[Editor’s note: This article is from our October issue, available now on newsstands and digitally.]
On a September morning in 1967, during the Malibu Invitational, surfing's favorite antihero, Miki "Da Cat" Dora, paddled into a clean 4-foot wave. He popped up, stylishly trimmed across the face with perfect poise, per usual, and as he passed the judging panel, the light-footed prankster disdainfully dropped his boardshorts and mooned the judges.
Or so the story goes. It's stated as fact in surf-history books and retold as the naked truth by Dora's contemporaries. Guys like Greg Noll, Steve Hilton, Jimmy Ganzer, and Robbie Dick say he revealed his derriere as an insulting gesture toward competitive surfing.
"Miki's bare ass at the '67 Malibu contest was no accident," says Denny Aaberg, contest attendee and co-writer of Big Wednesday. "He told me years later that he should have won that contest. 'I was light years ahead of those kooks,' he said. 'Those senile surf judges didn't know what they were doing.' As the heat wound down and he rode his last wave toward shore, it probably occurred to Miki that he should let his fan club know exactly what he really thought of this whole extravaganza—so he pulled down his surf trunks and hung a B.A. for the onlookers."
Of course Dora would do something like this, his peers thought. After all, "hanging a B.A.," as mooning was apparently referred to at that time, was his modus operandi. In fact, Dora had intentionally dropped trousers on camera before this incident (on a surprising number of occasions) and threw the middle finger up to competitive surfing decades before Noa Deane, Bobby Martinez, or the WSL were even born.
"Giving the finger and hanging B.A.s was common practice in the '60s, and Miki Dora did both wherever it was appropriate," says Aaberg. "Miki had Malibu all to himself throughout the early '50s. Those flawless point waves were his private playground. Then came the whole Gidget thing and the explosion of hyped-up neophyte teenage surfers charging down to Malibu and crowding his waves. The idea of some kind of organized surfing contest taking place at Malibu was a joke to Miki."
At least he acted that way. He'd win contests and immediately trash his trophy, or give it away, or hurl it into the crowd like a discus-thrower, depending on whom you ask. He regularly voiced his contempt for the surf industry in interviews and was OK with being a total asshole in the lineup. He'd knock other surfers off their boards mid-wave and call them, according to John Milius, "animals, terrible people, dolts, and stupid kids."
Based on his rap sheet, Dora displaying his hindquarters to a packed Malibu crowd isn't a farfetched story. But according to other witnesses, that wasn't exactly how it all went down.
￼￼"It was an early preliminary heat with Dora, Dewey Weber, Mike Ballard, and a few other surfers," says Glenn Hening, founder of the Surfrider Foundation and eyewitness to the alleged mooning. "Everybody was really excited, because it was the first time the surf had been that good—4 to 6 feet—in a number of years.
"Weber and Ballard were getting waves, but Miki wasn't. Weber and Ballard got a wave together that was one of the best waves we'd ever seen there. Weber was hanging 10 and Ballard was getting tubed by the spray of Weber's board. The heat was coming to an end and Miki finally got a really good wave. He did a hard bottom turn and, probably because he was pushing a little too hard, his trunks just split. He rode the wave down into the cove, got out of the water, wrapped his jersey around his butt, walked to the car and left. He wasn't going to walk back up the beach with split trunks.
"It wasn't intentional; he did not moon the judges. He didn't ride past the point and pull his trunks down. He was always very fastidious and always in costume. He was very meticulous about the trunks he wore, the cars he drove, everything. He was very much a gentleman. Everyone had a different version or story about knowing him and what he wanted. But in this case, he wanted to win. He wasn't going to just moon the judges during the best contest surf we'd ever seen at Malibu. Dora would have been more than happy to win, but he only got one wave."
Gentleman, jokester, or both? Did Dora give the judges "the brown eye," as Malibu regular Ganzer grossly puts it, or did the Malibu crowd witness a rare glimpse of Miki's humanity and modesty? Without standing on the beach that day, it might be impossible to know for sure.
Dora has always been surrounded by larger- than-life tales of oceanic hijinks. According to David Rensin, author of the must-read biography All for a Few Perfect Waves: The Audacious Life and Legend of Rebel Surfer Miki Dora, the man and the myth were inseparable. Dora was a celebrity, in and out of the surfing world. He'd lie, cheat, steal, push, shove, connive, and fool—and yet, somehow, he developed a complex, cult-like adoration. He was an icon of rebellion, propped up by tales of both fact and fiction.
"Reality is perception. Reality is deception. Reality is up for discussion," writes Rensin. "All of it worked to Dora's advantage, particularly because of his self-appointed and subtly encouraged acolyte network…Having read his interviews and screeds, and occasionally been dazzled by a personal encounter, they found their fantasies of self-reliance and rebellion inflamed."
Dora assumed a character, both on the beach and in the minds of his devotees, and everything he did was decoded and rationalized based on who they thought he was. For those who saw Dora as the consummate anti-surf-industry rebel, he probably mooned the judges at Malibu as a stick- it-to-the-man gesture. But for those who didn't buy into Dora's myth, he was just the unfortunate victim of some weak boardshort stitching.
"Maybe he did moon the judges," says Rensin. "And maybe he didn't. No doubt he's somewhere, typical Dora, enjoying our confusion."