Friday, August 1, 2008


Surfwise is a 2008 American documentary film about the 11-member Doc Paskowitz family, which was directed by Doug Pray.

As far as raw eccentricity is concerned, few American families could top the Paskowitzes. The patriarch, Dorian "Doc" Paskowitz, began life on a commendable, even enviable course, with an M.D. under his arm, rippling sandy-haired good looks, and experience almost single-handedly teaching the country of Israel how to surf. But in the years to follow, bitterness and inveterate disappointment ensued as Dr. Paskowitz tried to settle into a conventional existence. Two broken marriages and a medical career that Dorian would later describe as "miserable" left him clawing his way out, desperate for an "alternative" lifestyle.

He soon met, courted, and married his third wife, a ravishing, sexy young woman named Juliette; these two free spirits jointly decided that they would live life, budding family in-tow, on the open road, in a series of low-budget trailers. As one child after another cropped up over the course of a decade, the family toured the country winning one surfing competition after another, and Dr. Paskowitz accepted low-rent medical jobs for the poor that reeled in little to no income.

In theory, this all seemed idealistic, even utopian; in reality, Dorian Paskowitz was reportedly a severe disciplinarian who denied his children the benefits of school and financial security, forced everyone to stick to an almost unbearable diet of a gruel-like substance, and -- even more alarmingly -- felt comfortable having open and noisy sex with his wife, with the children only a few feet away. In time, as one child after another grew up, left the clan, and attempted to survive, they found it difficult, if not impossible to function in the day-to-day world without the education, social skills, and monetary know-how that so many young adults take for granted.

With his documentary Surfwise, filmmaker Pray tells the Paskowitzes' strange, bewildering, and ultimately heartbreaking story via incisive interviews with family members, still photographs, and telling archival footage.

Surfwise is not a documentary about surfing, even though it might seem like it is. Surfing supply's the backdrop of the film which is really about the Paskowitz family and their dad Doc who is my new hero. At the beginning of the film you see him exercising in the nude while explaining about his arthritis and all the other crippling illnesses that he has. Then he says that he is over 80's years old, never takes a pill, doesn't listen to Dr. Phil and still surfs every morning. His philosophy and ideals on life make a lot of sense, however when you force it upon your children and raise them that way, your gonna have some problems.

He takes his wife and 9 kids all around the country in a small camper. Always eating healthy, never making any money, never going to school and always surfing. He taught his children to live healthy and to love surfing but since he never sent them to school or gave them any of the luxuries that other kids had, they started to feel trapped, without any say on anything. So as the kids grew older they started to part ways with the family to do their own thing. Most of them made lots of money in the entertainment industry. Starting bands, companies and becoming movie producers. All big money jobs to probably make up for all the money they didn't have growing up. Some of them just settled down to family life and some stuck with dad to continue running their surfing camp.

My mom had 7 other siblings and when they all reached adulthood they all drifted apart too. They never talked to each other unless they had to. I guess it was because they spent so much time living in a small house together growing up that they didn't feel the need to really see each other anymore. Unlike the Brady Bunch, my mom's family didn't care about each other but you can sense that the Paskowitz does. They love one another but had so many differences growing up in that small trailer that they can't stand to be around each other anymore. One scene in the film shows the oldest child of the family singing a really bad song he wrote about his dad to the camera. He starts to cry and you can tell that his dad has hurt him emotionally in a lot of differnt ways.

At the end of the film, the mom tries to get the whole family together in one place, which hasn't happened in over 10 years. You can tell that it was more of the filmmakers idea to do this than the family's but they all agree to it. They all put aside their differences and become a family again. Doc says that he regrets some of the things that he put his family through but he still sticks to his principles and the way that he has lived. I wonder what he would think of the HBO show John From Cincinnati which is about a Jesus type guy who comes out of nowhere and hangs around with a family of surfers to teach them about life, warn them about the coming apocalypse and make one of them the new messiah. In a lot of ways, Doc is kind of like the Jesus of surfing.

Surfwise: 8 out of 10

The DVD features more surfing footage of the Paskowitz family, behind-the-scenes stuff, a making-of feature, audio commentary and outtakes.



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