Depending on the situation, you never knew which Miki you were gonna get. If you were lucky enough to encounter San Miguelito Dora during his lifetime, then you probably have a Miki story. With Miki, it was either love or hate. The ambiguity made him one of modern surfing’s key icons.
In the post-war, military era of surfing, where clean-cut, all-American ideals thrived, Miki was our first Black Night. He was quoted as saying that surfing, the once great individualistic sport, had been turned into a mushy, soggy cartoon. His rebellion against the beach-blanket-bingo lifestyle became our obsession. While his contemporaries were rallying and trying to organize his activity into a sport, Miki took a by-any-means-necessary approach to maintaining a surfer’s lifestyle.
Miki always said that computers were the beginning of the end. And up until the late ’60s computers were not used in airports, which meant handwritten airline tickets were still being issued. Miki had figured out how to forge these airline tickets to sponsor his surf travel around the world. I know this is true because Nat Young flew from Australia to Europe on one of his phony tickets. It was a “catch me if you can” lifestyle, all in the pursuance of riding waves at The Man’s expense, and we loved it. However, with any defiant lifestyle come consequences. While fans adored Miki’s antics, he eventually paid a hefty price for his insubordination.
Paranoia and loneliness followed Miki wherever he went. He always felt someone was after him, which may have been true. A life of defiance can age any man very quickly, and after years of giving everyone the finger, Miki succumbed to jail time and living in seclusion.
This is where I call bullshit.
The masses that Miki ran from were also his reason for living. The people he spent his whole life trying to avoid, deep down he couldn’t live without. Miki thrived off his own celebrity (mind you, he’d spit on me for writing this). His acting ability may have been second only to his surfing career, but that’s what made him great. He played us, never breaking character, all the way to his deathbed. In an era of bland, Miki created an identity—be it false or ambiguous. He forced us to look beyond the jock mentality of surfing and see it for what it was meant to be: cool.
In the end, perhaps the Oscar he stole from a Hollywood party during the ’60s was deserved all along. Miki was the best at whatever he did, whether it was cheating, lying, sliding, or gliding. And even though he paid a price, he never let us get the best of him.
Miki, we love you. We hate you. We miss you.—Joel Tudor