Chris James' Mike story -
I haven’t known Mike as long as many others, but I’ve been lucky to have spent some quality moments surfing and kiting in Baja with him and his amazing wife Annie. There isn’t one particular epic story I have of a single crazy adventure with Mike, more like a series of snapshots in time, or little movie clips that stick in my memory. I'm sure I'm forgetting several but here are a few that stand out..
1994, San Luis Obispo, local bookstore.
I was a student at Cal Poly, new to surfing, and eager to soak it all in. Doyle was visiting, talking story and signing his new book, Morning Glass. I don’t remember much of what he said, but I do remember his presence: the calm, poised, quiet confidence of a powerful waterman – you could just tell the guy had been in some heavy situations, and would likely look forward to more in the future. I buy the book. Full of great stories, adventures, and incredible athletic feats (an unsupported 18 mile swim of the Na Pali Coast, who does that!?), his book was the cause of two major life changes for me. The 1st was that I got hooked on prone paddle boarding. The 2nd was the result of one line in the book that really stuck with me. Not sure if this is exact, but it was a quote from Mike that went something like, “Whenever I had a choice between money and freedom, I always chose freedom.” I hope I got that right because, much to my parents’ chagrin, this became one of my guiding principles.
June 1997, Ventura surf shop.
I was temporarily living in my VW Westfalia van (sorry Mom, thanks Mike) to save up enough funds to go heli-skiing in Alaska for a week. I was working for a shop in Ventura managing a surfboard blank operation. Customer comes in, kind of frantic and frazzled, asking questions, looking for a fast prone paddleboard. He explains that every year on the 4th of July he enters a paddleboard race in Cabo and every year Mike Doyle wins it. He’s had enough and is looking for any advantage to dethrone Mike. We consult among ourselves. Then turn and regretfully inform the customer there is nothing we can do to help him.
October 2006, Somewhere North of Nowhere Part I
While solo camping I am befriended by Jeff King who takes me kiting to a secret spot. The next day he invites me to surf with him, Mike, and Annie at a rare left. Mike arrives, parks in a breezeless arroyo under a hot sun. Jeff immediately engages him, excitedly showing plans for a development he’s involved in. Mike, wiping sweat from his face, says, “Think we can do this somewhere a little hotter?” then turns and walks towards the water. It’s the only time I’ve ever heard Jeff at a loss for words. As he walks past, Mike flashes me a smile, holds out his hand, and says, “Hi, I’m Mike.”
5 minutes later.
I’m sharing glassy lefts with Mike, Annie, and Jeff. I’m impressed with the surfing abilities of all 3. Mike asks about my prone paddleboard on my roof rack and provides detailed instruction on how to fish from it, rigging the line to my ankle. Two days later I catch my first fish from my ankle.
Fall 2008 Somewhere North of Nowhere Part II.
I’m house-sitting for Jeff while he’s up north. He calls and says Mike is coming out to kite and to keep an eye on him. Mike arrives, I mention what Jeff said. Mike says something about the largest vegetarian he’s ever known. We go kite. I help Mike launch from the middle of the beach, the wind is a little swirly, he drops his kite and is magnetically drawn to the only rock in the water. At the last instant he sorts it out, relaunches, and escapes the rock. He looks back toward the beach, I pretend to fumble with my gear as if I didn’t see a thing.
Fall 2009, Somewhere North of Nowhere Part III.
I arrive to find Doyle just starting to rig his kite. He has some out-of-town friends with him, non-kiters, there to watch. I start rigging quickly. Mike notices and increases his pace. I’m hustling now, we both launch within 10 seconds of each other, but I hit the water first. I rip outside, looking for any wave to turn on. Yes, here comes one! I turn but Doyle is inside coming right at me. Is he smiling? I ease back outside, he turns on the wave and rips it all the way to the sand. His friends hoot. There are no more waves.
Late Fall 2010, Somewhere North of Nowhere Part IV.
Doyle is sitting in the driver's seat of his car with his door open, parked on the beach, checking the wind/surf. I walk over to say hi. He says, "Look at this, think I need some lotion?" I look down at his legs. His feet are sitting in a pile of sand on his floorboard, it looks like a kindergartner's sandbox where his floor mat should be. I look at his legs, they look like the legs of a dehydrated Komodo dragon, dry and scaly. We laugh.
Early Fall 2011, Somewhere North of Nowhere Part V.
After a long kite session I’ve wandered down the beach for a better angle to snap a few pics of Jeff, the only other person out. It is midday, hot and I forgot to bring water, but the waves are too good to go back to my truck. I’m getting some great shots, Jeff is throwing huge turns. I hear a rumble behind me and Mike and Annie pull up in his FJ. Thank God, I think. “Hey, you guys have some water?” Mike flashes his classic mischievous smile. “No, but we have this!” and hands me an open bottle of tequila. I drink it.
October, 2013, near Punta San Carlos.
I got a late start crossing the border and am trying to make it to PSC before dark, slow traveling in my Sprinter van with wife and 4-month-old son. The plan was to meet Jeff for some surf and kiting, but I run out of daylight and pull over on the side of the dirt road, no idea where I am or how much further to go. At dawn I hear a motorized rumble getting closer. I peek out my window and see an ATV approaching with two riders aboard. I slip outside as they get nearer and wave. The driver turns off the machine and says, “Ha, you never know who you’ll run into in the middle of The Baja!” I reply, “Hi Mike, Hi Annie.”
May 2014, Somewhere North of Nowhere Part VI.
I received the following email from Mike:
“Mr King, king of storytelling, told us you got the biggest wave that has ever been ridden at our secret spot. When we saw him approaching us at another place I said to the guys, here comes another big story. and sure enough you were the byline. Mike”
This email is permanently saved in a file called Mike Doyle - LEGEND. Thanks Mike.
June 2014, Puerto Los Cabos.
I’ve been invited by a friend to join in an outrigger canoe paddle session. My first time and suddenly everything is very serious. There are rules to follow and paddling terms to learn. Annie is in my boat, Mike is in the back steering. Off we go. I’m paddling hard, water is splashing in my face, my throat is dry from breathing so hard, I’m still paddling, when will this end? Annie is a machine. People are yelling Hawaiian words at me which mean “paddle” and “switch sides” and “paddle harder.” I’m tasting blood now, what is going on? I’m going anaerobic, barely hanging on. I glance back – Mike isn’t paddling. He isn’t even steering, his paddle isn’t even in the water! He’s lying back like on a La-Z-Boy, just sitting there smiling enjoying the ride. I decide I want to be a steersman too.
April 2017, San Jose del Cabo
I’ve been invited to a small dinner party with Mike & Annie and one other couple on a rooftop terrace under the stars. Mike is a gracious conversationalist – always friendly, asking others about themselves, never talking about himself. But that’s not what I want to hear, I want to hear surf stories. I interrupt the conversation and ask Mike of all the places he’s traveled, waves he’s surfed, and sessions he’s had if there was one memorable moment that stood out from all the rest. Everyone looked at me, then at Mike. Silence. Had I pushed too hard? Is this too private of a story to discuss? Did I break an unknown taboo? Mike looked at his hands, then began, “There was one day…” His story continued. It was really good. When he finished we had dessert.
Thanks for everything Mike!