A criminal mastermind; the best surfer in the world; a compulsive liar, contrarian and troublemaker; a walking contradiction, all the way up to the nose of his longboard and back; the foremost stylist of his generation; the inventor of localism; a white supremacist; a fierce opponent of the commercialisation of surfing (and enthusiastic benefactor thereof); an incorrigible Don Quijote, victim of his own hopeless idealism and wild delusions; a cynical opportunist who would gladly have robbed his own mother; the second most wanted fraudster in the world; the embodiment of everything that has ever been good about surfing; the embodiment of everything that’s ever been bad about it; a Conradian figure of unfathomable depth; a shallow and unremarkable narcissist; the proud owner of the most colourful criminal record in the history of surfing.
Miklos Sandor Dora — A.K.A. Mickey (and later Miki) “Da Cat” Dora, Michael Chapin, Eric Dean Welton and Mickey Doro, to name just a few of his various identities — was certainly most of these things at one time or other, and possibly all of them, though it depends on who you ask, and ascertaining the facts is never an easy task wherever Dora has been involved.
Born to a Hungarian father and American mother — who left Miklos Sr for Californian surf heavyweight Gard Chapin
when Miki was still a child — Dora ruled Malibu in the ’60s, funding his lifestyle largely through the use of dodgy cheques and stolen credit cards. He was convicted for fraud in ’73 but decided to break his bail conditions and leave the States, spending seven years on the run from the FBI in a number of different countries, mostly France but also New Zealand, Argentina, Brazil, Namibia, Angola, and Australia. He was finally tracked down, somewhat fortuitously, in 1981: he used to call his family always from the same telephone booth in St.-Jean-de-Luz, and the local police, who were on the lookout for ETA terrorists, happened to be monitoring it; typically, Miki had worked out how to get the calls for free by inserting a metal rod into the coin slot, and was arrested for "tampering with the phone".
After his release from the local French prison, where he spent three hard months in dour conditions, he eventually returned to the States voluntarily to face the numerous charges that had accumulated against him. He spent the best part of ’82 behind bars, serving time both in Mono County Jail and Vacaville's California Medical Facility. In the latter he coincided with Charlie Manson, with whom Dora later claimed to be on speaking terms. Phil Grace
, co-founder of Quiksilver Surfboards and longtime occupant of the Euroglass shaping bay, was told the following version of the story (there are several): "While being taken across the excercise 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!"
Dora's extensive correspondence from around the time of his incarceration, when he had nothing to keep himself occupied but reading and writing letters, makes for revealing, not to mention highly entertaining, reading. This is from a letter to a friend written not long after his entrance into Mono County Jail, or as Miki refers to it here, Le Grand Chateau
"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."
Nor are the entries in his lengthy FBI file without a certain literary merit. One note from September '81, written by an agent awaiting him in Paris, begins thus: "aware of Dora's hedonistic pilgrimage, magniloquently described heretofore, realize he may alter his plans." Miki was booked onto a flight back to LA following his promise to return home and stand trial, but he had already missed two such flights, and the agent acknowledges that Dora may once again return to Biarritz, "given his surf compulsion and legendary lack of responsibility." Elsewhere in the same entry he's described as a "quintessential albeit ageing boy of summer on a perennial quest for the legendary ninth wave."
Miki died of pancreatic cancer in 2002, having lived out his final years in South Africa, France and California. Some thought he was the biggest son of bitch ever to have lived, others thought he was touched by the hand of God; no doubt many thought he was both. Even his arch-nemesis Johnny Fain
couldn't avoid recourse to biblical language:
"After Miki passed, for a moment I thought he'd faked his death, that it wasn't Miki, that it was someone else. I thought he could pull it off, if anyone could. Then [Steve] Pezman told me it was for real. I told Greg Noll that Miki had died for out sins. He was the Messiah then."
David Rensin’s excellent All For A Few Perfect Waves: The Audacious Life And Legend Of Rebel Surfer Miki Dora
is probably the most complete account of his life, as well as the source of most of the above information. Learn more about Dora's various exploits from his old tennis partner Phil Grace here