Miki Dora. Miklos S. Dora III. Miklos Sandor Dora. Mickey Chapin Dora. MSD III. Mickey Doro. Michael Chapin. Eric Dean Welton. The King of Malibu. Da Cat. The First Black Night. The Angry Young Man of Surfing. The Rebel Surfer. The Muhammad Ali of Surfing. The Ultimate Surfing Celebrity. A compulsive liar. The inventor of localism. A walking contradiction. A troublemaker and contrarian. A criminal mastermind. A white supremacist. An incorrigible Don Quijote. A cynical opportunist.
Miki may have been called a lot of names but one thing was undeniable about him – he was the most notable California surfer in the history of the sport during his time, the best surfer in the world. People always loved to watch him surf. Everybody tried to surf like him. But aside from being a great surfer, he was also the manifestation of everything bad about the sport.
Miki Dora was born in Budapest on August 11, 1934 to an American mother, Ramona, and a Hungarian father, Miklos Dora Sr. His father was an educated and refined Hungarian national. He was a representative for Rothschild Wines. He was not a hands-on dad to Miki, but he enrolled him in military academies and boarding schools. His love of culture influenced his son to show appreciation for tennis, wine, food and art. Miki was the best-dressed surfer during his time.
His mother was a budding alcoholic who left them for another man, who would later become Miki’s surfing mentor, Gard Chapin. Gard was a woodworker from Santa Monica who later became California’s most talented surfer.
Introduction to Surfing
When Miki was six months old, after his parents divorced, his stepfather Gard brought them to California. The father and son had surf tips to San Onofre and Palos Verdes. Gard brought Miki to Malibu for the first time, where he helped him and Bob Simmons make surfboards.
It was in the 1940’s when Miki was introduced to the sport he would soon learn to love. Chapin bought him his first surfboard from innovator Joe Quigg. Miki was a worthy student, an excellent test pilot. He loved the sport so much that he sometimes skipped class to go surfing.
The Malibu Glory Years
Miki became a full-time surfer in 1950. At age 15, he arrived in Malibu where he met his first surfing buddy, Terry “Tubesteak” Tracy, also a product of a broken home. Both were cool; people wanted to be like them – copied their outlook, phrasing and mannerisms. But Miki and Terry considered non-surfers, even beginning and intermediate surfers, as invaders. They ignored and mocked them. “I ruled the beach, Mickey ruled the water,” Tracy explained. These two became the rebel surf leaders, sharp-tongued and quick to put down newcomers. Tracy however liked the Malibu regulars. He socialized with them more than rode waves. Miki on the other hand surfed, rested, wandered over to “the Pit” – an area near the base of the point, and then left.
When Miki arrived at Malibu, Joe Quigg and Matt Kivlin were rolling out their Malibu chips. Kivlin was Miki’s favorite surfer. He copied his stance, but he eventually became more active and better. He was nicknamed “Da Cat” for his untouchable footwork and bright staccato grace notes. Miki worked hard, rode constantly, and sought new breaks continuously while keeping a watchful eye on other surfers. He did whatever it took to stay on the surf beat, which lead him to a life of transgression and resistance.
It was in the late 1950s when Hollywood discovered the surfing sport. Miki was a regular at Malibu along with others. Their popularity soared when the book “Gidget” by Frederick Kohner was published, as well as the Sandra Dee movie was released. When Gidget was made into a movie, Miki appeared as a double for James Darren, who played Moondoggie.
He also appeared in other beach movies including Gidget Goes Hawaiian (1961), Gidget Goes to Rome (1963), Beach Party(1963), Bikini Beach (1964), For Those Who Think Young (1964), Muscle Beach Party (1964), Ride the Wild Surf (1964), Surf Party (1964), and The Endless Summer (1966).
Miki thrived during his celebrity years. Acting may have been his second priority but he played great on all his roles. Unfortunately, the movies brought more crowds to Malibu. Surfing was commercialized and Miki felt that his surf break was being taken over. He became angry and pushed the surf press away. He was called “the angry young man of surfing” by the media.
Miki was an enthusiastic prankster. He had a taste for lighting firecrackers at public gatherings. He would crash parties, even the most exclusive black tie events in Hollywood. He would entertain people with his smarts and wit and his European gestures.
