Surfwise: Doug Pray’s Docu about Legendary Surfer Dorian Doc Paskowitz, Age 85

Doug Pray’s fascinating docu Surfwise follows the odyssey of 85-year-old, legendary surfer Dr. Dorian Doc Paskowitz, his wife Juliette, and their nine children, all of whom were home-schooled on the beaches of Southern California, Hawaii, Mexico and Israel.

Magnolia Pictures will release the rich film, which offers insights into family dynamic, passion and obsession, education and responsibility, intimacy and alienation, in New York on May 9 and Los Angeles May 23, before expanding nationwide.

Surfing almost every day of their lives, they were forced to adhere to a strict diet and lifestyle of animals in the wild, by their passionate and demanding, health-conscious father.

Docu is the strange, intriguing tale of what happens to a family when their father pursues his dreams and drags his family along for the ride. As Salvador Paskowitz, the seventh Paskowitz son, testifies: “Most parents say ‘Go to school. Dont go swimming with sharks, thats dangerous.’ Our parents said, ‘You can go swimming with sharks, but youre not fuckin going to school, that shits dangerous!’

How did it start

In the mid-1950s, Dorian Paskowitz was a successful doctor living the good life in Hawaii. After two devastating divorces and the realization that he had no interest in money or status caused him to completely upend his life–and become a dropout. Dorian dropped his practice and traveled to Israel for a year, where he lived among the Bedouins and developed a lifelong obsession with a healthy diet.

He is credited with introducing and then popularizing surfing in Israel, becoming in the process a hero in the burgeoning Tel Aviv beach scene. Returning to the United States, he met Juliette, a charming Mexican-American femme who became his wife and active partner in his “passion-compassion-obsession” with surfing.

Indeed, the couple fell madly in love, steered clear of society, lived out of a tiny camper on the beach, and had seven sons in rapid succession: David, Jonathan, Abraham, Israel, Moses, Adam, and Salvador Daniel. Then they had one daughter, Navah, and their ninth child, Joshua.

The children were all raised in the Jewish tradition–Paskowitz style–complete with Shabbat on the beach every Friday night. But thats where similarities with a normal societal upbringing end. Docs absolute determination to raise his children according to the strictest standards of nature meant that his children were breastfed for as long as a gorillas young would be, keeping hungry and thin, only eating small amounts of organic or raw foods, with no sugar or fat.

For better or worse, their family became their social community. They didnt need money, or have to pay bills or taxes. The established “home” in any place the crowded camper was parked.

The docu describes what happens to eight brothers and a sister raised under such extraordinary, at once intimate and bizarre, circumstances. Offering a penetrating look, we observe the physical good looks of the clan, but also notice how messed up are the lives of some of the siblings. As expected, reactions to the lifestyle are varied, and some manifest anger (both overt and covert) and alienation (both physical and social).

This becomes clear in one of the docu’s most powerful and revealing moments, when the eldest son David sings a rock song he had written for his dad that’s full of intimations of rage and dark lyrics. There is no doubt that the patriarch’s rigid (quasi-military) discipline and deviant lifestyle have caused damage and abuse. In fact, Doc Paskowitz himself concedes that on occasion he might have been abusive emotionally and/or physically, a feeling shared by his wife.

Though not on the same league as “Crumb” or “Capturing the Friedmans,” “Surfwise” is nonetheless one of the most revelatory docus I have seen in years about the joys and sorrows of intimate family dynamics.

Running Time: 93 Minutes.
MPAA Rating: R.