By Adam Peck
The surf community lost a legend on Tuesday, April 30th, Mike Doyle. Mike died peacefully in his bed in the morning with his wife Annie at his side. Mike had been battling ALS, or Lou Gehrig’s Disease. He was 78. The paddle out and Celebration of Life were held on June 3 at the Cabo Surf Hotel in San José Del Cabo, which is also home to the Mike Doyle Surf School.
My wife asked me how it was going writing an article about Mike’s “wake.” I thought that would be a strange term to describe his celebration of life until I realized it’s a perfect description for it as Mike was one of the greatest watermen of all time. Mike left everyone in his wake, and believe me it was a wide one—full of adventure, athleticism of the highest order, stardom, invention, entrepreneurship, friendship, and art. I’m sure there’s plenty more to add to this list but I won’t attempt to re-tell the storied life of Mike Doyle here. There are so many articles written about his accolades, I’ll leave it to you to research it, or get a copy of his autobiography, Morning Glass. It’s an epic read. You can also go to Doyle Surfboards on Facebook and read the heartfelt stories that people posted for Mike to read leading up to his death.
By my count there were a little over 200 people out in the water for the paddle out and probably at least 200+ more that observed from the shore.
At the center of the circle of surfers in the water was Mike’s lovely wife, Annie, as well as Mike’s longtime friend and self-described “butler for the last 45 years,” Jeff King. Jeff did the honors of placing some of Mike’s ashes into a conch shell and leading us all in a tribute before he cast the shell into the depths. This was followed by a mortar fired from the beach that exploded and sent a cloud of Mike’s ashes drifting along the coast. Thanks to Larry Castruita for videoing and sharing his video with us.
After the paddle out, we all caught waves in. There was some clean 2-3 foot surf and I got a chance to cut off another surfing legend, Mickey Munoz. The best part, I was riding his wife’s board that he loaned me! Mickey’s comments to me about Mike, who he’s known since the early 60’s, were that “Mike was an articulate, well read, intelligent, and amazing surfer and all around waterman.” He said Mike could always beat him at surfing and paddling, and he knew something wasn’t right when he started catching up to him in the last few years. He couldn’t reconcile Mike’s incredible life and how he lived, with the karma of getting ALS. Mickey lives part of the year in Los Cabos and will miss his friend immensely.
In talking with John Fries, while reflecting back on Mike’s life and discussing Mickey’s karma comments he simply said, “he packed a lot of life into those 78 years.”
Before the speakers got up to tell their stories, this video was played to highlight Mike’s life. At the end you’ll see heartfelt condolences by some of Mike’s friends that couldn’t make it down, Jerry Lopez, Nat Young, and Corky Carroll. Unfortunately, Jeff let us know that Rusty Miller had had a stroke three days before and wasn’t going to make it down either. Thanks to Jamie McCafferty and Annie Doyle for the video.
At the Celebration of Life after the paddle out, many of Mike’s friends spoke. Jeff King emceed the event and spoke first. He said one of the great things about Mike was his ability to connect with everyone and as a surf instructor at his Mike Doyle Surf School, “he made kooks look like kings.” Something else Jeff related—which anyone who knew Mike even for a short while knew—was Mike’s love for his wife Annie. Mike told Jeff in the last year or so that he wasn’t able to surf or kite anymore, and that “he just wanted be at home with his art and Annie.” One of my favorite parts was when he recounted Mike’s greeting on his phone: ‘If this is about work, hang up. If this is about surfing, kiting, art or music, leave a message.’” For a guy that turned his lifelong passions into a way of life, that about says it all.
Don Hanson, of Hanson Surfboards in Encinitas, spoke about the early days of his association with Mike and told a story about when he sponsored Mike and Garth Murphy on a road trip to east coast in a brand new Ford Mustang. Don didn’t get the Mustang back in the same condition it went out. By all accounts, it was one hell of a ride. Probably because of this, one of Garth’s remembrances about Mike was that “he was dangerous to drive with.” Don also talked about how Mike was such a creative thinker and was involved in the invention of surf wax through his company Surf Research. The was later split off and became Wax Research.
Joey Cabell was one of Mike’s best friends and hero’s and he spoke about the great times they’d had surfing gargantuan waves and snowboarding in Colorado. One of the craziest stories Joey recounted was when he convinced Mike to swim the Na Pali Coast of Kauai to get ready for surfing big waves. It took them two days, they didn’t have any support and didn’t take food or water. Mike told this story in detail in Morning Glass. Amazing! Joey also talked about how Mike invented the first mono-ski, the precursor to today’s snowboard, how he was an amazing snowboarder on a carving board, and how he and Tom Morey built the first soft surfboard, the Doyle Soft. Today, you see soft surfboards everywhere, especially in the novice crowd and Mike Doyle is in the Snowboard Hall of Fame.
Other speakers included, Patrick Green, Mauricio Balderama of Balderama Hotels who owns the Cabo Surf Hotel where the Mike Doyle Surf School is located, Nacho—one of Mike’s long time friends from Los Cabos, and Dennis Frank, who recounted that he had been at Mike’s house the night before he died. Mike was on his bed and was trying to tell him something before he left, but he was so weak Dennis could barely hear him. He got close and Mike pulled is head close and said “It’s going to be 4 ft tomorrow, get up early and get out there.“ A surfer ’till his last breath.
Why am I writing this and why did I fly all the way to Los Cabos to attend? Simply put I thought Mike was a great guy, who I considered a friend, and wanted to pay my respects by being there. Plus, the chance to go to Cabo never hurts. After I met Mike on Mex 5 north of Coco’s Corner during his friend Jeff’s mechanical issue about four years ago, he had me meet him at his house a few months later to sign my late 60’s Hanson 50/50 Doyle Designed 9’4” longboard, which I’d bought in 1981 after watching Gidget. As it turned out, I was watching him and Mickey Munoz be stand-ins in the surfing scenes. At that meeting we ended up doing the initial planning for an art show featuring, Mike Doyle, Wade Koniakowsky, and Josh Bowman at my real estate office in Del Mar. We had a great time, sold some art, and drank a little tequila. We’d met up a few times since, and corresponded by email. I really appreciated how real he was in our interactions and how he was always willing to share his knowledge. That’s rare in many people, not to mention people of his stature. From talking with others, I found he was the same with everyone. RIP Mike Doyle.