The Dorado Dilemma
“Summer surfing is like Fight Club. First rule, no one talk about surfing. Second rule, if I don’t recognize you from winter you’ll probably be riding behind me,” texts Dorado after a weekend of waves. If you’ve surfed in Rockaway during the past ten years you probably have a Dorado story. There’s an even greater chance you encountered him online. His persona (non grata) came of age in the early ought’s on Adam Cannizzaro's popular newyorksurf.com and spilled over to razzing individuals on west coast-based sites like Surfermag.com and Swaylocks. Dorado, referring to himself in the third person, explains how he coined his nickname, “I was really starting to get into twin keels and quad fish and had made a few trips to Central America and ate dorado every day. I tried to create a real tongue in cheek, phony, internet tough-guy persona. Dorado became an internet troll, raconteur and rapscallion.” The former Marine adds that, “I think if people's sarcasm meter wasn't turned on over the years Dorado might have been misconstrued as a real asshole, Neanderthal, meathead type.”
His web-based rants on retro boards, hulls not working, and hipsters on fixed gear bicycles are stuff of legend. Dorado is a self-proclaimed, “warrior-poet” and “sword and shield man” whose “poetry needs not to be published or shared to have meaning,” his words scandalized posts and hurt people’s feelings. He also scored a lot of boards in the process. His nickname was bastardized by those he abused who refer to him as, ‘Dorito’ a nod to his crisp, cheesy incisiveness. Dorado defends his actions retorting, “sitting down and writing a simple poem or even crafting some good side-busting and putting the screws to the other cunts is an art form in itself. The world needs more Runman, beer, and slam-dancing.”
However, Dorado’s lifestyle and quiver reflected the things he’s been critical of online. He has hulls by Liddle, Bojorequez, Hilbers and Lovelace, twin keels and quad fish by Pendarvis and Pavel and a Bauguess mini-Simmons stashed in his closet. He has been seen biking around Williamsburg on a fixie, pushing a stroller in Park Slope and attending rooftop parties in SoHo. His online persona projected a self-loathing meant to test our own reasons for liking something and to second guess your equipment choice. Insidious effort to snatch up the board you had shipped in from California, “that doesn’t work on the East Coast,” according to Dorado, a notorious hustler on the used surfboard black market. He goes through shred sticks like he's on the WQS always making a profit when one leaves the quiver and sometimes with karmic scorn. He is still trying to get a 6’0 Maurice Cole thruster back in his quiver, the same one that 72 year-old Rockaway legend Pat Reen was riding when he dropped in on Dorado last winter.
For some, Dorado’s psychological tactics extends into the water and leads to avoidant behavior. Surfers have been known to leave the line up if they see him paddling out (for his third session no doubt, unless you surf at night you won't see him catch his first wave) or go elsewhere if Dorado is already out “I’m on my fifteenth set wave by the time most people check the surf.” Surfing is treated like boot camp for him. He secretly wants you to quit surfing and will burn you on your best wave because you don't love it as much as he does. Because you didn't paddle out in the dark that morning and because you won't surf for six hours straight with him, a former competitive long distance swimmer. “Hero sessions” as he calls them, a term he uses to denote duration but also to mock the inflated claims of others, “Tony stood on the beach for an hour, surfed for twenty minutes and then texted me all day about his hero session.”
Few people surf more than Dorado does, especially in the winter when he’s back and forth between New York and New Jersey scoring for days on end. He keeps track of all this, as well as the surfing habits of others, collecting reasons for future drop-ins. His heart may be in Rockaway, but New Jersey is where Dorado first stood on a surfboard. He explains, “During a family vacation in 1984 I rented a 7'2 Bahne single fin and towards the end of the trip bought a 5'10 Nectar double-wing swallow twinnie shaped by Greg Mungall for seventy-five dollars that was pretty yellowed. I rode the Nectar for a good two years and learned to pump on it and got my first barrel witnessed by Humberto and Richie Allen, rest in peace. My first brand new surfboard I bought off Tommy Sena. It was a 6'4 HIC Hans Hedemann with set fins and a Primo Beer faux-sponsor laminate.”
Richie Allen’s name adorns the sign at Beach 90th Street, which overlooks the break in Rockaway. Dorado softens and elaborates on his high school friend, Belle Harbor native and firefighter who died during 9/11, “Richie was the diver on the Archbishop Molloy high school team and two years younger than me. He worked as a lifeguard and was originally a great bodyboarder but the minute he committed to stand up surfing was a natural and ripped right away. A really athletic kid with great balance and could skate, who God rest his soul if 9/11 didn't happen would surely be blowing tail-slides and airs in today’s skate influenced surfing. He and Humberto used to rip the crappy half pipe up by Tommy Sena's on Beach 116th Street.” Dorado becomes reflective on his own approach toward surfing, “Richie had a kind of fearlessness and athleticism, totally opposite of me. If not talking out of school, I have more of a waterman's ethos, perhaps because I'm a heavy footed clod in comparison. Surfing to me came from my love of swimming, and despite never being the flashiest surfer, it came fairly easy because of my background as a distance competitive swimmer since grade school. I never was any good at vertical skating like him.” Richie’s younger brother Luke (also FDNY) carries on his legacy of skate inspired shredding
[Dorado the firefighter.]