At one time, he mooned the judges at a surfing contest and took off; a story that cemented his reputation as a contest-hater. On another occasion, he let loose a jarful of moths during a surf film to watch the moths engulf the projector.
He had various jobs in his early twenties. He was a parking lot attendant for the Beverly Hilton Hotel, a host at Frascti, and a delivery boy for a wine distributor. His rebellious attitude started to show during these times as he shoplifted and stole from his employers. He also convinced surfboard manufacturers to supply him free boards, which he then later sold after a few uses. In his thirties, Miki stepped up his criminal activities.
Catch Me If You Can
In the late 50s, Miki was convinced that his perfect waves and cherished days were over. Shorter boards started evolving and Miki was pushed out of the limelight. He was still regarded as “the King of Malibu,” but he began sliding into a dark hole.
He became a scammer and a thief. He wrote a bad check to purchase ski equipment and was convicted for fraud, but he violated his parole and left the States in 1975. He was also sentenced to six months in prison for altering a credit card and using it in Asia and Europe for a spending spree. He funded his lifestyle through using dodgy cheques and stolen credit cards.
He spent seven years running from the FBI to a number of countries including Angola, Argentina, Australia, Brazil, Namibia and New Zealand. He mostly spent his running days in France, but he was finally tracked down in 1981 when he called his family from a telephone booth in Saint-Jean-de-Luz, the same booth he always used to call them because this one was tampered with a metal rod, his own doing to get free calls.
Miki spent three months in the local French prison. He eventually returned voluntarily to the States to face numerous charges filed against him. He spent most of his serving time in Vacaville’s California Medical Facility and Mono County Jail.
During his incarceration, he had nothing to do but read and write letters. His letters were revealing and highly entertaining. He wrote a letter to a friend when he was in Mono County Jail, which he refers to as the Le Grand Chateau. He states:
“I have been found guilty beyond any hope by the people of California, who have a negative sense of humour. They seem unimpressed by my International status for all my bewildering indiscretions, one of which is being disinclined to do anything which requires effort, and the other great sin of riding more waves than any other of the species in the history of mankind.
“Upon entry to Le Grand Chateau, I proclaimed my service as an Honourable Gentleman, to do my duty as prescribed by law. The management was so impressed by my presence that they instantly confiscated my luggage, including all my interesting reading matter, and threw it all in the trash dump — vitamins and all. There’s one thing I can tell you for certain, I’m not tipping on this trip.”
Miki lived out his final years in California, France and South Africa. He was diagnosed with terminal cancer in July of 2002. He left his home in Guethary, a surfing mecca in France, and moved into his father’s house in Montecito. He died of pancreatic cancer the same year. He was 67. In his obituary, he was called a “West Coast archetype and antihero, the siren voice of a nonconformist surfing lifestyle.”
“Surfing, the once great individualistic sport, had been turned into a mushy, soggy cartoon.”
“When I went to school…they never let 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.”
“When there’s surf, I’m totally committed. When there’s none, it doesn’t exist.”
“Living at the beach isn’t the answer. Guys who live at the beach get waterlogged. I’m there for the waves, nothing else.”
“I ride for pleasure only.”
“Professionalism will be completely destructive to any control an individual has over the sport at present. The organizers will call the shots, collect the profits, while the waverider does all the labor and receives little. Also, since surfing’s alliance with the decadent big-business interests is designed only as a temporary damper to complete fiscal collapse, the completion of such a partnership will serve only to accelerate the art’s demise. A surfer should think carefully before selling his being to these ‘people’, since he’s signing his own death warrant as a personal entity.”
“The competitive part of it all is a whole different ballgame, a whole different camp from what I am involved in. I don’t want to think about it. It destroys the whole purpose of riding waves. I don’t like noises, I don’t like crowds, I don’t like bullhorns going off, and people giving me orders how to ride, how to do certain maneuvers.”
“I always have an escape route in my life. Everything I do I try to think on a 360-degree level.”
“The only talent I have is to try and live a free life. And that’s been taken from me. It was different sport in those days. It was a small community, and everyone respected each other. Now that world and that life are gone forever.”
“Waves are the ultimate illusion. They come out of nowhere, instantaneously materialize, and just as quickly they break and vanish. Chasing after such fleeting mirages is a complete waste of time. That is what I chose to do with my life.”
Watch Miki surf in this one-minute clip:
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