Talking Doc’s Story. New York Times Conversations with the Paskowitz Family. Episode One: Izzy Speaks.
by Chris Dixon
This past Sunday, The New York Times published an obituary I wrote on Dorian “Doc” Paskowitz. The story was largely based on interviews with six of the nine kids Doc bore with his loving wife Juliette. The final NYT article came in at around 900 words, but anyone who’s ever seen the film Surfwise, or spent time talking with the Paskowitz clan, knows that the story of the mercurial Doc Paskowitz and his family goes way, way deeper than 900 words. In fact, after I’d finished my last interview, I had a count of around 10,000 words – and believe me, the talking story could have gone on far, far beyond that.
Doc and the Kids at San Onofre. Photo Courtesy: The Paskowitz Family.
If anything became crystal clear during those conversations, it’s this simple fact: Each of the Paskowitz kids has had his – or her – own very unique experience growing up in Doc’s formidable shadow. And each one has his – or her – own opinions on Doc Paskowitz and the sprawling, fascinating, troubled, brilliant and iconic family he spawned. Leading up to the December 13 Paddle Out for Doc in San Clemente, TheScuttle will publish outtakes from my conversations with six of Doc’s kids.
Taking a random approach, what say we start with child number four: The founder of Surfer’s Healing and former Longboard World Champion, Israel Paskowitz, age 51. — CD
Doc, Israel, and Izzy’s Autistic Son Isaiah – the Spark for Surfer’s Healing. Photo Courtesy: the Paskowitz Family.
Dad was such a pioneer. I can’t even imagine. Think of him growing up in Galveston and moving to San Diego in the late 1920’s, listening to Tommy Dorsey in the 40’s and riding boards that weighed 100 pounds. He led such a long and fruitful life, which makes his passing a bit easier. He was controversial, yeah, and some would have considered his life a waste because he didn’t take full advantage of that Stanford doctor’s degree. He should’ve been a multimillionaire driving a Rolls Royce during his era of medicine. But surfing – that changed his life forever, and that was his purpose.
Photo Courtesy: the Paskowitz Family.
When we were kids in Hawaii, really, we were just young savages. We lived on Oahu in Coco Head and in Makaha. I remember going to kindergarten with no shirt and no shoes. We lived in that magic era of Hawaii. With characters like Buzzy Trent, Chubby Mitchell, and Rabbit Kekai, Wally Froiseth, the great Buffalo Keaulana and the Duke. All of them had befriended my father. My dad – I think he embarrassed the Duke. He insisted on putting me in his arms because he felt such reverence towards him. Duke was like, okay, I held your kid, take him back now. I was pretty young in Hawaii though. My fondest memories are San Diego, or maybe Israel. I remember riding longboards there. In Mission Beach, he took me surfing for my first time at Tourmaline – riding tandem on a Corky Carroll longboard. He was such a strong, heavy man, and I was just a little kid. He pulled me right up and we rode a wave together, just like I do with kids at Surfer’s Healing. I’ll never forget that wave.
Early San Diego Crew. Photo Courtesy: the Paskowitz Famly.
Dad loved the company of great men, from old Hawaii through World War II to hanging with Kelly Slater – he absolutely adored Kelly. With me growing up, there was always the element of that roving son trying to impress his dad. I was very honored that he was so proud of what we did with Surfer’s Healing. It created something so much bigger than Isaiah (ed’s note: Israel’s autistic son, who provided the spark for Surfer’s Healing), or myself. Winning those contests around the world on a longboard – that means zero to me. I think I’ll use those trophies as potholders now.
Israel with Kelly Slater. Photo Courtesy: the Paskowitz Family.
CD: Matt Warshaw told me that he thought given a different set of circumstances and if he was wired just a little differently, your dad could have been the first Jewish president.
No question about it. When he had an objective, he followed it. No deviation. Whatever the hell he wanted to do, he did, and nobody could tell him otherwise.
Dad went with me in 2012 on a Surfer’s Healing trip to the East Coast. I always wanted him to see that, but it was always hard to travel with him. He marched to his own tune. Imagine the two of us in an airplane bathroom. I’m behind him, he’s having to catheterize himself just to go to the bathroom, and I’m getting his pants up and down. The flight attendants are freaking out – banging on the door – “Sir, sir are you okay?” We finally come out and I’m like, “Oh, sorry, I should have told you it would be an unusually long visit.”
Dad always said he wanted to die in the water and be eaten whole by a shark. When he said that, there was always the tone with that of something very exciting and stoic. But he died typically – like millions of seniors who fall, break their hip and don’t recover. He had a typical fall at night.
Doc at Doheny Beach in Dana Point, California. Photo Courtesy: the Paskowitz Family.
He had moved back to California (Dana Point) about six months ago. He felt better in Hawaii though, and he was going back and forth – almost to recharge his batteries. Mom would stay in Dana Point with the grandkids and he’d go stay with my brother Moses in Honolulu and warm up. He felt better, and he looked better in Hawaii. He was kind of a pussy with the cold water, but it was nice having him around here in California – not having to worry about sending him over. For him to finally give up that mode and lifestyle – of constantly traveling and going to the next beach – was a big deal. It was kind of like, he was chasing his last waves, and he just wanted to hang out with mom and grow old. So it was very unfortunate that he didn’t get to do that.
Doc and Isaiah. Photo Courtesy: the Paskowitz Family.
My autistic son Isaiah – he has cognitive ability, but he doesn’t have conversational ability. Tubesteak Tracy (ed’s note: a legendary Malibu surfer who died in 2012) – his family is our family. Isaiah would hang out with Tubesteak all the time. He called Tubesteak Daddy Ouchfoot, because Tubesteak had gout in his toe. I took Isaiah to visit dad in the hospice. I usually have to prompt him to say something, but he firmly grasped what was going on. He said, “I love you,” on his own and gave him a kiss. Then he said, “Grandpa Dorian going to heaven to see Daddy Ouchfoot.”
My dad was such a force that with the way we grew up, assimilating into society is still very difficult. I mean, I still don’t know my multiplication tables. But all my brothers – they’ll take Doc with them and continue his legacy of doing the right thing, of being a gentleman and introducing yourself to other surfers you don’t know out in the water. That’s the exact opposite of vibing people out.
The Dad Who Never Grew Up. Photo Courtesy: the Paskowitz Family.
And regarding our upbringing – the views on that vary from sibling to sibling. And some might think that we had our education stifled, but the way I was brought up – I whispered this in dad’s ear at the end, “Thank you. Thank you for the most amazing upbringing I could possibly dream of.” It was just a wild exploration – from the first day I could remember to the day I jumped out of the camper. The places I went – the places I’ve seen – it’s incredible. It could never be duplicated. It set me up for what my life is about today – meeting new people and being different. From dad making us kiss the tarmac at Tel Aviv because he was so devout, to singing the Sabbath prayer at San Onofre – and people looking at us like what the fuck are they doing – till they joined in too. My life, it just pops into my head all the time. I’m eternally grateful for that.
The Family at Cape Hatteras, North Carolina. Photo Courtesy: the Paskowitz Family.
Order Doc’s book Surfing and Health, or make a donation to the Doc Paskowitz Legacy Fund.