Miklos ‘Miki’ Dora, 67; Rebel Surfer
He was known as “the King of Malibu,” “Da Cat” and the “angry young man of surfing.”
Miklos “Miki” Dora, an expatriate Southern California surfing legend whose graceful surfing style rivaled his reputation as a rebel, has died. He was 67.
Dora, who left California in the early 1970s and spent most of the next three decades living in South Africa and France, died of pancreatic cancer Thursday at his father’s home in Montecito.
Dora, who was diagnosed with terminal cancer in July, had moved into his father’s house a couple of months ago after leaving his home in Guethary, a European surfing mecca on France’s Atlantic coast.
Described by friends as smart, witty and iconoclastic, the charismatic Dora was also known for being standoffish, secretive and something of a scam artist.
The latter trait backfired after he returned to America from France in 1981. He was arrested by the FBI for having fled the country in 1975 in violation of his parole after pleading guilty to writing a bad check for the purchase of ski equipment.
While serving time for that, he was sentenced to six months in federal prison after a Denver grand jury indicted him in 1982 for altering a credit card and using it on a two-year spending spree through Europe and Asia.
But Dora’s run-ins with the law only added to his mystique, which was born on the waves off Malibu in the 1950s.
‘The Muhammad Ali of Surfing’
Although the longboard-riding Dora competed in a few contests in the 1960s, he denounced competitions as being antithetical to the spirit of surfing.
“Everybody considered Miki to be the best surfer in the world,” said Allan Carter, a friend who began surfing with Dora in the 1950s. “Miki was like the Muhammad Ali of surfing. He had dragonfly reflexes and this extraordinarily graceful style. It was beautiful to watch him surf.”
“He’s probably the most notable California surfer in the history of the sport,” said Steve Pezman, publisher of the Surfer’s Journal.
Colorful and unpredictable, Dora was a prankster who once shot Army rocket flares off the Malibu pier. Another time he mooned the judges at a Malibu surfing contest. On another occasion, he let loose a jarful of moths during a surf film to watch the moths engulf the projector.
“Miki was a paradox,” Carter said. “He was reclusive on one hand and flamboyant on the other. He’d get comped with $500 tickets to an A-list party in Hollywood, and give the tickets away and walk in the back door. He was a wild character.”
That--combined with his dark tan, curly brown hair and resemblance to a young James Garner--turned Dora into what a friend once described as “the ultimate surfing celebrity.”
When Hollywood discovered the sport in the late 1950s, Dora doubled on the waves for James Darren, who played Moondoggie in the movie “Gidget.”
Dora also worked in the rash of beach movies that followed: “Gidget Goes to Rome,” “Ride the Wild Surf,” “Gidget Goes Hawaiian,” “Surfing Wild,” “Beach Party,” “Bikini Beach” and “For Those Who Think Young.”
But the movies brought more crowds to Malibu, and Dora condemned the commercialization of surfing and the "[San Fernando] Valley cowboys and aircraft workers” who took over his favorite surf break.
Dora, who painted a swastika on his board, “had no mercy on those around him,” Pezman said. “He’d push them off. He was always [angry] at the crowds and the Valley kooks.”
All of which made him fodder for the surf press, whose attention he spurned.
“If you had to pick one surfer that epitomized California surfing in the 20th century, it would be Miki Dora--everything that’s wrong with it and everything that’s right with it,” Pezman said.
Born Miklos Sandor Dora in Budapest, Hungary, on Aug. 11, 1934, Dora moved to California with his family as a child. His parents divorced when he was 6, and he spent some time in military schools. He later attended Hollywood High School, where he sometimes skipped class to go surfing.
He had been introduced to the sport at San Onofre in the late 1940s by his stepfather, Gard Chapin, a well-known surfer at the time.
“When I went to school . . . they never let you alone,” Dora once told Surf Guide Magazine. “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.”
By the early 1950s, Dora was among the relatively small band of regulars surfing at Malibu, whose popularity soared with the publication of Frederick Kohner’s 1957 book “Gidget” and the 1959 Sandra Dee movie.
“Miki had a tremendous influence on us as surfers,” said writer-director John Milius, a friend of Dora’s who began surfing at Malibu in the late 1950s. “Everybody tried to surf like him and have his grace and his style and cool.”
‘A Sense of Absurdity’
But it was also his way of looking at life, said Milius.
“He had a kind of ironical sense of humor and a very kind of questioning sense about him, a sense of absurdity. He was quite intellectual, extremely well read, almost erudite, and he showed us we could be more than just a bunch of what surfers are [stereotypically] portrayed as in films such as “Fast Times at Ridgemont High.”
Although Dora rode the towering surf at Waimea Bay in Hawaii as a stunt double in “Ride the Wild Surf,” Pezman said, “He always said he was a 4-foot-and-under man.”
“He had the guts and skill to ride larger surf, but it just didn’t appeal to him,” Pezman said. “It wasn’t elegant. It was survival. He wasn’t into survival surf; he was into the dance.
“And he came from the most high-profile surf break in the world, and he was the most high-profile surfer there. He was Mr. Malibu.”
After leaving the United States in the early 1970s, Dora lived for some time in Jeffrey’s Bay, South Africa, which is known for its pristine surf. Then he settled on the coast of France.
“One thing you can say about him: He did live life on his terms,” said Milius.
And the legend of Miki Dora continues, especially in Malibu.
“Still, to this day,” Milius said, “you’ll see on the wall there: ‘Dora Rules!’ ”
Dora is survived by his father, Miklos K. Dora; his stepmother, Christina; and a half sister, Pauline.
A memorial service is planned for February in Guethary.