This movie had me right about the time Dorian “Doc” Paskowitz, an 85-year-old former doctor and Stanford graduate who, among other things, introduced surfing to Israel back in the ’50s, dropped his wrap-around skirt and started working an exercise bike in the nude. And philosophizing. That’s just how Paskowitz rolls.
Doug Pray’s new documentary captures Paskowitz in the twilight of his life, alongside his elegant wife, Juliette, reflecting on a pretty wild existence. After molding himself into a model of health and fitness, and practicing medicine in Hawaii, Paskowitz abandoned conventional society and went on an epic vision quest. First, he surfed his way around the world. Then, he slept his way back—he claims that discovering how to orally satisfy a woman changed his life. Along the way, he met Juliette and pledged that their family would do nothing but roam the earth living as carefree as possible. Nine children later—only one a girl—the Paskowitzes stuck to their word: no school, no home save for a 24-foot camper, little money and a lot of surfing. Raised in such a bohemian non-structure, the clan became known as “the first family of surfing,” with many of the boys winning national tournaments and the patriarch eventually starting up an idyllic surfing camp that instilled many of his earthy virtues.
But this isn’t a movie about surfing or extolling a gypsy lifestyle. Pray’s documentary jumps to another level when the tenor of the interviews—all nine children are on film—subtly shifts about halfway through the film. Turns out, bliss isn’t just about catching the next big wave, and Paskowitz’s sons and daughter hold a grudge against pops for not exactly preparing them for the real world. That’s not to mention being a little pissed for having to sleep four to a bed every night while mom and dad get it on—loudly.
Great documentaries need great subjects, and clearly the Paskowitz crew provides choice voyeuristic fodder. Pray, however, unfolds the story carefully and thoughtfully, making Surfwise more of a study of extreme parenting and the bonds of family than some hippie freak show.