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Preserving the Legend

- by Bob Feigel For those of us whose lives revolved around surfing and waterfront culture in the 50s 60s and 70s , the name, Miki Dora, conjures up a surfing legend of mythic proportions and endless speculation. But whether or not you approved of Miki’s lifestyle out of the water - and even some of his more aggressive kook control in the water - there are very few people who actually saw Miki ride on a regular basis who wouldn’t consider him one of the sports all-time greats. To put it in the words of one of surfing’s greatest wordsmiths, Drew Kampion: “He surfed like a god with a deific ease and effortless poise, an air of intricate calculation. One felt concentrated awareness and sensed a subtle grandeur.” The writer credited with creating a new standard in surfing journalism, the late-Bill Cleary, put it this way: “When someone is exceptionally talented, we tend to think of him in terms of extensions of our own abilities. Those who can multiply ten figure numbers or do square roots in their heads, we assume to be just like us except that they were born knowing some kind of trick. Nothing could be farther from the truth. Like a Michelangelo or a Mozart, Mickey had a heightened sensibility born of something akin to a sixth sense. But that does not nearly do it justice - no, it was more like Mickey Dora was born with an invisible organ, some mysterious faculty homologous to a radio tuned to higher frequencies. The ‘sounds’ that reached Mickey made up a foreign language - or perhaps they were more like music or a swirl of color, but whatever they were, these rarefied intimations contained the wave information Mickey’s brain hungered for, and which enabled him to surf in ways beyond our imagining.”  At the time I fancied myself a good enough surfer to appreciate the subtle things he was doing out there, but I really didn’t have a clue. It would be another ten years before I really understood the subtleties: and that far from being good Mickey Dora was a surfing genius.” According to Gidget - a surfing legend in her own right: “Miki Chapin (Dora) was not part of the "Crew" ... however, I knew when Miki was at Malibu. I could pick him out in any line up ... He was an amazing man who walked on water ... I have never seen a surfer as fantastic as Miki...” While Denny Aaberg, whose classic story about surfing Malibu was made into the film, “Big Wednesday,” wrote: “Mickey Dora entertained us all with his wit.  He was the master of the one liner.  His monosyllabic quips were always laced with sarcasm, a touch of larceny, and Truth.  In other words, he was the funniest cat I ever knew.” But one of the most eloquent and thought provoking comments  came from surfer and master shaper, Robbie Dick, whose early encounters with Miki demonstrate his complex and often challenging influence on the people around him. “At twelve I found myself taking the next big step into a world in which my perceptions would forever change.  Heading into Malibu's "pit" I encountered a tall dark stranger, someone disarming, confounding, and intimidating.  I was called out, "Hep Gumpa" in another language which I did not understand. I was use to kindness and understanding, only to be assaulted by the dark stranger as he flew atop his surfboard and into the rail of my most cherished possession. I learned respect and humiliation at his hands.  I learned to watch his chess game imitating life.  I was near and heard his rants.  I was drawn closer and became wiser taking nothing for granted.  I learned to influence others, often imitating the mannerism and speech of this king of the beach.  I would later be called upon to use my particular skill to assist him in his quest to discover other ways to dissect mother ocean. We shared laughs.  We became friends, though not too close, as I  had born witness to this metaphor, and had seen its outcome. I was of the cast of untouchables somewhere near the bottom who might ascend the heights on the sands of time, only to be drained to the bottom and start anew. Purpose was given and taken away by the king but it was all worth it. My life would be filled with challenges and experiences.  Miki's influence, ones observation and potential juxtaposition of facts and characters allowed an interesting overview of all outcomes. Miki influenced so many people of my surfing generation.  His seemingly full time job was presenting daily social theater at Malibu or State Beach, which is greatly missed and replaced only by only the few who cast their imitations for the still fewer who actually remember. It was an impossible act to follow.”

DA CAT

An impossible act to follow. How many other surfers over the sport’s rich history have had so many monikers? Mickey, Miki. Dora, Chapin. The Black Knight, Wavemaster, the King, Wavedancer and Da Cat. Even today, over 12 years after his death on January 3, 2002 from pancreatic cancer, his name evokes memories of a golden time before professional surfing, crowds, leashes and designer wetsuits. A time when making surfing your lifestyle choice meant everything else came second to chasing a few perfect waves. How many of us actually followed that path? Or could? Very few that I know of, including myself. Oh yes ... my life revolved around riding waves  and little else for maybe a dozen years before it became one of several commitments. But Miki was married to surfing his entire life. His commitment was total and only death could come between them. Of course, Miki was unique. Both in his lifestyle and in his surfing. He epitomized the ideal of individualism on HIS terms. And he paid the price. He had no heirs. He had no wife to grieve for him  or children to carry on his name. He had no career. No place he could call home for more than a few years at a time. And the only financial security he enjoyed was due solely to his charm, wits and loyal friends. He lived for surfing. Speaking of friends, before and since his death the number of people crawling out of the woodwork claiming to have been Miki Dora’s friend is legion. No doubt Miki met and knew many more people than he could remember. Or wanted to. To put it bluntly, he didn’t suffer fools gladly, but he certainly knew some. And more than a few of those where so caught up in their on perceived importance that they never recognized his undisguised contempt - and still don’t today. In reality, Miki knew many people but had only a few of the kind of friends he could count on and vice versa.  And it was some of those friends who decided to preserve his legacy and his contribution to surfing’s rich history, for this and future generations. One of Miki’s close friends is someone who was many years younger than Da Cat named Steve Taussig. But you’ll never hear him boasting about their friendship.  Miki’s circle of friends  know who they are and don’t need to convince anyone else. Unlike Miki - who was born in Hungary - Steve was Southern California born. But like Miki’s father, Mr Taussig senior was also born in Hungary and immigrated to America. Steve’s mother was from Switzerland and quite a cook. So when Steve first met Miki at State Beach in the early-60s and the conversation turned to food, Miki more or less invited himself to sample Mrs Taussig’s famed Hungarian goulash and came back for more many times. After years of surfing and skiing adventures around the world, Steve’s and Miki’s friendship was something they both could count on. Miki would visit Steve and stay with him at Steve’s house near Miki’s father in Montecito. And when Steve moved to his present home on Maui, Miki would stay with him there as well, while Steve stayed with Miki in France. It was during one of these visits, and before Miki knew he as ill with cancer, that Steve and Miki were talking one day and Steve mentioned to  Miki that he was thinking of acquiring the MikiDora.Com web address so it couldn't be snapped up and exploited by someone Miki didn't know or approve of. Miki thought about it for a moment and asked Steven to make the arrangements ASAP.

