Surfwise

Released:  2007

Cast:  Dorian Paskowitz, Juliette Paskowitz, David Paskowitz, Jonathan Paskowitz, Abraham Paskowitz, Israel Paskowtiz, Moses Paskowitz, Adam Paskowitz, Salvador Paskowitz, Navah Paskowitz, Joshua Paskowitz

SUMMARY:  This movie is a documentary about the lives of Dorian “Doc” Paskowitz and his family, including the nine children he had with his third wife.  Doc was born in 1921, and attended Stanford Medical School as a young man.  He also got into surfing at this time, and got married for the first time.  He was later divorced, remarried, and divorced again; through this time he worked as a conventional doctor, and surfed less and less.  After his second wife left him, Doc essentially gave up medicine and surfed full-time; he even traveled to Israel, where he helped popularize surfing.  He then met Juliette, whom he later married:  together they had eight sons and one daughter — David, Jonathan, Abraham, Israel, Moses, Adam, Salvador, Navah (the daughter) and Joshua.  Together, the family traveled from place to place (usually going to places in need of a doctor) in a 24-foot camper.  Doc had very strong ideas about how his children should be raised, and deliberately kept them out of school:  thus, none of the children ever received a formal education.  He also strictly enforced a “clean living” policy, providing the children with only pure, whole foods like gruel and soup.  Doc believed firmly that money was the root of all evil, and his family essentially lived in poverty.  There was rarely enough clothing for each child to have  complete outfit.  As children and teenagers, several members of the Paskowitz family were surfing champions, and Doc started a surfing camp that they worked at each year.  However, as they got older they began to rebel against their father’s extremely controlling nature (and discipline, which was often physical).  David, the oldest, often acted as the second-in-command, until he grew disillusioned and moved out on his own at the age of 23.  The others also moved out at varying ages.  Most of them had a rather contentious relationship with their parents, particularly when they realized how extreme their upbringing was:  most of them had trouble getting jobs, because they had literally no education.  Rifts also developed between the children, particularly after David tried to buy out the surfing camp (with good intentions).  At the time of the movie, the whole family had not been together in ten years, but Doc and Juliette finally requested that everyone put aside their differences for a family reunion.  All of the children obliged, and the film ends with many of them surfing together again.

MY TAKE:  This is a pretty fascinating movie.  At first, the Paskowitz kids seemed to have lived a life every kid dreams about:  they traveled around in a camper, surfing instead of going to school.  The children acknowledge that to some degree, this was great.  However, you can see that most of them also have a lot of resentment towards their parents and/or siblings regarding their early life.  This makes sense:  11 people (9 of them boys) living in one 24-foot trailer, without enough clothes to go around, sounds like a hell hole to me (especially since Doc and Juliette had sex every night, right in front of the kids).  Then, you start to hear about how strict and demanding Doc was, and things start to make more sense.  Doc talks a lot about his philosophy of child-raising, and while some of it makes sense, it obviously wasn’t that successful.  He wanted his children to be uninfluenced by modern culture, so he didn’t send them to school — but that means they really are unable to survive in that culture, which they have to do at some point.  They grew up without any clue of how to manage money or hold down a job, which is almost incomprehensible.  Really, the only thing they could do was surf, which was why the surf camp became a hot-button issue.  Basically, Doc neglected to think about what would happen once the kids became adults.  However, it is a fascinating look at a very unusual family.

RATING:  Really interesting.

 

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