Different Fathers 27
The Vintage Years 58
Portrait of the Artist as a Young Wave Rider 77
The Angry Young Man of Surfing 106
Throwing a Monkey Wrench into the Works 122
What's in It for Me? 135
Da Cat 162
The Point of No Return 173
Horseman of the Apocalypse 191
Whereabouts Unknown 220
Honorable Gentleman, Guest of the State 251
Sink or Swim 293
Deep Cover 307
You've Got to Ride the Wave in the Direction It's Going 331
In Search of Da Cat 347
Da Cat in Search of Himself 359
Man Overboard 373
All for a Few Empty Waves 389
It's a Hell of a Thing 409
Million Waves to Darkness 420
The Legend Lives 433
Paddle Out 447
Dora's World 449
Photo and Other Credits 473
What People are Saying About This
” In times like these it turns out not only is there an oral history of Miki Dora, there must be. Great reportage.”
“David Rensin has found the perfect subject. You may like Dora. You may hate him. But you will never ever tire of him through the very impressive shine of Rensin’s reporting and writing.”
“For fifty years, surfing in Southern California has been shrouded in a myth wrapped in an enigma by the name of Miki Dora. Now, we have the facts. A magnificent book.”
“Miki took to his grave many stories that no one will ever know, but this book will also tell many and give new insight into his life. In the end only a select group knew the real person. I’m not sure I did-but almost.”
“From the depths of hell to flying as high and as free as an eagle - and everything in between - All For a Few Perfect Waves left me laughing and crying at the same time.”