Thursday evening my kids had a friend’s birthday party, so I didn’t get back to Mike Rensin’s All for a Few Perfect Waves until around 10 p.m. I stayed up late reading (with a few beers). Then, Friday morning I finished the last few pages.
I still like Waves – I give it 7.5 out of 10. But I do have some reservations about the book.
Friday’s sections of the book were the least rewarding, covering legendary surfer Miki Dora’s life from middle age until his death. By the mid-80s, Dora had slipped into obscurity, living abroad and railing against what had southern California’s surf scene had become since Dora was a young man.
Dora’s obsession with the way that the “corporatization” of surfing had ruined the sport was an obsession. He presented the surf scene up through the 1960s as a Garden of Eden that had been irrevocably ruined by The Fall. Dora was particularly obsessed with surfers from the San Fernando Valley who came to the beaches to steal “his” waves. I found myself wondering if Dora’s lament was at bottom the usual sadness over lost youth.
What Was Left?
Author Rensin points out that Dora had painted himself into a corner with his rebel pose. By portraying commercialized surfers as sellouts, Dora created an appealing image. At the same time, he couldn’t capitalize on that image without ruining it.
Needing an income, Dora accepted an offer to join surfwear manufacturer Quicksilver as a paid schmoozer. Predictably, Dora and his admirers were ambivalent about this arrangement.
Rensin recounts an anecdote that reveals the contortions Dora went through to maintain his cool, detached persona. Back in the 1990s, documentary filmmakers tracked down Dora in South Africa and asked him to participate in a film. Dora encouraged them to bring their equipment to South Africa. But when the filmmakers returned, he refused to sit for an interview. Of course, this drove the filmmakers crazy.
Rather than leave them with nothing, Dora provided a visual by surfing as they filmed. At the end of the movie, one of the filmmakers approaches Dora who is sitting on the beach, hidden behind his board. Dora says something to the filmmakers, but it is inaudible in the film. In Waves, the filmmaker reveals what Dora said to him – “So, is this how the film ends?” (P. 356).
On the whole, the final sections of the book are overly long. Rensin could have cut much of this material and improved the book. However, the last few pages are quite strong. Rensin recounts Dora’s death from pancreatic cancer in moving, well-chosen quotes from Dora’s friends and family.
No Easy Answers
As my previous comments on Waves indicate, I’m ambivalent about Dora. He was interesting, but he betrayed many people who were closest to him.
Waves concludes with reminiscences by many of Dora’s closest friends. One that shocked me was a remark by Miklos, Miki’s father – “He was a Nureyev on the surfboard. He was fantastic. But I have to be honest: Besides that, I think he was nothing. … Still, he was my son and I always loved him” (p. 430).
Waves is interesting, but it has it flaws, just like Miki Dora… just like all of us…