The World's Most Unconventional Surf Family Talks About Life After The Film
Once in a great while you'll catch wind of a truly fascinating story. As a journalist, I often hope it's one that's both true, and one I can track down the characters of. The story you're about to read came to us through a screening of the film Surfwise, at the Maui Film Festival a few years back. It is the true story about a very unconventional man, and his will to design a lifestyle for his family in the early 1960s. One that disallows exposure to the very things that he felt tarnished his soul in years previous to "a great revelation". This tale happens to include the subject's doting wife and 9 children—all of whom spent the majority of their childhood in a 24-foot camper traversing the United States in search of the next surf break.
A brief summary: The year was 1956. Paskowitz, so disgusted with whom he'd become—a multi-tasking success by practical standards—decides to go for a surf, something he hadn't done since medical school. He says in the film: "I entered the water that day wanting to blow my brains out. I came out a warrior. Surfing can make that change happen inside a man." As soon as he got out of the water, he packed up his things, and went on a sojourn to Israel (he's a boisterously proud Jew), where he'd "roam the desert like Jesus and all the other screwballs"—and surf. He taught both Palestinian and Jewish kids, who hovered around the beach, gawking in amazement at this westerner careening across the water—to surf.
And when he returned, he found a new wife in Juliette Paskowitz. The pair bought a rickety camper van and began driving around the country—not stopping until there were 11 Paskowitz's in the clan.
We'll leave the rest for those of you who haven't seen the film to enjoy. But let's just say that there was drama, love, tears, sex, counter-culture, music, historical context and of course, surfing.
Yet while "Doc" Dorian Paskowitz's mantra of "Live clean, eat clean, surf clean" is enough to launch a feature story in most magazines, we found the true story in what becomes of a family after the bus rolled to a halt—and the "plain" life caught up.
Read on to hear about the Paskowitz's amazing tale; their ties to Hawaii, exclusive interviews with various members of the Paskowitz clan, and the road that a few of them still ramble down.
Ironic or not, Dorian and Juliette Paskowitz, were the first Paskowitz's we managed to track down. The couple (he turns 89 next month, she 78) reside in Dana Point, California. Doc still finds his way to Waikiki every couple of months to paddle in to the waves. He still write voraciously, helps his various offspring promote their businesses, and exercises daily. He prays. He... well... we'll let his family (and he) tell you.
B on Hawaii: Juliette, how have things changed for you since the movie came out. I mean, it must be something to lead this unconventional life, then spend 20 years or so in the mainstream, and then have that "other" time exposed. What's it like?
Juliette Paskowitz: You know, I took my precious grandson [she has 21 as of the printing of this article: 22 is expected next month] to the dentist, and the ladies in the office had seen the movie. They made me feel like a movie star. It happens often these days. I like to think that I have lived a very strict life as a mother and a wife. And now that I'm in my, what do they call that, "The Golden Years", it's time for me to party! It was my dream come true to have all those children. But people at the bank asking for autographs because of it is just wonderful.
B on Hawaii: With that comes a bit of responsibility, I'm sure you know. Unlike most of what we call today's "celebrities", who take no accountability for their actions, I feel like you must have a much better sense of the importance of it all. No?
Juliette: I have people writing and asking if they should sell their house and travel. That's not an easy question to answer. Not to everyone. So I usually pass that stuff on to Doc. But between us, I think they should. It's high time. Everyone should.
B on Hawaii: I think most people who watch the film will identify with one aspect of the doc—be it the tyrant, the doting father, the instigator, the devout Jew, so on—but very few will take in the full scale of his character. Do you think it was accurately portrayed in the movie?
Juliette: It was a very honest portrayal. He's very harsh! It was very real. The director [Doug Pray] was a genius. You never knew when he was talking to you that he was staging a scenario, or getting info from you. But I think it was well done. I'm not sure all my kids feel that way...
But I'll tell you, Doc is a teacher. You could call him a rabbi. It's what he does. He's writing all the time—speaking, teaching. Through it all, every one of our kids love and respect him.
B on Hawaii: Tell us about the book.
Juliette: He wrote a book 15 years ago called "Surfing and Health", which people can find and buy at www.AlohaDoc.com. It's sold a steady stream here, and in Australia, Europe, England.
