Terse big-wave surfer from Hawaii; a top performer at Waimea Bay from the early '80s to the early '90s, and one of the original tow surfers. Doerner was born (1957) in Fresno, California, the son of a French-born mother and a former Santa Barbara County lifeguard, and began surfing at age five. Moving often after his parents divorced, Doerner lived in Texas, Maine, North Carolina, France, and Los Angeles, before settling on the North Shore of Oahu in 1975 at age 18; the following year he became a career North Shore lifeguard.
Doerner was attracted to big waves from the moment he arrived on Oahu, and took his style cues—a slightly bowlegged stance, a smooth, composed line—from revered North Shore surfers Tiger Espere and Eddie Aikau. In 1982, after guru boardmaker Dick Brewer made him a 9' 6" big-wave gun, Doerner began focusing on Waimea. He was small (5' 6", 140 pounds), but fast, focused, and well-trained, and on January 31, 1988, Doerner caught a huge Waimea wave that big-wave veteran Peter Cole described as the "most impressive ride I've seen in the past ten years."
In 1992, along with Laird Hamilton and Buzzy Kerbox, the steely-voiced Doerner became a cofounder of tow surfing, a revolutionary approach to big-wave riding where the surfer holds on to a towline attached to a personal watercraft and is pulled into waves that are too big to catch by paddling. In early 1996, at a Maui big-wave break named Jaws, Doerner slotted himself in the hollows of a massive barrel, setting a new standard for big-wave tuberiding.
Doerner placed sixth in both the 1986 and 1990 Quiksilver in Memory of Eddie Aikau contests at Waimea Bay, but was ambivalent about competitive surfing. "It brings out the wrong feelings," he once said. "People get aggressive, they get upset, they get into fights. It's like, try another sport if it comes to that." Doerner tied with fellow Hawaiian Brock Little as the "best Waimea surfer" in a 1990 Surfer magazine peer poll; the two also tied in a similar Australia's Surfing Life magazine poll in 1993.
Doerner has lived for decades in near-monastic seclusion at Sunset Beach, Hawaii. Indifferent to surf media, he was nonetheless profiled in both Surfer and Surfing magazines in 1990; the following year he did stunt work for 20th Century Fox's surf-caper picture Point Break, and in 1998 he had a cameo in TriStar's big- wave melodrama In God's Hands. He appeared as a stunt surfer in the opening shot of 2002's James Bond film Die Another Day, and appeared in the surf documentaries Step Into Liquid (2003) and Riding Giants (2004).