Writer and former SURFER Magazine senior editor Ben Marcus interviewed Terry Tracy in 2003 and 2004. Portions of those interviews ran in Surfer’s Journal and the book Surfing USA.
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It is true you lived in a shack on Malibu for a couple summers?
Not a myth.
Where was it, exactly?
Halfway between the Adamson House and that area that was not yet known as the Pit. We built it in the summer of 1956, and it was beautiful. Not far up Malibu Creek there was an orchard of Phoenix palm trees. The palms were over 10 feet long. They were stacked on longboards, then barged to the final resting place 200 feet north of the yet-to-be-named Pit. We had a big stack of 2 x 4s as well. The Shack was around 12×12 feet. It was the size of a small bedroom. The interior was a discarded mattress, a davenport, sleeping bags, a straight-backed chair, all donated. Later we added flags, a surfboard-for-hire sign, a hangman’s noose swung from a lanyard. And then of course a four-foot-high roll of barbed wire surrounding the structure to keep out the riffraff. There was a poster of Manolete the bullfighter inside, and outside there was a sign that said, “Uptown Surf Club. Members Only.”
What happened to that shack?
Somebody burned it down. Maybe some cowboys, maybe the lifeguards, I don’t know. We rebuilt it the next summer on stilts and telephone poles. It had a picket fence and lift-off doors and it was an architect’s dream.
Malibu must have been great then.
It was great.
The lagoon must’ve been clean still. Could you rinse off in it?
I guess if you wanted to. No one did. The nearest freshwater spigot was across the street at Tube’s Steak & Lobster House, where the Malibu Inn is now. I spent a lot of time over there.
Is that where you got the handle “Tubesteak”?
Describe a day at Malibu, summer 1956.
Wake up in the shack early in the morning, look out and see the sun coming up over the mountains. I can hear one of those big, green horseflies. And the surf is perfect, of course.
Cranking from Third Point to the Pier.
Third Point? No one surfed Third Point. We surfed Malibu; starting from the flagpole in front of the Adamson House.
Okay, just Malibu.
I wake up in the Shack, grab my board, and I’m first to paddle out. So I’m in the water all by myself and maybe getting lonely, and then Mickey Munoz comes up from Santa Monica Canyon, or Dora comes in from Hollywood, and then we’ve got a couple of friends in the water.
Was the wave different then?
I think so. The wave changes over the years because of sand and storms, and how they’ve rearranged the creek. But Malibu is Malibu.
So you surf and then as you come in you casually pick up a lobster off the reef and cook it for breakfast.
Yes, there were lobster and abalone on the reef, and steelhead in the rivers. But we weren’t divers or fishermen, we were surfers! Breakfast, lunch, and dinner always showed up eventually. It came to us on two legs.
Groupies? Hangers on? Wannabes?
No, nothing like that, just people. Good people would come to the beach and they would bring food with them and cold beer and that was that. We were always taken care of.
Did you ever leave the beach?
No. Most of the day was taken up drinking beer. Cold beer. It came down in an endless supply line from friends and strangers. Beer was 12 cents a can then.
Surf-wise . . . Top Five at Malibu?
Miki Dora, of course. Kemp Aaberg. He was easily that good. Tom Morey was hot. Really good. Now Matt Kivlin was awfully good but too tall. And there were just a lot of other guys that no one has heard of: Hugh Foster, Moondoggie. Kenny Price, Freddy Fowler. Freddy Hopkins. Who am I leaving out? Oh man, Lance Carson.
Where is Tubesteak in all this?
Well, I look at it this way. If Tubesteak were 5′ 6“ and 145 pounds, he would have been in the Top Five. When I was there, Kivlin was already 27 years old and on the down-stroke. Dora was the same age as me but he was getting everyone pissed off at him. Compared to Dora and Kemp and Morey and Lance, I was medium. But you have to remember, there are two parts to surfing: the water and the sand. In the water it was Dora. On the beach it was Tubesteak.
What did you get up to when the sun went down?
In the evening we’d probably go up the hill to where Pepperdine is now. You’ve heard of Wilson’s House of Suede? Well, the guy who started that company had a house up on the hill, and he’d let us have parties, barbeques. We’d be up there as the sun was going down and the lights of Santa Monica and Palos Verdes were twinkling and we’d be listening to Harry Belafonte.
Really? Harry Belafonte?
“Down the way where the nights are gay, and the sun shines daily on the mountain top.” That type of stuff. That’s Malibu music.
Miki Dora had this girlfriend, and she invited us to go to the Malibu Sports Cafe. We ran up a $150 tab in 1956 drinking stingers. You know what a stinger is?
A shoulder-fired missile?
It is a strong drink, but back then one cost like 75 cents. And we put a $150 worth of stingers on her credit card.
Kathy “Gidget” Kohner in front of the original Malibu shack, 1956
Was Gidget the downfall of Malibu?
No, it was before that. It was the lifeguards. The lifeguards showed up with their stinking badges and screwed it all up, “Tubesteak you’re making a spectacle of yourself! And what is this shack doing here? And hey put out that fire!” Kemp Aaberg was the only cool lifeguard because he let us store our drinks under his tower and hang out. But when the badges showed up, that was it.
Is Miki Dora in heaven or hell?
Lost on the way. Purgatory.
What’s he doing in purgatory?
Figuring out where things went wrong.
What was his ambition, originally?
Game. Here is the deal. You go to Malibu you play games. Johnny Fain would play a game and Dora would play a game. I thought Dora was an act, but it wasn’t. That’s just the way he was.
People say that to understand Dora you have to understand the tenor of the times in the ’50s and ’60s. It was all about that con. The scam. Like it was accepted to go to a party in Beverly Hills and steal the furniture.
Dora would go to a party in Beverly Hills and steal an Oscar.
He did that? When?
1954 or 1955. It was a party near the National Cemetery, between Sunset and Santa Monica Boulevard. He goes in, and comes out with the Oscar.
What did he do with it?
I don’t know. Sold it, maybe.
Did he ever rip you off?
No. I don’t know why we’re talking about him.
People are still curious as to why this very bright, handsome, talented guy got so twisted.
In my humble opinion? It was his stepfather, Gard Chapin. The things that happened between Gard and Ramona and Miki.
Dora’s mother. She divorced Miklos Sr and married Gard in the ’40s. Dora got caught somewhere in the middle. Chapin drank, a lot, and he would whup the living crap out of both of them. So that’s what happened to Miki.
You came from a broken home as well.
I lived with my aunt and my grandparents.
So your parents deserted you?
Yeah. Yeah. Dropped me like a bowling ball. I didn’t care. I had a an aunt and my grandparents.
When did you become friends with Dora?
Around 1950. When he was a kid he got sent to a variety of schools and military academies. When summer came around, Gard would drop him at San Onofre and say, ‘See you in September.’ Miki and I were both L.A. guys, but we liked San Onofre and, as Miki had a car and I didn’t, I rode with him wherever he went. Dora and I were kindred spirits. We were both raised by our grandmothers and by the ocean.