Doyle, Mike


Hawk-nosed regularfooter from Leucadia, California; runner-up in the 1964 World Championships; a top paddleboard racer, tandem rider, and big-wave rider, and arguably the 1960s' best all-around surfer. "Everybody wanted to be like Mike Doyle," 1966 East Coast champion Gary Propper said. "He had style. Everyone wanted to surf like him, look like him, dress like him."

Doyle was born (1941) in Los Angeles, raised in the southwest Los Angeles suburbs of Inglewood and Westchester, and began surfing at age 13 at the Manhattan Beach Pier. He rode as a goofyfooter for nearly three years, then relearned as a regularfooter in 1956, once he began riding Malibu. Two years later he was good enough to work as a surfing stunt double on Gidget, the 1959 film that helped spark a national surf craze. (Doyle had sold Kathy Kohner, the real-life Gidget, her first surfboard in 1956.)

The easy-smiling Doyle himself was in many ways the archetypal California teenage surfer: deeply tanned with peroxide-blond hair, rowdy and prank-happy but not malicious. At 6' 1", 190 pounds, however, Doyle was bigger than most surfers, and vastly more athletic. He excelled at paddleboard racing, an adjunct sport for most surfers in the pre-shortboard era, winning the West Coast Championships pier race in 1959, 1960, and 1962, and anchoring California's World Contest-winning relay team in 1968. As a tandem surfer, Doyle was second only to the great Pete Person. Often teaming up with Linda Merrill of San Clemente, Doyle won the 1962 Pacific Coast Championships, the 1963 West Coast Championships, the 1965 United States Surfing Championships, and the 1965 World Surfing Championships. He also won the tandem division at the Makaha International in 1963, 1964, and 1965.

Doyle had fewer wins as a non-tandem surfer, but his results spanned the decade. He finished third in the 1961 West Coast Championships, second in the 1964 World Championships, sixth in the 1965 World Championships, second in the 1966 Duke Kahanamoku Invitational, first in the 1968 Duke, and first in the 1969 Peru International. He also won the Surfer Magazine Readers Poll Award in 1964 and 1965, and was voted the top international surfer in Surfing magazine's 1966 Hall of Fame Awards. The Mike Doyle signature model, by Hansen Surfboards, was introduced in 1967.

Doyle's presence in the surf world came partly from his reputation as a competitor, but just as much from his powerful and slightly theatrical free-surfing style. It also helped that he was friendly, articulate, and had good beach-fashion sense. "He was riding a mauve board with white competition stripes, and I was totally and utterly infatuated," Australian surfer Nat Young wrote about Doyle's appearance in Sydney for the 1964 World Championships. "We couldn't believe it when he actually showed up at our local beach [and] brought with him a handmade, embroidered Mexican shirt as a present for me. It was a perfect fit and became my all-time favorite shirt, worn only on special occasions." Young borrowed liberally from Doyle's surfing style, went on to win the 1966 World Championships, and in turn became his generation's most copied surfer.

Doyle was also innovative and entrepreneurial. In the mid-'60s he cofounded Surf Research and developed the first surfing-specific board wax; in 1970 he invented the Single Ski, a forerunner to the snowboard; in 1974 he helped create the Morey-Doyle soft surfboard, featuring the same spongy covering as the Morey Boogie bodyboard, and the prototype for today's soft-exterior surfboards used by beginners. Profits from Doyle's innovations, however, were small or temporary.

Doyle is featured in more than two dozen surf movies of the late '50s and '60s, including Surf Safari (1959), Barefoot Adventure (1960), Cavalcade of Surf (1962), Strictly Hot (1964), and Golden Breed (1968). Morning Glass: The Adventures of Legendary Waterman Mike Doyle, a self-published autobiography, was released in 1993. He was inducted into the Surfer's Hall of Fame at Huntington Beach in 2003.

In 1980, Doyle moved to San Jose del Cabo, at the southern tip of Baja California, where he runs a surf school and paints.