Photo: Don James
Photo: Don James

History Of Surfing: Paradise Lost

The valley cometh at Malibu

Matt Warshaw released a newbie at HOS for your early week malaise. After a series of chapters on how Malibu gave rise to a national surfing obsession in the late-’40s, he rounds out the period with the chapter on its overcrowded demise in the late-’50s, and no surfer took a more profound blow from paradise lost than Miki Dora. Warshaw describes the far-reaching consequences on Dora from Malibu’s fall:

Surfing was the best thing in Dora's life, Malibu was the best thing in surfing, and from 1955 onward, as he watched newcomers dividing and multiplying like Fantasia broomsticks in the Malibu lineup, mostly what he felt was loss and anger. Years passed before he was able to quit fighting what was obviously an unwinnable fight and seek out other places, other breaks. Meanwhile, his legacy for sublime wave-riding was bound to a darker, more complicated legacy of ideas, including a rich contempt for other surfers, the unapologetic use of violence, and a belief in the inexorable decline of surfing in general. On one level, Dora was simply pointing out and reacting to problems as they existed. But he compounded those problems, too. He was the first surfer to make aggression, misanthropy, and abuse fashionable. "Localism"—the sport’s homegrown form of turf-based vigilantism, introduced in late ’60s—may not have been a direct result of Dora's rants against overcrowding at Malibu. But without him it never would have had the same vogue and cachet.

Read the chapter in its entirety here.

Before moving on from Malibu, let’s give it a proper send-off (for now) with another Q&A from Warshaw.


The last entry on Malibu! But we had such a good run going.

History marches on.

Wait. What about Gidget?

Gidget at this moment in surf history is in, like, 7th grade. Hasn't even smoked her first cigarette. But yes, when Gidget hits Malibu, we are very much going back with her.

What's your favorite quote about the decline of Malibu?

"We shall fight on the beaches, we shall fight in the lineup, we shall fight on PCH."


Churchill or The Enforcer, I can't remember.

Board innovation is a detail that not many people talk about then they think of tensions boiling over in the water: guys needing more room to move.

You see photos and film shot at Malibu in the 1940s, and guys are riding three at a time, five at a time, and you figure that's probably half the people in the water on the same wave. In other words, they've gotta be letting waves go by empty, so they can all ride as a gang [ed. note – Hold on for a damn second and think about that]. It was a thing. What else are you gonna do? Riding on an angle was red-lining in terms of performance, and that wasn't enough—which I guess makes sense—so you ride with your pals to crank up the excitement a notch or two. That's my take. Actually, no, it still doesn't make sense. Seems like you'd still want to ride alone, even if you're just trimming out. But anyway, yes, like you say, when the boards got better, with the Chip and the Pig and whatnot, then forget it, game over. My wave: snake me, and you will get a hand up your ass.

Do you think Miki Dora would have happened if he was born a decade later? Do you think we would have seen the rise and fall of such a legendary character if he didn't taste the uncrowded Golden Age of Malibu?

No, I think to be the person he was, to have the impact he did, Dora timed it perfectly. Ten years earlier, nobody would have been paying attention. Ten years later, everybody was too high, too groovy, and the focus had shifted away from California.

How did Dora view surf exploration?

Until 1967 or thereabouts, I think he mostly "explored" all the various nooks and crannies in Southern California. He surfed all the time, and drove around looking for good waves. He rode Hollywood-by-the-Sea before it was on the map. Out of the way places like that. But still, Malibu and Rincon were enough to keep him from wandering too far. A couple years later, when Dora more or less gave up on Malibu, and when he upped his criminal game, he explored far and wide: South America, France, South Africa. How much of that was surf-driven, and how much was keeping ahead of the law, I'm not sure.

What was Dora's rock-bottom? Do you think his answer would have matched with the public's answer?

I don't know. His personal life, how he felt about decisions he'd made…I have no idea. Watching his beloved Malibu fall during that first wave of the surf boom, in the late '50s and early '60s, that must have hurt a lot, even if he made a game out of it. That's a thing where you're laughing to keep from crying. I'm over-romanticizing probably, but at some level, Dora spent the rest of his life looking for what he had at Malibu in '54.

For more, visit the History of Surfing website here.

Featured Image: Miki Dora, Photo by Don James