As the tide laps the shore in the early hours of the dawn, Dorian “Doc” Paskowitz rouses his family from their camper-van slumber with a tinny recording of Chairman Mao’s “March of the Volunteers”. Arms planted on his hips, and the sun beating down on his tanned body, the lieutenant waits as his family file out one by one, falling in line from tallest to smallest. Known as the “First Family of Surfing”, the famous Paskowitz clan were a regular feature on the coasts of California. Reminiscent of the Brady Bunch with surfboards, their nomadic journeys around America in a beat-up Chevy Impala were legendary.
Over a span of 25 years, the family of eleven toured the nation’s coastline, spreading the gospel of clean living, abundant health and the healing power of the surf. Their story tells the tale of one man’s mission for freedom, self-liberation and the pitfalls and sacrifices it took to preserve life in paradise. Speaking to Adam Paskowitz, the sixth son of “Doc” and his wife Juliette, he shares the legacy of a man who’s great kindnesses and great extremes were often misunderstood by those that live beyond the surfing world.
In some of the more ‘civilised’ places I have been to, there’s almost a disconnect from the fact that there is an experience that exists out there that is totally wild.
The daily grind was an uneasy fit for the young Stanford graduate Dorian “Doc” Paskowitz. Raised in the conservative household of Russian Jewish immigrants, Dorian was a restless idealist. A self-confessed ‘island boy with an island mentality’, the young boy spent every spare minute on the California beaches, chasing the waves and his passion for the sea. In the post-war years, the young graduate landed a lucrative physician’s post in Hawaii administering to the island’s locals. Holed up in a serviced apartment, the doctor breakfasted with politicians and made a handsome living in his new profession as physician. In an earlier interview with Surfer Magazine, the late doctor reflected that the years between 1950-1956 were his most fruitful professional period, but “ambition and success killed the fun”. The doctor confessed, “I deserted surfing and in its place substituted ambition. It didn’t work. My spirit shrank until there was nothing left”. Compelled by a profound spiritual yearning for liberation, the young physician abandoned his career to answer the call of the wild.
Loved by all who met him, “Doc” Paskowitz was a man who many would describe as coasting the thin line between genius and despot- a man ahead of his time. Decades before the freewheeling spirit of the free-love generation, he was out on the road in hot pursuit of health, happiness and the endless summer. “He was very Renaissance in the way he would just flow from one thing to another,” his sixth son Adam observes. “He uncovered so many artifacts of today’s popular culture by just going there, and lifting the rocks.”
In his self-penned guide to wellbeing entitled “Surfing and Health“, the “Doc” mused ‘I hoisted myself above the rim of my troubled lifestyle. I tethered myself to a frame of mind that took prime importance upon one and only one directive—Paskowitz, be healthy, be happy.’ Packing up his family and their lives nestled in the Kahlala hills, Doc, his wife, and nine children barrelled down the freeway in a camper van in pursuit of limitless freedom and happiness.
When I kept surfing, surfing kept me.
Roaming between seaside towns and Native American reservations, the family danced on the wind. “Positivity was his Geiger counter,” Adam laughs, “we would drive for days in one direction, and all of sudden he’d say ‘I don’t like this’ and we’d turn around.” When their last dime sat lonely in his palm, the patriarch would flash his devilish smile and, with a glint in his eye , set off on the next crusade with his devoted family in tow. “Death is not a stalker, always looking for us,” the “Doc” was quoted as saying, “Death is a scorekeeper tallying up how much we love life and how much we are willing to work for it.” The feisty patriarch portrayed himself as a man as a man who found great satisfaction in the struggle. Obsessed with life and knowledge, he threw himself at every challenge with the zealous conviction of someone who endeavoured to be “a good husband and a good father, and thus a good man”.
There are two kinds of power, the power to make things; to make things better, and the power to break things; to make them worse.
“He was a staunch American, but I’m also not sure if he wasn’t a Communist,” remarked Adam, “a lot of his ideas came straight from the Marxist rulebook.” For better or for worse, the Paskowitz children formed the front-line to his crusade on health and wellbeing. Shielding his offspring from the unsavoury influences of a world outside their RV, the family’s lives were dictated by strict regime and discipline. Living well below the poverty-line, his nine home-schooled children followed a no sugar diet and were taught that staying hungry was the key to living a long, healthy life.
Realising Doc’s vision of a ‘super’ family, the collective identity of the family rallied under the aegis of “Paskowitz Power’- a term the patriarch used often to marshal the collective efforts of his offspring. Adam explains,”we found a guy stuck in the mud in the middle of desert and he would say “Paskowitz Power” and everyone would get to together and work on a central problem. It was a super good message.” Bound together by lifestyle and economical constraints, a sense of ‘togetherness’ was reinforced by rallying ideology such as “Paskowitz Power”. It served as a valuable currency in the face of hardships and deprivation.
