Waterman Doyle has a heart for glass
by Brian Moon
Sep 07, 2006 | 1419 views | 0 0 comments | 6 6 recommendations | email to a friend | print
"I want to live on the beach, and surf every day for the rest of my life."

That's what former La Jolla resident and world surfing champ Mike Doyle told his high school teacher the day he graduated. And he succeeded. Doyle has spent most of his adult life living and surfing on the undeveloped, pristine beaches far from the modern world.

But this year he came back to town and to D.G. Wills Books to talk about his new book, "Morning Glass: The Adventures of Legendary Waterman Mike Doyle," and followed it up with some impressive wave-riding at UCSD's 12th annual Cancer Center Luau and Longboard Invitational. Quite a few veteran surfing celebs were seen sampling the swells at Scripps on Aug. 20, including L.J. Richards, Corky Carroll, Mickey Munoz, Phil Edwards and Skip Frye.

Doyle described the theme of his new book for the crowd at D.G.'s by saying, "We just put surfing ahead of college and figured out how to make a living later. It worked for me. And I think if you follow your dream, it can work for most people. If you have an idea and a vision and you stick to it, it's gonna work."

Of course, winning four of the world's biggest surfing contests in his youth "” Surfer magazine's Best All-Around Surfer of the Year, the Manhattan Beach Iron-Man Ocean Sports Trials, the Duke Kohanamoku Surf Championships and the World Surfing Championships in Peru, all within a two-year period "” didn't hurt Doyle's game plan any.

Following the victories, Doyle produced several innovations: the world's first surf wax, first soft surfboard (for beginning surfers), first snowboard, Doyle signature model surfboards, and the Mike Doyle School of Surfing.

But the world of surfing was pretty simple in the days when he first started. "In all of California, there were probably no more than 30 surfers," he writes. "They all rode big 60-pound hollow (mahogany) paddle boards or solid redwood slabs, some of them 12 feet long and weighing more than 150 pounds."

The first wave Doyle ever rode was on one of these monsters, and he still has the baggage to show for it.

"I came to my feet, right foot forward, just like riding a scooter," he relates in his book. "(But) I had no way of turning the board "” paddle boards are so awkward even expert surfers can barely turn them."

Then the wave broke, and "I completely panicked. I hadn't thought that far ahead yet ... so I leaped out in front of the board, spread-eagled. Later my left testicle swelled up to the size of a grapefruit," and the doctor wanted to cut it off. Luckily, Doyle convinced him otherwise. "To this day, I have one swollen testicle to remind me of my first wave," he writes.

"Morning Glass," Doyle's coffee-table book, is full of great photos and surf stories like these. He said gas was so cheap in the early days of surfing that he and his teenage buddies often cruised in their woodies, with their boards in the back, all the way from La Jolla to Santa Barbara in a single day, looking for the best waves.

And where did he find them? Without a doubt, the best waves in California are to be found at La Jolla's Windansea Beach and at Swami's in Encinitas, he told an appreciative crowd at D.G. Wills.

"That's why so many of the greatest big-wave riders come out of this area, because Windansea is probably one of the greatest, steepest drops, like Hawaii," Doyle said. "And the guys who have their boards and their equipment here are dialed in for Hawaii when they go over there."

He ought to know. The first time Doyle surfed the Hawaiian islands was at an unnamed beach notorious for its radical tube-hissing curls peeling over razor-sharp shallow coral. Doyle rode several waves that day and gained the respect of many veteran surfers who watched in amazement. Later on, the spot became known as Banzai Pipeline.

Doyle said one of his greatest heroes years ago was a grad student in La Jolla at Scripps Institution of Oceanography.

"Ricky Grigg was a big-wave rider who had wave dynamics all figured out," Doyle said at the book store. "He also was a pink and black coral diver so he could hold his breath under big waves for three minutes. I never could do that. After 20 seconds I always thought I was gonna die. But Grigg was fearless, and I admired him for that."

Eventually Doyle felt the call of the wild. After surfing so many faraway lands, coming back to SoCal gridlock was a major letdown. So he sold his Marine Street house, packed his stick and abandoned this region for untamed environs. First was Oregon, where he bought land, donned a wetsuit and braved the frigid North Pacific for a time. Then Cabo San Lucas, where he found the seclusion he wanted, warm waters year-round and business opportunities to fit his lifestyle.

Doyle stayed true to his dream and never left the beach. Although he has a biology degree, he chose instead to launch the Mike Doyle Surf School in San Jose del Cabo, sold real estate and opened the Doyle Gallery for his myriad oil paintings.

That's the other side of Mike Doyle that graces the pages of "Morning Glass." The "legendary waterman" has always been an artist. Unlike many of today's personalities who are convinced their creative genius will naturally translate into other mediums, Doyle didn't just take up the brush after his name made the news. He started dabbling with oils as a kid under the tutelage of his mother, who was a painter as well.

Doyle's paintings reveal a penchant for unorthodox coloring and contrast, brilliant displays of raw nature, hypnotic foliage, occasional suggestions of dark foreboding and emotion, tropical flavors and exotic women.

Many of his original canvases are currently being shown at Java Jones on Cass and Loring streets in Pacific Beach. Copies of "Morning Glass" also contain several color plates of Doyle's paintings. His book is available at D.G. Wills Books, 7461 Girard Ave.

As for Mike Doyle, his visit to our fair shores is about to end. Just before the paper went to press, he said his San Jose del Cabo home "is directly in the path of Hurricane John, which should make landfall within the next four hours or so."

Beyond that, reservations have been made for a surfing safari to Indonesia and beyond. Then he plans to build a new home up the coast from San Jose del Cabo, far from the modern world. 

"” Brian Moon was first taught to surf by Mike Doyle, his Junior Lifeguard instructor in Manhattan Beach.
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