Steve Sorensen - Morning Glass
Posted on 21 January 2019
In 1993 I published Mike Doyle’s autobiography, Morning Glass. I had known Mike about ten years by then, surfed with him countless times, and visited him at his home on Gringo Hill in San Jose del Cabo. Though I had worked as a journalist for twenty years and had interviewed hundreds of people, I had never met such a natural storyteller as Mike. His recollections were vivid, dramatic, sometimes painfully honest, and often outrageously funny. Mike’s work on the book was entirely spoken. My job was to record his tales on paper, then assemble them in book form.
Morning Glass was well received right from the start. The Orange County Register said, “Morning Glass is a thoughtful portrait of a man enthralled with the ocean.” And the Honolulu Star-Bulletin said, “Throughout all his adventures and misadventures, Doyle has eschewed the accumulation of material goods, instead directing his energy to developing a rich network of friends that has become his true wealth. Eccentric characters shuffle or strut in and out of Doyle’s tale and breathe life into this unusual history of surfing.”
In February of 1994, Mike and I were on a book-signing tour to publicize Morning Glass. We had just been hosted by Blackies surf club at Newport Beach, where the members had bought a couple hundred copies of the book. Our next appearance would be at the O’Neill’s Surf Shop in Santa Cruz, but that was still a week away, and, though our pockets were stuffed with cash, we hadn’t thought much about what to do in the meantime. So Mike suggested, “Why don’t we go snowboarding.”
“Okay,” I said, “but I’ve never snowboarded before. You’ll have to teach me.”
“I’ve never snowboarded either,” Mike admitted. “No big deal. We’ll teach each other.”
As incredible as it might seem, the man who had invented the single ski, which many people consider the precursor to the snowboard, didn’t know how to snowboard. The failure of his single ski had left a bitter taste, and he’d never made the transition from skiing. My own background doing backcountry snow surveys in the Sierra Nevada had steered me toward telemark skiing, and my mountain buddies sneered at snowboarders as nothing but “knuckle draggers.”
While we were driving to Big Bear, Mike and I weighed our ignorance and realized that all we really knew about snowboarding was that you must always turn on the uphill edge and never catch a downhill edge. “Just like skiing,” I said.
“Yeah, but they say that on a snowboard it’s a lot worse,” Mike added. “Catching an edge can slam you into the ice so hard it’ll knock you silly.”
After we’d rented our boards, we strapped them on in the parking lot and tried to visualize what it felt like to carve a turn: bending, unweighting, and coming down on the uphill edge. We were both nervous, but there was nothing left to do but get on the lift. I was wearing a hat that read “No Fear.” I took it off and said to Mike, “This should be spelled “Know Fear.”
The crowd at Big Bear was not only far younger than us, but they didn’t exactly look like they were from the beach culture we knew. They were tattooed and dreadlocked, with baggy pants and glazed eyes. At first Mike and I were just dead pylons for them to negotiate around, hooting and hollering as they blazed by the two newbies. Both of us caught a downhill edge several times and were slammed brutally into the snow. I think Mike hit his head hard once, and I ended up with a knot on my elbow the size of a golf ball. We were bruised and stiff, but by the end of the day we were carving smooth turns, and linking turns together, too.
Not long after that I returned to telemark skiing, which is far more functional in the backcountry conditions I preferred. But Mike went on to become an excellent snowboarder, pushing the limits of speed on the finely groomed slopes of Aspen. Rather than adopting the common but ugly style of thrusting your upper body around to torque your board into position, Mike developed a carver’s style of turning entirely by laying the board on edge and allowing the board’s contours to complete the turn. Like his style of surfing, and like his life, it is creative, masterful, and wonderful to watch.
(Steve Sorensen’s other books include: Heap of Bones: A Baja Surfer’s Chronicle, and his memoir, A Branch of the Sky: Fifty Years of Adventure, Tragedy, and Restoration in the Sierra Nevada.)