Perched outside the camper “Doc” would scrawl out ideas for a fourteen-year project dedicated to ‘Surfing & Health’. “The real enemy here is not fat,” it would proclaim, “but us”. Warning against the disease of greed and over-consumption that pervaded the modern diet, he drew his examples of ‘Superior Well Being’ from the animal kingdom. As a true believer in this theory, he once proclaimed, ‘I don’t want to be upstaged by any gorilla, any chimpanzee, any newt or any squirrel’.
Famously, “Doc”, after seeing a gorilla eating an apple and throwing away the skin in the San Diego Zoo, insisted his family follow suit. Likewise, he would look at the world around him, and select ways of living that aligned with his message of clean living. Other stories of “Doc’s” eccentricities include an instance when the camera crew for Doug Pray’s ‘Surfwise’ documentary asked him to demonstrate his regime – the octogenarian stripped down naked, hopped on his exercise bike and peddled away.
“I’m not some kind of avant-garde, radical intellectual, I just wanted my kids around me, surfing with me — and education be damned!”
When it came to his children, “Doc” was a contentious figure – part drill sergeant, part patriarch, but always an omnipresent tour de force. Whilst Adam is the first to admit he has lived a charmed life, his other siblings do not all share the same opinion. Decades later, they have publicly spoken out about how their father’s personal experiment in social engineering left them scarred, angry and unable to support a living. Whilst the “Doc” had a vision of raising a clan of superior beings who could ‘adapt like wolves’ and slip seamlessly into society, the reality was far from the dream.
In their early twenties, as the family parted ways, each sibling faced with a world they were not prepared for. After initial bursts of success, as chefs, graphic designers, musicians, the siblings were hit hard by the certain realities of life beyond the golden Californian coast. Away from life on the beach, the ideology of “Paskowitz Power” had limited sway in the face of financial troubles, fidelity, and addiction. As a Stanford grad and a doctor, when times got hard, the “Doc” could always fall back on his profession to put food on the table but, when his children went into the world, what did they have?
The Paskowitz children had what most people spent a lifetime chasing – pure health and moments of unadulterated freedom unrestrained by prejudice, unimpressed by money and hungry with the desire to learn. Although they learned life’s lessons the hard way, the siblings have all admitted that they wouldn’t have traded in their childhood for a more conventional one. Adam explains, “we were in the United States growing up with this unique background, and pure health throughout our childhood, we came into the modern world fit, tanned with an incredible attitude.”
Raised in an environment that inspired a strength of character and personality, they were born performers. Bursting onto the scene in the 90’s when the California surfing set was the height of cool, the Paskowitz’ children started to make their own way into the world, appearing on the front covers of surfing magazines, fronting fashion lines and touring with the Rolling Stones.
There is a wisdom in the wave – high-born, beautiful – for those who would but paddle out.
The most valuable gift “Doc” Paskowitz ever gave his children was the ocean. Opening up his arms to the tide, he would present it to them each birthday as a symbol and a lesson. His gesture reminded them of their primordial connection with the sea and it’s physical, emotional and spiritual power to renew and heal. Looking out at the limitless blue horizon, they were reminded to live without limits and be unafraid to tread the road less travelled. In a moving speech, ex-pro surfer Israel Paskowitz recalls riding his first wave, aged six, sharing his father’s surfboard and feeling surge of the ocean pushing him forward. He now spends his time running ‘Surfing Healing’, enriching the lives of autistic children through surfing. The swell of the great waves, calm all those who step into the water, just as they helped “Doc” through the hardest years of his life.
This incredible self-belief in their power to affect change, as a family on the beach with a camper van or an individual is the Paskowitz legacy. Itching to get off the call to set up for his family’s next adventure, Adam praises the younger generation who are becoming more curious, and spirited in their adventures and learning the priceless lessons that can only be learnt in the wild.
Running Wild: Lessons of a Life Lived Nowhere
Adam Paskowitz is the sixth son of the surfing world’s legendary Paskowitz family. Growing up alongside eight siblings, he assisted his mother and father, Dorian ‘Doc’ Paskowitz, to run the only surfing school of it’s kind in its time. Following his father’s footsteps and continuing the Paskowitz legacy, Adam now spends his days traveling across the US by campervan with his wife and children. Follow his story @adampaskowitz
Follow the link to buy the 3rd edition of ‘Surfing and Health’