The Dark Knight of Surfing
New Book Examines the Contradictory and Captivating Life of Miki Dora
The beach culture blitz on mainstream America during the middle part of the 20th century was an assault of untold and unfathomable proportions. Those California-born waves made by Gidgets, Beach Boys, and that eternally creepy Von Zipper-materialistic monsters feathering off an image-conscious sandbar of mass appeal-are still being ridden today by advertisers and dollar-hungry, land-locked corporations of all kinds. At the heart of the invasion was Malibu, and at the heart of Malibu was Miki Dora.
Freakishly graceful on a surfboard, Hollywood handsome, hyper-conscious, and criminally minded, Dora was full of contradictions. Six years after his passing from cancer in the foothills of Montecito, he remains one of the most important and intriguing characters of wave-riding culture.
Now, told with a degree of completeness and honesty that may not have been possible if Dora were still alive, comes an ambitious and utterly enjoyable biographical look at the man and the myth: All for a Few Perfect Waves: The Audacious Life and Legend of Rebel Surfer Miki Dora, by New York Times bestselling author David Rensin.
After several years of research, including more than 300 interviews with everyone from Dora’s contemporaries, surfing legends Greg Noll and Steve Pezman; to Miki’s father, high school classmates, con victims, and ex-lovers, Rensin has crafted a colorful history that celebrates Dora’s lifelong commitment to personal freedom and makes you care about this individual who, it seems, could not have cared less.
Dora, who famously imposed a gag order upon his friends and acquaintances throughout the years should they ever be asked about him, reveled in the space between myth and reality-a fact that proves captivating but also challenging for a would-be biographer. It was this trait of Dora’s that led to the unique format of Perfect Waves, which interweaves first-person recollections, historical interludes, and narrative. “I wasn’t trying to figure Miki out-I couldn’t do that,” explained the author. “I just let Miki be Miki.”
Through that process, a greater truth about Miki is revealed-one that goes beyond his storied surfing accomplishments, his dark doomsday broodings, and his prankster/scam-artist soul. As you make your way through Dora’s life story, a portrait emerges of a man who is ultimately more important to the legacy of a California-flavored American Dream than he is to the sport of surfing. As Rensin put it, “Dora is easily the most influential, charismatic, and enigmatic guy from California to ever ride a surfboard. : He is all about personal freedom. Looking at his life, you can’t help but ask yourself questions about your own life and what you believe in. : What are you willing to risk?”
Already picked up by Leonardo DiCaprio’s production company as feature-film fodder, Rensin’s book has thus far enjoyed rare critical acclaim from both land-lovers and the usual salt-crusted surf crowd; the appeal, no doubt, is a combination of Rensin’s storytelling ability and Dora’s brilliant and bizarre life path. Even for Rensin, who has to be the world’s foremost Dora expert at this point (it should be noted that Rensin wrote a now-famous piece on Dora in a 1983 issue of California Magazine that Miki carried with him until his dying day), the fascination with Dora and his legend proves unquenchable. “I was as thrilled as hell to have the opportunity to write this book,” explained Rensin. “I just like talking about Miki. It’s an endlessly unraveling spool that you can never put your finger on.”
David Rensin will be in Santa Barbara on Sunday, June 22, at 3 p.m. to read and sign his book at Chaucer’s (3321 State St.). For more information, call 682-6787 or visit tellmeeverything.com.