Doc Paskowitz in the New York Times – Here’s a Little Backstory.
by Chris Dixon
Dorian “Doc” Paskowitz. Image: Magnolia Films.
Sometimes as a writer, you get an assignment that you know will be straight up daunting – and when you really think about it, you’re not sure if you want to take it on. Such was the case when an editor at The New York Times offered me the opportunity to write an obituary on Dorian “Doc” Paskowitz. On the one hand, it would be a high honor to take on trying to distill the life of such a complicated, fascinating man of 93 years into 900 words. On the other hand, Dorian’s kids, his loving, grieving wife, and some of the heaviest of the heavies in the world of surfing would be reading the story. Furthermore, I learned that Doc liked to sometimes end his conversations with a take on The New York Times’ motto by saying, “That’s All the News That’s Fit to Print.” No pressure, I told a friend. No pressure at all.
Years ago, I surfed fairly often with Doc’s sons Israel and Jonathan at San Onofre. They don’t even remember it, but I’ll never forget how friendly they were to someone they didn’t even know. That always left me sort of in awe. If you lived in San Clemente during the 90’s, the Paskowitz’s were the nearest thing surfing seemed to have to a first family. My wife was actually in the same class at Marco Forster Middle School in Dana Point with Doc’s youngest son Joshua. Similarly, Josh didn’t recall my wife. Actually, he said, as one of the few Paskowitz kids who even attended school at all, he was at best a part-time student. But my wife recalled how much more worldly and mature this kid was than any of the other young surf rats in her class. I said to her, “Well, that’s what traveling around America in a beat up camper with eight siblings and a genius dictator of a father will do for you.”
Fish out of Water. Photo courtesy: The Paskowitz clan.
I only met Doc once. It was a couple of years ago, when Doc’s son Israel insisted that his then 91-year-old dad accompany him to Charleston, South Carolina for a most amazing Surfer’s Healing event, put on by our local surfer wonder woman Nancy Hussey. For those of you who don’t know, Surfer’s Healing is a remarkable organization that Israel founded after discovering the calming effect that riding the waves had on his autistic son, Isiah. It’s simple mission is to improve the lives of autistic children through the equally simple act of surfing. In the below pic, Nancy meets Doc for the first time.
So anyway, I shook Doc’s hand, said a few pleasantries, and sat on the beach on the nose of my longboard a little distance away, watching Nancy, Israel and the crew do their thing. Parents had come from quite literally all over the country for this event. The day was gorgeous, with 80 degree water and a perfect, glassy, stomach-high south swell. When these kids – some of whom were first terrified to set foot in the ocean – stood up and rode in, there were shrieks of joy from parent and student alike, and copious tears were shed. Doc sat on a chair, looking out on the scene with a look of serene contentment and what I reckoned had to be a heart full of fatherly pride. That was the extent of my experience with Doc Paskowitz and his clan. That is, until I reached out to Israel in the wake of his dad’s death. By the end of that day, I’d logged a full day of heavy conversation with six of the Paskowitz kids; Izzy, Jonathan, Salvadore Daniel, Navah, Moses and Joshua.
The Paskowitz’s are seen by most outsiders as a group, yet each one is an absolute, blazing individual and each had their own singular experience growing up under the Doc Paskowitz rule of law – even ’til the very end. “For the last fifty or so days, I’d been helping take care of him,” said Josh. “To see him go out was so hard. He was such a strong, vibrant and vital human being. Even though, as he says, he put me through more shit than any other kid, he would look at me at the end of his life, and say, ‘Why are you helping me? Why are doing this? I was so hard on you. You’re insane. How can you have a soft heart for me?’ I told him, ‘Dad, you made me.'”
In the coming week, I’ll bring you some outtakes from those conversations. In the meantime, have a look at Josh’s website Aloha Doc, where you can check out Josh’s art and help out Paskowitz matriarch Juliette through the purchase of Doc’s highly sought after book Surfing and Health.
Below is a remarkable short film produced by TheInertia with some fairly epic Doc-isms like this one: “All of my life, I’ve been afraid of dying. I went to a party once and a soothsayer said, you’ll live a great life but you’ll die very young. At that time I was 16. So I thought, well at 18, I’m gonna die. When I didn’t die at 18, I thought it was 28. When I didn’t die at 28, I thought it was 38. Now that I’m past 88, would you believe it? I don’t give a shit. I’m ready to die.”
And below is the trailer for the 2006 film Surfwise.
Adam (lead) and Josh Paskowitz (rapping) throw down with Katie Holmes in The Fly’s 90’s Anthem, Got You Where I Want You.