B on Hawaii: Back to your grandkids, do you need to encourage them in to the water?
Juliette: There's no need. They're fathers and mothers are people of the sea. It's a natural occurring thing. I encourage them to be healthy, to not gain too much weight, to sing, to read, to make peace, to make a loaf of bread...
B on Hawaii: Tell us the one thing you'd like to see happen in the world, right now.
Juliette: I dream of going back to Israel. Doc has been back a few times. He constantly says: 'Enough of this bullshit. Let's get these Arabs and Jews together surfing. Even if they start off shooting each other, if we can just get them to surf...' He has brought surfboards to Gaza, where he took some locals boys out, and left the boards with them. He calls it "Surfing for Peace". It's funny, if you ask the kids in Israel who the father of modern surfing is, they all say Dorian Paskowitz.
B on Hawaii: Finally, would you share with us the best thing that came out of Surfwise?
Juliette: That movie was the last time we were all together. And, it had been the first time we had all been together in a long, long time. It was a wonderful Thanksgiving, one any grandmother of so many kids could ask for. We had a house in Makaha. We sang karaoke. We ate. We surfed Waikiki together. It was very significant.
B on Hawaii: Doc, we know you've been listening in. How does all this sit with you?
"Doc" Dorian Paskowitz: First off, it's amazing how much she [Juliette] does and how little she talks about it. She'd make a terrible writer. She underestimates her profile. I mean, even though she has nothing to do with surfing, she gave birth to 9 surfers.
B on Hawaii: How about you? What are busy with these days?
Doc Dorian: I have many responsibilities that arise up during the day. Patients call me, both in California and Hawaii. Someone who is trying to promote my books called me this morning and needs me to update my resume, if you can believe that. Updating my resume at 89! The nerve. I exercise every morning. I write...
B on Hawaii: What are you writing, right now?
Doc Dorian: All of last month I was publishing something every week for my friend Graydon Carter [Editor of Vanity Fair magazine]. Just things that he needs to do to not be so fat. It's terribly upsetting for me to see people fall out of shape.
B on Hawaii: Are you still surfing to stay in shape?
Doc Dorian: I do many types of exercise. But I don't feel like one of the gang if I don't paddle out in to the water. I don't give a damn anymore if I can't stand up, which, sometimes I can't. As long as I'm in the water.
The Talmud says "As Israel has kept the Sabbath, so the Sabbath has kept Israel." That basically means one begets the other. I have always said: "As the Paskowitz's have kept surfing, surfing has kept the Paskowitz's."
B on Hawaii: Izzy (Israel) Paskowitz, aside from running the 38-year-old Paskowitz Surf Camp, you helm something called "Surfers Healing". Can you tell us about that?
Izzy Paskowitz: I have a 19 year old autistic son. Surfers Healing is basically getting kids, or anyone, with a disability, in to the water to feel better about themselves. It's really on the path of what my father's whole philosophy was.
B on Hawaii: Who teaches at the camp?
Izzy: A few of my brothers help out. We've had Kelly Slater in the water teaching kids with autism. There's a big chef in Venice [Calif.] who's son has asperger's, he helps out. But we get a lot of support in other ways from some great people. Anthony Kiedis from the Red Hot Chili Peppers donates time and effort. Flea as well, he's awesome. Eddie Vedder, Sarah Mclachlin, Mark McGrath. Pierce Brosnan has donated his artwork that we've auctioned off and used the funds for the school. Laird [Hamilton] has donated. Lucas Nelson—Willie's boy—has a killer band; we just did a fund raiser at the Viper Room and they played. So many people help us out. Basically everyone but my oldest brother, who's an asshole scumbag. But that's another story...
B on Hawaii: Alrighty. Tell me, what has been some of the benefits that have come out of the film about your family? Besides stirring up grudges...
Izzy: It's really brought a humanitarian effort to the forefront, gotten a lot of people to just 'give back', I think. It's also help us push the camp as our main business.
It also exposed our life—which in the surf world, really blew some people's minds, who had known us individually for years, and had no idea what as going on in that camper. From my perspective, I always felt I had a little disadvantage from other kids. But after the film came out, I felt privileged. It was very courageous of my father to air his story like that.
