Mike Doyle by Gerry Lopez
Posted on 05 January 2019
Surfers want to be at the beach when the surf is good, that much is a given. The corollary is that all surfers would rather be at the beach any time regardless of the surf. Obviously there is something about the beach, the ocean, probably both that creates this often irresistible draw. I was drawn to it as a youngster, as were most of my friends or maybe it was that these were the kinds of friends I sought out.
The skilled, expert surfers were a sight to behold and they always made a surf day better. Not only how well they rode the waves but also, how easily they positioned and paddled into those rides. And how all the other surfers just naturally looked up to them. The surf world of then was small compared to today and the great surfers were very visible…when they were out.
I remember one day at Ala Moana, I noticed none of the better surfers were out. As I looked around, there were just us kids and a few of the old guys. When I thought about that, I realized that quite a few days were like this. I asked one of those older surfers, one who I knew begrudgingly tolerated us because we made a serious effort to stay out of his way…I asked him where the good surfers were? I thought perhaps I had offended him by my question’s implication that he was not included in that category as he stared at me like I was a troublesome bug. He exasperatedly replied, “Dey get job…dey all stay work…!” as if it were the most obvious thing in the world.
I didn’t know it then but a seed had been planted in my beady little mind that was germinating from that moment forward. When I look back, the path was by no means direct but it led me to become one of those who by hook or crook, managed to make being at the beach especially when the waves were good, a top priority. I’m sure I wanted to be an expert surfer…I mean, this is the natural evolution of the surfing experience when that surf bug bites. The first ride hooks you and then it’s all about recapturing whatever that thing was that made you feel so good the first time, no matter what. But the time in the water to accomplish any advancement required some delicate and crafty maneuvering so as one wasn’t stuck on the shore or as that old surfer told me, locked into a job or something else far from the beach. A Roger Miller song always came to mind when I tried to imagine what some of surfers who seemed to be at the beach most often, what they did to make that possible…”A man of means by no means…King of the Road!”
In the 1960s, the only industry of surfing was the companies that built surfboards. My big break came when a small history of mediocre ding repair coincided with a sudden change in surfboard design. I happened to be at the forefront that happened to be the lineup at Ala Moana where shorter surfboards proved to be better than the standard longboard shapes of the period. I stripped down my old 9-6 noserider and made myself a new surfboard 2’ shorter. Constructing a surfboard was really just a small step up from repairing one. It may not have looked pretty but the board rode like the wind…in my mind at least. When I paddled ashore, a guy in the parking lot walked up with cash money in hand, wanting that surfboard and, just like that, I was in the surfboard business.
Riding a long, heavy surfboard was best accomplished by a big, strong surfer. There were, of course, very skilled small stature surfers but a big board was more easily handled if one was bigger. The new shortboards changed all that and made surfing easier for guys like me. Now I had something going that helped with one of my primary goals. I had a job with a very flexible time schedule that allowed me to spend a lot of quality time at the beach. All my customers knew their boards would take a little longer if the surf was good.
I don’t believe I aspired to work in the Big Industry but that’s what happened. In 1968, I was shaping at Surfline Hawaii for Fred Swartz and he suggested we take a trip to SoCal. Dick Metz and Hobie built the Hobie Shop on Kapiolani Blvd. one weekend back in the early 1960s. Dick ran the shop and it was so successful that the other major surfboard manufacturers started seriously looking at Honolulu. Metz headed them off by starting, as a silent partner, Surfline Hawaii with Big Dave Rochlen and Jimmy Pleuger. Dave brought in Fred to run the shop. Surfline sold Hansen, Gordon and Smith, Yater, Dewey Weber, Bing, Jacobs, everything except Greg Noll who had his own shop up in Kaimuki. Fred said that Hansen Surfboards was interested in starting a relationship with me and that we would go see them together. So we rolled down to Encinitas to their big new showroom on the Coast Highway right across from the SRF complex and the Swami’s surf spot. The Hansen shop was huge and swanky. Don Hansen came out and greeted us then he and Fred went back to his office. I was browsing around, looking at the racks of boards when the front door opened and in walked Mike Doyle.
You have to understand that Mike Doyle was probably the best surfer in California, on par with Joey Cabell in Hawaii and Nat Young of Australia but way above either in star power. He was ‘The Mike Doyle’, the main surfer of Hansen Surfboards, a champion paddle racer, tandem surfer and he looked like a Greek God. I mean he could easily have been the model that posed for the statue of Adonis. Towering tall, blond, curly locks, piercing blue eyes, shoulders a yard wide, the whole package. Plus he could surf big waves and small with equal skill and style. I know because I had watched him on many occasions in Hawaii at Sunset, Waimea, Haleiwa and Makaha…he was The Guy! He didn’t know me from Adam but he walked in, saw me standing in the corner, came right over, stuck out his hand and said, “Hi Gerry, thanks for coming in…” What…? He knew my name. I might have stammered something foolish but he held on to my hand, saying, “Yeah, I told Don we should get you onboard the team here.” Huh…he knew who I was…how could that be, I was nobody and I know it didn’t even register until much later that he was the one who recommended me. I don’t think I even squeaked and I’m sure I had my mouth hanging open, eyes agape but Mike patted me on the shoulder reassuringly and said he would go find Don to tell him I was there.
That was just over 50 years ago and I guess the point I’m trying to make is that Mike was a Giant of a Man already, way back then. Long before Baja, windsurfing, Morey Doyle, Mono-ski, kitesurfing, SUP, famous artist, all that stuff. I always liked pirate history and Mike is like some Captain Kidd or Blackbeard or a Long John Silver with a treasure room full of chests of jewels, gold doubloons, ingots of silver but the treasure was his exploits, accomplishments, adventures, misadventures, feats, deeds, achievements, enterprises, jobs, stunts, escapades, his friends, family, acquaintances, dogs…all overflowing his trove of treasure chests. Yes, a rich life, one we can all be envious of but I feel the treasure for all of us is being able to be his friend and having him respond in kind. And this isn’t some kind of eulogy because Mike is still very much with us all and will be for a lot longer. This is just an outpouring, actually a torrent of Love for this great man! WE LOVE YOU, BROTHER!