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Surfwise: The Amazing True Odyssey of the Paskowitz Family

60 customer reviews

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Product Description

Legendary surfer, Dorian "Doc" Paskowitz, abandoned a successful medical practice to withdraw from the lifestyle of mainstream America. But unlike other American searchers such as Thoreau and Kerouac, Paskowitz took his wife and nine children along for the ride, all eleven of them living in a 24-foot camper. The family spent their days living by Doc's rules on health, fitness, sexuality, and above all surfing. The Paskowitzs' prove that America may be running out of frontiers, but it hasn't run out of frontiersmen.

American history is filled with legendary characters who turned their backs on society, snubbing its conventions and opting for a simple, contemplative life. Like Thoreau. Kerouac. And.. Paskowitz? Well, actually, yeah. Surfwise, director Doug Pray’s 2007 documentary, tells the decidedly offbeat tale of Dorian "Doc" Paskowitz. Now in his mid-80s, the guy who calls himself "one of the few dumb Jewish doctors" was once on a big-time career track; a Stanford-educated physician, he was the head of the American Medical Association in Hawaii, an expert surfer, and a strong, handsome man who often donated his services and was asked to consider a run for governor of that state. But more than 50 years ago, Paskowitz and his third wife, Juliette (his previous marriages had failed due to his own "sexual ignorance"), essentially chucked it all for the sake of family, surfing, and precious little else. They had nine children, all but one of them boys, and the entire brood lived in a 24-foot camper, traveling constantly. Money? There was precious little of that (although years later the family generated some income by establishing a popular surf camp near San Diego). Food? They managed, with Paskowitz enforcing a strict organic regimen. School? "Education be damned," Doc said, and not one of the children ever attended classes regularly. To outsiders, it was an idyllic life; "we were not attached to the physical world at all," says one of the (now middle-aged) kids today. But the downside was deep. Crammed into their tiny space, the children watched and listened as their parents noisily made love every single night (not a great thing for the kids’ own later sex lives). Driven--and sometimes abused--by their ultra-controlling, narcissistic dad, they became excellent surfers but were ill-prepared for adult life when finally, in their 20s, some of them began to leave "home." Remarkably, they all seem relatively (so to speak) fine now, with real jobs in surfing, music, and the film business and a fairly clear perspective on their strange upbringing ("Don’t do anything a gorilla wouldn’t do" was one of Doc’s mantras). Extras include outtakes, commentary, surfing footage, and more. --Sam Graham

Special Features


Product Details

  • Actors: Juliette Paskowitz, David Paskowitz, Jonathan Paskowitz, Abraham Paskowitz, Israel Paskowitz
  • Directors: Doug Pray
  • Writers: Doug Pray
  • Producers: Jonathan Paskowitz, Amir Feingold, Dana Merwin, Graydon Carter, Jason Kliot
  • Format: Multiple Formats, Closed-captioned, Color, Dolby, NTSC, Subtitled, Widescreen
  • Language: English
  • Subtitles: Spanish
  • Region: Region 1 (U.S. and Canada only. Read more about DVD formats.)
  • Aspect Ratio: 1.78:1
  • Number of discs: 1
  • Rated: R (Restricted)
  • Studio: Magnolia
  • DVD Release Date: July 29, 2008
  • Run Time: 93 minutes
  • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (60 customer reviews)
  • ASIN: B00180R040
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #73,517 in Movies & TV (See Top 100 in Movies & TV)
  • Learn more about "Surfwise: The Amazing True Odyssey of the Paskowitz Family" on IMDb

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

Format: DVD
"Surfwise" is another fascinating feature-length documentary by filmmaker Doug Pray, who has made several amusing, enlightening films on pop-culture sub-groups such as the Seattle grunge scene ("Hype") and hip-hop DJ turntabulists ("Scratch").

In this new film he paints a one-third celebratory, two-thirds tragic portrait of the Paskowitz family, a once-legendary surfing clan whose patriarch, Dorian "Doc" Paskowitz dropped out of mainstream society in the late 1950s, to follow a near-absolute rejection of modern materialism. Paskowitz and his wife traveled anywhere on a whim for over a decade, surfing up and down the Pacific, Atlantic and Gulf Coasts of North America, surfing, having lots of sex and making lots of babies. In all, the Paskowitzes had nine children, eight boys and one girl, and raised them outside the confines of "straight" life. Instead of going to school, the children surfed, and were reared according to their father's bold, yet ill-defined personal ethic.