10th Life

After keeping this iconic web address for twelve years, Steven felt it was time to let it go. Several ideas were kicked around, but one stood out as the best. To transform MikiDora.Com into a permanent online record of his friend's adventure filled life. In addition to his own collection of photos, artwork, documents and rare memorabilia, Steve planned to invite stories, tributes and comments from other people who knew Miki. It was a big undertaking and one he couldn’t achieve on his own. So he asked me to help him develop the project and act as its creative director. That was in November of 2011, just two months before the tenth anniversary of Miki’s death. Since then Steve and I have worked ceaselessly on putting together a plan to enable Miki’s online history to come to life and then outlive us and our generation. The first major step was setting up a Hawaii non- profit corporation to manage the non-profit’s affairs and ensure the website’s long-term viability. We called it 10th Life Of Da Cat. The second was to appoint a board of directors to oversee the governance of 10th Life Of Da Cat and provide a high standard of managerial and legal advice. Of equal importance, they would have to be able to provide guidance regarding what they think Miki would or wouldn’t have approved of. In addition to the two founders, the non-profit’s board now consists of three of Miki’s closest friends and allies: four time world surfing champion and businessman, Nat Young, Miki’s former lawyer and tennis partner, Bob Simpson, and surfing journalist, author and former Surfer Magazine  editor, Drew Kampion. The 10th Life’s Patron is Miki’s long-time friend and supporter, Harry Hodge, executive director of Kauai Pty Ltd, director of Surfing New South Wales and a former member of the International Board of Directors of SurfAid International. “We wanted a permanent tribute to Miki’s life, times, artistry and unique contribution to surfing’s rich heritage,” says Taussig. “Not just for our generation, but for future generations.” “The only way to accomplish this is to have a  non-profit organization that will continue to keep www.MikiDora.Com non- commercial and with no paid advertising after our generation is long gone” Not that this concept hasn’t had its critics - particularly from one or two people who firmly believe that Miki wouldn’t want his  history to be preserved. In fact, someone was so upset that the person hacked into the project’s Facebook account and closed down the MikiDora.Com page. Fortunately, the hacker’s victory was short lived and after less than a week, a helpful technician at FB reinstated it. On the other hand, the project has received some very positive and supportive comments from people who were a lot closer to Miki than the most vocal of the critics ever was. As Miki’s close friend and the executor of his estate, Harry Hodge, put it: “As we know Miki would most likely be horrified in some respects but in his heart of hearts he would be enormously proud. I think in essence you guys have done the right thing. As I tried to do with David Rensin and Miki’s biography. I agree that it’s far better that people who knew and cared about Miki are the people involved in something like this." And from Miki’s old friend Jan Mayer: "I congratulate you for undertaking this important project ... I have several “Miki stories,” never published anywhere, I would be willing to share with you at any time.  Sounds like the real deal to me, and I know Miki now approves, even though if alive, he might raise some hell in classic Miki fashion.  We need not worry about that any more.  Great to hear the spirit of Miki is alive and well.  Bravo ... " Now that the non-profit aspect has been nailed down , the project is looking for support from those who knew Miki Dora and agree that his memory deserves to be preserved. “We’ve already put a lot of our time and our own money into the project,” says Taussig. “But we can’t fund it by ourselves.” Taussig and the board are hoping to raise enough funds through private donations to achieve their goal of $30,000. But if they can’t they plan to use the online fund raising service, GoFundMe.Com, to make up the shortfall. An integral part of the GoFundMe fundraiser will be a video explaining why it’s important to preserve Miki’s legacy. So far the video features contributions from surfers, Nat Young, Robert “Wingnut” Weaver, Gidget, Robbie Dick, Jim Fitzpatrick, Corky Carroll, Denny Aaberg, H2o publisher, Dr Martin Sugarman and David Rensin, author of All For A Few Perfect Waves - The Audacious Life and Legend of Rebel Surfer Miki Dora. Other contributors will be announced later on the project’s Facebook page and website, www. MikiDora.Com According to Taussig, technology will be the key to running the non-profit. “We want all of the money raised to go into the project. No one will receive a salary and operational costs will be kept to a minimum,” he says. “No travel expenses either. Our board meetings will be conducted over the Internet using Skype or a similar online conferencing service.” “Miki was totally unique, both in and out of the water,” adds the author. “He was a maverick and now that he’s gone it’s not only important to keep his memory alive, it’s important to remind people of what surfing and surfers were like in the ‘Golden Years’.”
On the nose at Malibu - Photo: LeRoy Grannis Gidget and Miki at Malibu Miki and Steve Taussig outside Miki’s  apartment in Guéthary. Photo to left: Miki, Fred Hemmings, Nat young and Lyndon Simpson. Above: Miki, Bob Simpson, Harry Hodge and friend Phil. Mickey Muñoz, ‘Buttons’ Kaluhiokalani and Miki. Checking out the surf at Guéthary - Photo: Bob Simpson