Miki Dora

The cult of Dora, which has informed the countercultural style of an entire echelon of surfers across three generations, rambles free outside of coastal dwelling boundaries…

Portrait by Francesca Hotchin

Since Miki Dora's death in 2002 an industry has been generated through the deconstruction of his every obtuse utterance and misadventure. He's been called a soothsaying scam-artist, a barefoot Brando and a cross-stepping Kerouac. The first generation of jockish, upstanding Californian watermen held court at San Onofre. A hundred miles to the north at Malibu, Dora was the sire of the new, edgy breed of surfer paddling resolutely against the flow of California's chrome-clad, boom-time ethos. Whatever is the true nature of Dora, it held surf culture in its thrall for half a century and originated almost single-handedly the image of the surfer as edge-dwelling existential outlaw. Now we’re calling him the original Acid Rambler. Listen. Can't you just hear him cackling from the grave…?

Though by 1954 Dora was a fixture at many of the classic California pointbreaks, it was at Malibu where the Dora myth was nurtured, and from where its influence began to radiate. Honing a zen-ish sense of the absurd and an unforgettable surf style that was all feline flow offset by staccato counterpoints, the audacity with which he interpreted Malibu's walls was mirrored in intensity by the armoury of scams and obfuscations he bought to bear on the beach. By 1957 Malibu was surf culture's unruly capital. Dora had became its Holy Fool.

As the fifties gave in to the sixties, Dora began to rail against the conspiracy of pretenders, profiteers and downright kooks who had sullied surfing's erstwhile halcyon. And by the end of the decade, it all got too much. Dora took flight and spent much of the next thirty years on an extended jaunt around the globe, funded by elaborate scammery and a series of long, genteel cons. Seeking out elegant right-hand pointbreaks from Angola to Argentina, with a few periods of incarceration along the way, he became a surfing primitivist on the search for a time and place before the fall. When surf magazines published his sporadic dispatches from the edge of things, you couldn't help but wish you were there. An entire generation of surfers arose knowing in the back of their minds that Dora's truth was something to which they could only aspire. And his enduring influence amongst us is a persistent ache which refuses to fade into obscurity.