There are many ways to wear boardshorts. Most of us step into the legs, pull them up to our waists, and snap or tie or Velcro or whatever. Mickey Rat, a surfer at Malibu in the late ‘70s, took a different approach.
Short, bow-legged, blond silky hair and a blond thick moustache, Mickey Rat rode a yellow single fin, a wing pintail caked with thick beads of dirty wax. Like many surfers of the era, he drove a van with a mural on the side—a Monument Valley-looking scene with a howling coyote atop a rocky peak. Mickey Rat wore powder blue boardshorts. His shoulders were broad; his upper chest hairy and dotted with freckles. He had a terrific tan. He did not walk from the Malibu parking lot to the top of Third Point, he trotted. If the surf was really good he ran.
At water’s edge he set his board down on the sand and went through a quick calisthenics routine—jumping jacks, toe touches, windmill arms, karate kicks. Then he slipped out of his boardshorts, tied ‘em around his neck, strapped on his leash, and paddled out.
Mickey Rat was given a lot of space in the packed Malibu lineup. No one dared drop in on him. Once, he nearly ran me over. I was paddling out on a pea soup July morning. In the distance, ghost-like, a goofy foot trimmed across a waist-high right. Only when he was about twenty feet from me did I realize he was nude. By some magnetic force that happens all too often in the surf, our paths wanted to collide. He went for the high line. I duck dove so close to his tail I was worried that his leash might lasso my neck. It didn’t. But the mental snapshot I took away was possibly worse.
Face torqued in concentration, shorts fluttering like a cape from his thick neck, arms cocked like a boxer, knees bent, thighs flexed, snowy white ass tensed, privates wet and flopping—all of it seen from a low angle, looking up, a kind of money shot.
It still haunts me.
In the three or four summers he was a Malibu regular, I never spoke a word to Mickey Rat. I have no idea what his nude surfing act was all about. Was he trying to get ‘closer to the source’ the way Nat Young was when he shaped surfboards naked back in the Morning of the Earth days? Was it a genius form of crowd control? Was he honoring the amniotic nature of the sea, a ‘from whence we came’ homage?
Looking back, Mickey Rat was one of the great characters of Malibu, a quiet rebel. And the lifeguards had nothing on him. Like Clark Kent morphing into Superman and back again, Mickey Rat would surf his entire session in the buff, ride his last wave to shore, slip back into his shorts, and amble back up to the parking lot as if the whole thing never happened.
illustration by Urban Disaster
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