Miklos Sandor Dora is quite possibly the least understood cultural symbol to emerge from surfing during what Matt Warshaw calls the “boom years.” The Encyclopedia of Surfing describes him thus: “Irresistible American surf rogue, originally from Hollywood, California; the light-footed master of Malibu during the 1950s and ’60s, and surfing’s definitive outlaw figure.”
In an article for LA Weekly, Jamie Brisick explained, “If you took James Dean’s cool, Muhammad Ali’s poetics, Harry Houdini’s slipperiness, James Bond’s jet-setting, George Carlin’s irony and Kwai Chang Caine’s Zen, and rolled them into one man with a longboard under his arm, you’d come up with something like Miki Dora, surfing’s mythical antihero, otherwise known as the Black Knight of Malibu.”
Miki was a living breathing contradiction – he was simultaneously part of the same surf community he derided. His antics from mooning the judges at the 1967 Malibu Invitational to spreading false rumors about his own sexuality for kicks are the stuff of surf legend. And over 15 years since his death, he continues to be a person of interest far beyond the sphere of surf, as evidenced by NYC indie artist Amen Dunes’ recently released single, ‘Miki Dora.’ We caught up with the man behind Amen Dunes, Damon McMahon to get some context behind the track:
The first single off your new album Freedom is called ‘Miki Dora’ who was an enigmatic, living breathing dichotomy. What was your introduction to Dora as a person, and what about his story inspired you to write a song titled after him?
I’ve always been intrigued by surfing from afar, always wanted to do it but never did.
Miki Dora just seemed, first off, like a kindred spirit stylistically. He approached surfing like I approach music: subtly, tastefully, and with some nastiness to balance it out.
As for his story, he embodied something I was conveying with this record, though I didn’t know it at the time.
Miki Dora, like all my songs, just came to me. I was sitting at my desk, was hit with a moment, and then looked him up online, ingested his vibe, and wrote the song. It all happened in about an hour.
What came out ended up connecting with the eventual theme of Freedom, which is an album essentially about a relinquishing of self through exploration of its various forms, the multiple identities we (I) cling to: from my childhood self, to my heritage, to my parents, to male icons (like Miki) I always looked up to. He embodied one of those identities: the dark side of ego and masculinity, pride and a fall from grace, but also a hero’s beauty, power, and liberation.
One of the interesting things about Miki Dora is his celebrity transcended and continues to transcend the boundaries of surf culture to which he simultaneously belonged and thumbed his nose at. What do you hope to express with a song that in a way re-introduces him and his story to fans of your work that may not necessarily be familiar with Miki Dora?
Well, to be honest I had no intention except that he embodied something within me, and within our culture, that I thought was relevant. And even preceding all that, he kind of just came to me.
Your new album, Freedom, incorporates a number of characters. In some senses, Miki Dora is one of the more obscure ones. What made you want to release this track as the first single from the album?
That’s a good point, he’s one of the more obscure ones. We all just thought musically it would be the right first move, but maybe subconsciously there is something universal about Miki that made it seem like a good first “character” if you will to put forward.
Who was Miki Dora as you understand him and how do you feel that his life resonates with you? How do you hope it’ll resonate with others?
Well, I can relate to him on a number of levels. Superficially, I also had my run-ins with bad behavior and getting in trouble with various things. Then as I mentioned, I relate to his internal divide, the pull of his pride and bravado, and how that is a detriment in life. I also relate very strongly to the way he approached his art, and how he felt in his scene. But honestly, that sense of being an outsider I’m trying to let go of. Life’s too short. Maybe that’s why the song has strong feelings of regret and reflection on a life lived that way. I hope people can see that side of it too. It’s neither a pure critique or a pure celebration.