FILM REVIEW: Surfwise 

Father Knows Best: Surfwise documents the life of a surfer dude and his family

Directed by Doug Pray
Rated R

The counterculture can look tantalizing from a distance. But life off the grid has its downside, too. No one can attest to that better than the Paskowitz children — Adam, Josh, Salvador, Moses, Izzy, Abraham, David, Jonathan, and the only girl, Navah. When their father, Dorian "Doc" Paskowitz dropped out of the rat race in the 1960s, he took his whole family with him.

A Stanford-educated doctor who grew tired of the material life, Paskowitz left behind a lucrative position and the respect of his community to become a surf bum.

Though he seemed to have everything, Paskowitz admits, "It was the lowest point of my life." After chucking it all, the Jewish surfer went on to found the Tel Aviv surf scene, to become a surfing legend, and to explore his sexuality, keeping a detailed log of the various ladies he bedded. Following his voyage of sexual discovery, Paskowitz found his soul mate, a Mexican-American beauty named Juliette, who didn't mind living out of a car and birthing a brood of children for Paskowitz.

As documented in the wonderful, captivating documentary, Surfwise, Paskowitz created his own alternative lifestyle based on healthy eating and the pursuit of freedom instead of money. Paskowitz's radical philosophy included a family of nine children that he and Juliette raised in a 24-foot camper in a nomadic lifestyle that crisscrossed the United States and South America.

"We were born, because dad wanted to repopulate the world with Jews. That's fucking hardcore man," muses son Josh of his father's radical approach to Jewish-identity and child-rearing.

The camper was their home, their classroom, and also a school of hard knocks. Part of Paskowitz's "journey" involved unashamed, plentiful copulation, and so the Paskowitz children were forced to endure the nightly yowls and groans of their parents. And despite some hippie values, Paskowitz was also an unapologetic '50s-style father figure of unbending authority, demanding his way or the highway.

Directed by Doug Pray and produced by Vanity Fair editor Graydon Carter, Surfwise is both a cautionary tale about an often cruel and inflexible parental law imposed on children and a transcendent picture of a life less ordinary.

"I wasn't some kind of avant-garde radical," Paskowitz says. "I just wanted my kids around me, surfing around me. And education be damned."

And yet, despite their boho-extreme experience, with no formal schooling, a renegade all-natural diet, and only the company of one another, the grown-up Paskowitzs interviewed in Pray's film look surprisingly happy, nostalgic about the radical togetherness they once shared. Sure they have their issues, including a realization when they hit adulthood, that their lack of an education meant scant job prospects.

The family hit perhaps its biggest hurdle when they established a shared money-making venture, a surf camp where L.A. parents could drop off the next generation of surfers to learn the Paskowitz way. But disagreements over the structure and mission of the camp opened up an ugly rift. For years, the squabble over how to operate the camp alienated oldest brother David, turning him into the black sheep of the family. The division proved that the Paskowitz way was not a guaranteed way to bliss.

Deeply charismatic, the sinewy, tan 85-year-old Paskowitz conveys the sincerity and love behind his approach. And that earnestness goes a long way toward dispelling any doubts viewers have about the negative ramifications his dictatorial philosophies may have had on his family.

A flawed patriarch, Paskowitz seems willing to admit his mistakes even as he revels in the remembered glory of what they once had. And family, despite its many flaws, is at the core of Surfwise. It's a film about how the bumps and obstacles of family life can either make or break you, and sometimes both.


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