Although Doc's decision to drop out preceded the hippie movement by almost a decade, his family's journey intersected with the 1960s hippie-era rejection of cultural norms, and with the "Me Generation" self-absorption of the '70s. But while these larger cultural shifts were widespread, the choices of the Paskowitz family were much more far-reaching and severe than most of the counterculture types of the time. With no fixed income and a total abandonment of the American work ethic, the Paskowitzes were both legendary and tragic. As the children came of age, the strains of traveling together in a small camper intensified, and the family fragmented and fell apart.
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20 of 22 people found the following review helpful By a reader on July 5, 2008
Format: DVD
Anyone looking for a glorious ode to the surfing life should pause a moment before viewing this terrific documentary film about life in the Paskowitz family. Although surfing was the stated main focus of this highly unconventional family's life, it's not the center of the story that's revealed in the film. Kudos to the filmmakers, who peel back the layers of the story gradually until you gather the sense of the awfulness at the center. We see a life that on the face of it might appear appealing -- who hasn't at some time or other wished for a more 'authentic' life? What if we could slip the rules of the prevailing society? What if we weren't forced to be educated in institutional settings? This film and all the Paskowitz children, who thankfully are brave enough to speak of what they endured at the whims of two of the most narcissistic parents you'll ever meet, will give some answers to those questions. Abundant with archival footage that makes the past come alive, the film also gives us interviews with everyone in the family that will resonate with you for a long time after you view it. You may well be left with lots of questions after it's over, but one is very happy to see that the kids seem to have made good lives for themselves despite the bad models that were their parents. In any case, this is a film for anyone who loves good documentary filmmaking -- you don't have to know anything about surfing to appreciate this one.
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Format: DVD
"Surfwise" chronicles the story of the "first family of surfing": Dorian "Doc" Paskowitz, his wife Juliette, and the 9 children whom they raised in a 24-foot camper, traveling up and down the west coast of the United States and Mexico, following the waves and Dorian's whims for more than 2 decades. Dorian Paskowitz was a respected public health doctor and president of the American Medical Association in Hawaii, before he left it all behind in 1956 to live a peripatetic life of poverty that revolved around surfing. He isolated his family from the outside world, raised his children in his strict lifestyle regimen, and taught them to surf. Many became accomplished competitive surfers, and in 1974 the family opened the Paskowitz Surf Camp in Mission Beach, CA.

Dorian Paskowitz was 84 years old when "Surfwise" was made and still very much a passionate and controlling man, and still surfing. His children are all grown and living very different lifestyles from the one in which they were raised. Director Doug Pray tries to construct a picture of what it was like to be a Paskowitz, living the ideals of a single-minded patriarch in a crowded camper, and what its lasting effects were through archival home movies and interviews with Dorian and Juliette Paskowitz and all 9 of their children -7 boys and 1 girl- and Dorian's siblings. We also get an impression of the family's iconic stature and influence on surfing culture through interviews with "The Surfer's Journal" founder Steve Pezman and some big names in competitive surfing.

The Paskowitz children talk about the benefits and disappointments of their itinerant, impoverished lifestyle, isolated from most of American culture.
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7 of 7 people found the following review helpful By Kevin Quinley VINE VOICE on August 8, 2008
Format: DVD
SURFWISE is a fascinating documentary chronicling the unconventional lifestyle of "Doc" Poskowitz and his family. The latter includes spouse and some nine kids, who live a bohemian, itinerant, surf-centric lifestyle in a 24-foot camper van. No school for these kids! Nevertheless, they lived a somewhat regimented existence, one envied by kids who were more wealthy in material things.

All of the kids grew up with various "baggage" due to the unorthodox upbringing, and the father is a rather magnetic, charismatic character.

The cinematography here is great - you feel you are out in the ocean, in the surf, and can see how this aspect of nature would be seductive. SURFWISE raises questions about the tradeoffs involved in turning your back on the conventional path that society beckons you to follow - the good and bad features, the frayed nature of family ties, the family love that can (at least temporarily) transcend differences and childhood trauma.

Whether you endorse or abhor the lifestyle depicted in this documentary, SURFWISE is an excellent movie!
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