It's also opened up the door for a lot of Jewish kids from California, Arizona and stuff to come to our camps. I mean, I look like a savage: Long hair, tattoos. But I'm as Jewish as they come, and I'm very proud. It makes it easier for Jewish parents to be O.K. with their kids coming to our camp.
B on Hawaii: Navah Paskowitz is the only female sibling of the Paskowitz siblings. It's an understatement to say that she certainly has one of the more interesting perspectives of the "Paskowitz youth experience". Navah, can you tell us how the film has changed things for you?
Navah Paskowitz: In so many ways, really. I was pregnant with my 4th child and on bed-rest when the movie came out. Shortly after, I received a call from a literary agent asking me to write a memoir about being the only girl in this crazy family of mine. Almost 2 years later I am now working with a ghost writer on the project.
B on Hawaii: One of the most intriguing aspects of the film was your father's regimen. Did you realize early on that your experience wasn't the norm? And how has that influenced you as a parent?
Navah: Well, I was quite young when I realized that all my friends led normal, conventional lives with houses over their heads, schools, and shoes to wear (we frequently went barefoot). Not us.
As a parent of 4, having stability, normalcy and especially giving my children an education is the top most priority to me. I know how much I felt cheated by NOT having those things, which so many kids take for granted...
B on Hawaii: Now-a-days, do you see your father as prophetic or ahead of his time, in any way?
Navah: Dad was definitely doing the holistic, organic and natural living thing that so many people have come to incorporate in to a healthy lifestyle. For example, he was very limiting in how he vaccinated us, giving us antibiotics only if absolutely necessary... which is something people are very skeptical about right now.
B on Hawaii: Can you talk about the power of surfing, the influence it's had on your life?
Navah: Gosh, where to begin? Surfing is my Prozac. Literally. I am a very high-strung, stressed person. And when I am able to get in the water, which isn't nearly enough, my whole spirit is buoyed. I become myself, my best self, when I'm near the ocean. And when I surf I am in a perfect state of bliss.
B on Hawaii: And your kids?
Navah: Of course! When my folks still lived in Waikiki, I would take the kids there to learn to surf. Nowadays, we make the trek down to San Onofre, where the surf camp was for decades, and surf there as a family. Various brothers will meet us there.
But my favorite spot has always been Queens, in Waikiki. It's the best wave in the world.
B on Hawaii: Joshua Paskowitz, you have become a dad since the film was released, and named your child Dorian, after your father. How have things changed for you, besides starting a family, since its release?
Joshua Paskowitz: The film gave everyone new insight. It was a detached perspective on viewing our family and its message, albeit in a new way. But it was also invasive and misunderstood, I think. No one will ever really know what that experience was like except the 11 of us.
B on Hawaii: What do you spend your time doing, these days?
Joshua: I am getting married and having a second child soon. I also surf a good bit. But I mostly teach. I'm not really the best surfer in the family, but I love it. Especially in Hawaii! If I have to surf California, San Onofre is the spot. Basically because it feels sorta Hawaiian.
Anyway, I'm also working as the multi-media manager for Lightening Bolt, the classic surf brand that brother Jonathan is relaunching.
B on Hawaii: Will that get you out on the open road?
Joshua: Possibly. For now, Jonathan and my father are heading to Chile to present the brand down there, and speak about it. It's definitely an honor to represent "The Bolt". It's actually a 2,000 year old Viking symbol for victory.
B on Hawaii: Awesome. Seems appropriate. We truly hope it brings victory to the entire Paskowitz clan.
The film Surfwise can be rented on Netflix or ordered online.
Dorian Paskowitz's book, Surfing and Healing, can be ordered at www.AlohaDoc.com.
Lightening Bolt is found at www.lighteningbolt-USA.com.
Izzy Paskowitz's Surfers Healing camps can be located at www.SurfersHealing.org
Doc: "The Talmud says 'As Israel has kept the Sabbath, so the Sabbath has kept Israel.' That basically means one begets the other. I have always said: 'As the Paskowitz's have kept surfing, surfing has kept the Paskowitz's'."