The Seedy Underside of the '60s Surf Scene

'Vanity Fair' peeks into life of legendary Miki Dora, and the 'lost boys' who followed him
By Jenn Gidman,  Newser Staff
Posted May 9, 2017 5:52 PM CDT
The Seedy Underside of the '60s Surf Scene
Dark lives alleviated by the waves.   (Getty Images/AleksandarNakic)

Three teens featured in a 1961 Life magazine article thrust California surfing life into the spotlight, a seemingly carefree existence of surf, sand, and sun. But as Sheila Weller explores in Vanity Fair, there were darker undertones floating underneath the Malibu surfing scene, an "underground saga" that often masked the unhappy home lives of those who drifted toward it. At the center of her story—and the subjects of the Life photo spread—were Mike Nader, Duane King, and Larry Shaw, three 16-year-olds who came from broken homes filled with abuse, alcoholism, and neglect, seeking refuge and comfort in the warm Southern California waters and under the wing of legendary "surfing hedonist" Miki Dora. Weller explains how the charismatic Dora, whom Nader called "the Cary Grant of surfers," enraptured the so-called "lost boys" with his equal parts masculinity and femininity.

But under Miki's mystique was a small-town scammer who became angry when the movie Gidget put surfing on the map—sending crowds of newbies to the shore to ruin his paradise. The boys became part of Dora's "brazen, swashbuckling counter-narrative," immersed not only in petty theft, but also in the heady world of girl surfers, who "materialized through the ocean glare like Valkyries rising from fjords." Even Jim Morrison of the Doors showed up on the scene for a time. The landscape grew increasingly darker as the '60s progressed, replete with hard drugs and Dora himself eventually earning jail time for his dabblings in check and credit card fraud. To the lost boys, though, Dora would always be the one who offered them shelter from "the jaws of family pain" in a "Technicolor dream of wet and wild and rebellious adventure." More on their story here. (Why the Amazon's best waves are now gone.)

Stories to sink your teeth into.
Get our roundup of longform stories every Saturday.
Sign up
Get the news faster.
Tap to install our app.
Install the Newser News app
in two easy steps:
1. Tap in your navigation bar.
2. Tap to Add to Home Screen.