[Dorado in his Marine years.]
I ask Dorado about Rockaway in the '80s, a time he frequently refers to: “We’d surf the downtown beaches where we lifeguarded. It’s ironic how they’ve made a real renaissance and become the ‘Echo Beach’ of blow-in surf culture in Rock, much to the chagrin of some of the locals. Me, and my little crew rarely surfed 90th because that was where all the Reens, Pat and his brother, Buddy and his nephews all dominated. The young up and comers were guys Lil John Guiterez, Billy Burns, Richie Pontieri, Sundance Farrell and Humberto. I think we did things the right way as new groms; staying away from the established guys and were just happy to surf our own peaks. Every summer I got my own place down there and lived on slices of pizza, beer and the Allen family deli at Beach 101st, went to Grateful Dead shows, the Cure or Depeche Mode, on bus trips with the older crew in the real golden era of Connolly’s. There are still pictures of us from the toga parties on the tables and walls from the summers of 1987-89. I grew up thinking a surf event was an opportunity to hoot and holler, get into a fight, get drunk and air each other out.”
Dorado’s approach to surfing can be traced back to having season tickets to the NY Rangers’ games as a kid. He sat in the “blue seats” or working class section as Dorado implies, “blue collar, blue seats.” These were notorious for being filled by the most dedicated Rangers fans who’d rip out the bleachers in celebration of victory and anger in defeat. They’d use beers and ‘belly-bomber’ hot dogs as ammo against anyone not rooting for the Rangers or anyone in the ‘red seats,’ which were the more expensive, often corporate ones. Just like with Dorado, if you aren’t paddling out at dawn, you might as well be sitting in the ‘red seats’ and expect to dodge a hot dog.
[Young Dorado's high school portrait.]
Some say Dorado has mellowed after bouncing off a jetty in Asbury Park during a 2010 session with Andrew Kidman. They’d been trading waves and Kidman suggested they paddle deeper to the other side of the rocks “where the barrel was.” Dorado recounts, “Ank was on his blue Lis keel and I was on my 7’0 Bushman sled, it was legit overhead plus with draining offshores all day and he was killing it. He calls me into a square one from behind the jetty. I pig dog the drop and manage to backdoor it, come out but the rest of the wave dumps and I straighten out right into the rocks. No harm, no foul but he was laughing.” Dorado finishes the story with a comical jab, “whenever I have insomnia I put on Litmus or listen to Ank’s music” suggesting that it puts him to sleep, but follows up claiming Kidman as, “an OG renaissance man.” I try to get him to open up about other points of reference and inspiration but he stonewalls into abstraction, “I don’t believe in false idolatry or paganism. Huey is the only true god. Admiring another man’s kick out isn’t latent homosexuality. A judge of how good a surfer is to kick out clean and keep the board under your feet from start to finish. That’s art, the guy who never loses his board.”
While Dorado doesn’t believe in false idolatry he’s quick to name his top six favorite surfers, “Pat Curren, Butch Van Artsdalen, Gerry Lopez, Dane Kealoha, Occy and Tom Curren." Always quick to share an opinion he’s unusually reticent when asked who his favorite Rockaway surfers are, “this could ruffle a few people’s feathers. Pat Reen for his longevity and top gun emeritus, he’s a real maverick, larger than life character and now semi-recluse. All the transplant lokes used to and still get no respect from Pat. Peter Egan is consistently the best and deepest surfer at the peak on the best days. The young Reen kid Liam, Sean Kittle and his crew are really pushing their surfing progressively, Jeff Anthony when he’s around, Kook Mike of Locals Surf School is really ripping and teaching the right way.”
Sandy moved the banks around in Rockaway and some of Dorado’s old haunts are working again. He’s gone mysto, made a few equipment changes, is getting more waves and enjoying his surfing. We may never know the true Dorado, the extent of his quiver, whether the IRS has a file on his tax-free board dealings or why he put down surfing in the early '90s to focus on golf. The last he defends by citing surf luminaries like Dora, Slater and Lis all being avid golfers. He finally clarifies his local status, “Even though I owned a place in Rockaway before I got married, I never was a true local. Lil John still asks if Plum Beach is my local surf spot. I’ve always been more of a dedicated regular. I think the amount of non-locals and blow-ins that put surfing aside and stepped up to help out for months after Sandy really shed some light on what localism is to me. Being a boorish brute in the line-up doesn't do much but raise your own blood pressure. I’ve evolved from angry guy to more tolerant guy who just wants to paddle out at my favorite spots and be in the water on the biggest days and challenge myself. I'm trying to be optimistic. Now, me, and my crew regulate by taking off as deep as we can and just keep paddling against the current. I mean, no one likes a dangerous kook and it's not beyond me to light someone up but I think I'm more Zen now. Having three kids will teach you that kind of patience.”
There are characters like Dorado at surf spots around the world, each one nuanced in ways specific to the region and break. So much of surfing is psychological and it's important to "stay loose" as Turtle infamously told Rick in North Shore. You lose oxygen when you tense up. Dorado's style of side-busting is meant to teach us to laugh at ourselves and not take things so seriously. It's always those who aren't as committed to surfing whose feelings get hurt most by these antics. That's the point. If you can't take a joke how are you going to survive the shore break?
- Words by Mike Machemer