Surfwise: Hanging Ten Isn’t All It’s Cracked Up To Be

Back in the later 1950s, a prominent doctor named Dorian Paskowitz dropped out of the traditional life and took his wife on the road, living out of a trailer. Before long, they had nine kids (eight boys and one girl), and they lived a life of surfing out of that trailer, before things began to unravel.
By  · Published on May 24th, 2008

Surfwise is one of those rare documentaries that manages to rise above the subject matter and starts to feel like a narrative film. After the first 20 minutes the documentary aspect of the movie becomes transparent, and you find yourself following the subject like they were characters in your favorite movie or novel. Only at the film’s somewhat forced dramatic reunion ending does it begin to feel like a documentary again.

At first glance, the patriarch behind Surfwise sounds like a genius: Dorian “Doc” Paskowitz was a rising star as a doctor, was a world-class surfer who helped bring the sport to Israel, and was even being courted by politics in Hawaii. However, he left all that and the chase for material wealth behind in order to hit the open road in a 24 foot trailer with his wife, and what became nine kids… eight boys and one girl.

Doc took has family on the road, heading from coast to coast, always looking for the best surfing conditions. The whole family lived out of that trailer, where they surfed and were home schooled. Imagine, instead of spending time stuck in algebra, you could have been out shredding waves and sleeping on the beach. Sounds like an idealized life, right?

Upon first glance, sure. I mean these kids were winning competitions left and right, were all in great shape, were tanned nut-brown, ate healthy (a Paskowitz staple), and learned all about hygiene. According to one of the kids, “We all had seriously clean assholes.” They lived as a pack, and shared every waking moment together, and the New York Times called them “The First Family of Surfing.” But when you look beyond the surfing awards, things start to unravel. For instance, some of the kids recall burying their heads in their pillow so they could try to escape the sounds of their parents having sex. Which they apparently did with regularity right there in the trailer with all of the children in bed.

This was just one of many problems which most of the kids (now adults) remember, and which led to older siblings beginning to split off in the mid-1980s. Today, the Paskowitz clan is spread across the United States, and they aren’t nearly as close as they used to be. Some of the kids haven’t spoken to each other in years, others are in denial, some are bitter, and Dorian is just as stubborn and bull-headed as he used to be, with a few more wrinkles.

The film explores the early life of the Paskowitz family, and then explores their lives as adults and tries to examine why things ultimately fell apart, and what they took away from it, for better and for worse. Director Doug Pray does an excellent job of splitting the film up into present day interviews, as well as using a lot of archival footage and photos to set the scene back in the day when this family was loving the trailer life. At times it’s a very funny story, at other times it is very sad and poignant, and you’ll find yourself both getting angry and sympathizing with Dorian.

Besides the awkward and somewhat forced reunion that attempts to tie up the family’s different stories, the movie is fast-paced, features excellent music (several of the Paskowitz kids went on to become musicians), and is very enjoyable is you’ve ever been on a board or not. It’s a touching and excellent start to the summer, and worth seeking out in a town near you.

Surfwise is currently playing on screens around the country, and is also available on HDnet Ultra Video On Demand.

Related Topics: