Me, Miki and Da Cat – part 2
Well, number one: if Miki liked the board so much, why would he have sold it in the first place? Number two, Dora never paid for a board in his life! It’s all a bunch of sour grapes from people trying to pile on Da Cat’s success or get even with Mickey Dora 40 years later. These grumblers should get over it and let Da Cat rest in peace.
I once criticized Mickey for taking boards from these builders, and he replied coldly: “I don’t owe those guys anything. I’m nobody’s puppet. I never signed any contract with them.”
So, I’m working at my Hermosa Beach shop one day and in walks Mickey. My butt immediately begins to pucker. We talk a little, then he says, “I have an idea – what do you think about building a Mickey Dora board?”
At that point, my butt goes to full pucker mode. “Yeah,” I reply sarcastically, “we could call it Da Cat.” Anyway, we talk a little more, but all I can think about is all the guys he’s porked over the years, and how I’m gonna be the next. And then I remember that earlier conversation: “I don’t owe those guys anything … I never signed any contract.” So I interrupt him and tell him he’s never getting a free board out of me unless we’ve got a full-blown binding agreement on paper. To my complete surprise he says, “Okay, no problem.”
He only had one request. When we were done designing the board, it had to be completely different from any other board ever made. I agreed.
So, after signing the agreement, we started from scratch. We were only sure of two things: Number one, the board had to ride the way Mickey wanted, and number two, it had to be as different in appearance as Dora’s personality.
We started tweaking templates from some of my other boards to get a clean outline. After much discussion, arm waving, and theorizing, I shaped the first Da Cat. His initial reaction – it wasn’t different enough. He asked about lowering the center of gravity in the nose. I told him I didn’t want a bunch of thin-nosed boards breaking in half. More head-scratching, then we decided to scoop the nose, but with a totally different twist than anything done before.
We started the scoop about an inch and a half in from the rail, dropping it off towards the center of the board. This ran down the deck into a V shape, which resulted in several compound curves. Once glassed, I knew this would give the much-needed strength to keep the nose from snapping off. The board was so different from anything ever shaped before, it looked like a space ship. Mickey was dancing around like a little kid. I’d never seen him that excited, before or since. That night we penciled out a goofy-looking fin that somehow looked perfect on the strange new board.
We glassed it, he rode it, then we made another board incorporating more changes in rail thickness, outline templates, and overall rocker. And after that one more board with a few more small changes. He was totally stoked with the way the final board rode. Over the years we made several other changes: a pin tail, stabilizer tail channels, a removable fin. We made subtle changes for the next five years as Da Cat evolved. Da Cat was one of the most successful surfboard models of all time. In 1992, we signed a new agreement to do a limited edition. Like the originals, the boards were signed individually by Mickey. This run was even more successful than the boards we made back in the ’60s.
I don’t know why Mickey decided to have me make his board. Maybe it was all the time we spent surfing together or because we knew each other for so long. It could also be that he’d burned every other board builder on the coast, and I was the only one left. The bottom line is, we had a good, functioning business relationship that spanned over 35 years.
Now it’s more years later, and I’m looking back at my relationship with Da Cat, the man himself, and I have to say that he was one of the most interesting and challenging people I have ever known. There’s not a day that goes by that I don’t think about him. There’s no doubt that in many ways Mickey was a genius, certainly in surfing. The difficulty he had in everyday life was that he truly saw things from a different perspective than the average person. Consequently, he reacted to many of life’s challenges in ways many people just couldn’t understand.
Towards the end of his run, he came up to our house. I didn’t know it at the time, but he had taken a direct hit from the silver bullet. He had the cancer, but he was still feeling all right. We went fishing, hiked, and just hung out. We laughed and giggled about some of the dumb shit we’d done over the years. In the end, all the suspicion, arguing, and paranoia was finally set aside. Funny, it took us a mere 55 years to get rid of the baggage and just be friends.
Not long after his visit, I made my weekly call to him. He was getting weaker, getting ready for the final kickout. I remember asking him how he was doing. His reply was that they had just given him a big enema and a shot of morphine. He said as soon as we finished talking, he was seriously considering doing a huge wall painting.
I said “okay” and … I don’t know why … but it just popped out of my mouth, “Take care, Mickey. I love you, man.”
There was a hesitation, then he said, “I love you, too, pal.”
He died early the next morning.
– Greg Noll