Former Tracks editor, Phil Jarratt, reflects on surfing's salad days.
Phil Jarratt’s tenure as Tracks editor between 1975-1978 put him at the epicentre of surf culture during a period of dramatic evolution. Phil was uniquely positioned to observe and document the genesis of professional surfing, the rise of the surfing industry and the counter-culture purists who continued to rail against both. In this new column Phil reflects on the colourful characters, farcical adventures and timeless moments from his career as a writer and surf industry figure.
It was my second trip to Bali, in the dry season of 1975. I'd been in the editor's chair at Tracks for about six months, and had justified bailing out for a month by telling my boss, Albert Falzon, that we were in danger of losing the Propeller photographic team of Dick Hoole and Jack McCoy to a dastardly Rip Curl plot to fund a Tracks-like start-up in Torquay.
Although they had already invested in movie cameras and were starting to shoot their own film, Hoole and Mc-Coy could be relied upon to come up with the best stills of the autumn swell season at Kirra and Burleigh, then repeat the dose over winter at Uluwatu. My plan was to fly into Bali and load them up with so much work that they wouldn't have time to think about the other offer, but before I even had a chance to sit down with them over my long list of story ideas, McCoy roared into Arena Bungalows on his motor bike with his own story idea. "Dora's in town, hiding out at the Legian Beach Hotel. He's in his room right now. I got the camera, grab your tape recorder and let's go!"
I threw my recorder and a notepad into a backpack, jumped on the back of Jack's bike and we sped off through the coconut groves. I didn't need to do any homework on Miki Dora. Having grown up in the Sixties on a diet of Surfer magazines and Californian surf movies, I knew all about the black prince of Malibu, the sneering cult hero who left a trail of broken hearts and empty wallets wherever he travelled, and was as adept at pushing drop- ins off his waves as he was at writing bum cheques. This guy was a true legend, and I couldn't believe I was going to interview him!
As it turned out, Miki Dora couldn't believe I was going to interview him either. Jack rapped twice on the heavy door of the bungalow, deep in the beautiful garden of what was then one of Bali's classiest hotels. "It's not locked," a husky voice issued from within. Jack pushed the door open and we entered the dark room. Back in those days, not many places in Bali had electricity, let alone air-conditioning, but walking into Dora's room was like walking into a fridge. When my eyes had grown accustomed to the darkness I saw a dark-haired, unshaven man of middle years (he was 40) stretched out on an ornately-carved bed, a fan whirring above his head as cold air blasted from an AC box above the shuttered windows. Dora was wearing a loose-fitting pair of boxer shorts that afforded an unsettling view of two large and hairy balls. I held out my hand as Jack introduced me as the editor of Tracks, but Miki curled into the foetal position in the far corner of the enormous bed.
Jack kept up the blah blah, as only Jack can, explaining that even though I was journalistic scum, I wasn't a complete dickhead, and that we didn't really want to interview him, just have an informal conversation. Miki growled a bit, but he started to come around, and after making me leave my tape recorder bag outside with the Thermos of tea, we sat on the floor at his feet, much like commoners at a Balinese raja's temple, and shot the shit for an hour or so. We talked about how Malibu had become a complete joke – a subject on which I was well-versed, having surfed the fabled point break two months earlier on my first visit to California – and Australia and Bali were headed the same way. Only New Zealand gave the world cause for hope, and of course there was always France for the culture, the wine and the women.
Miki was almost friendly by the time Jack and I made moves to leave him to his chilly chill-out, and said he'd see us out on the Bukit in the morning. I got Jack to drop me off at Pranoto's sugar cane juice bar on Jalan Buni Sari, sat at a corner table with a juice and scribbled down everything I could remember about my conversation with the great Miki Dora. This became the unofficial scoop interview of the year, accompanied by an old photo of Miki we just rescreened from the pages of Surfer Magazine.
I heard on the grapevine that someone had sent Miki a copy of the "interview" and that he was none too stoked, but it wasn't until more than 20 years later, at a dinner party in France that he confronted me about it. "That time in Bali, I said no interview, so what do you do? You do a goddamn interview full of bullshit that I wouldn't say and in fact didn't say." He kept this up for quite a while, but his anger soon abated and I thought (hoped) that I detected just the faintest touch of admiration for me having hoodwinked the hoodwinker.
In the last years of his life Miki Dora and I became neighbours and friends. I even flew him from France to Australia for a surf festival. He insisted that I draft a contract that stipulated that I had to pay for everything and that he didn't have to do anything or appear any- where. Such was the enigma of Dora that I gladly wrote the contract and Miki put his "X" on it. He never, ever signed his name to anything.