Talking Doc’s Story. New York Times Conversations with the Paskowitz Family. Episode Five: Into the Dragon’s Den with Josh
by Chris Dixon
Photo Courtesy: Joshua Paskowitz.
On November 23, 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.
If anything became crystal clear during those conversations, it’s this simple fact: Each of the Paskowitz kids has had his – or her – own singular 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.
Today we’ll hear from child number nine. Joshua Ben was born in 1974. His clan’s ceaseless travels and copious downtime – free of electronic distractions and pesky things like homework led Josh deep into to music and art. Being the youngest, he also spent more time traveling with his mom and dad – and going through crazy shit – than almost anyone.
Josh bailed on the Paskowitz camper life at 13, and lived a frightfully adventurous life before falling into drugs, becoming briefly famous as a singer with his brother Adam in the band The Flys, selling a million records and opening for the Rolling Stones and Red Hot Chili Peppers. After leaving music he taught surfing for a few years with his brothers, sobered up, married, divorced, met the love of his life and today has two beautiful children. A couple of years ago, after putting it off for one too many years and reaching the end of his rope, Josh decided to make a serious go at actually making a living through his remarkable artwork. The result, today, has been an eruption of impressionist paintings that channel his life through the lens of what Josh calls “The Paskowitz Experience” and his view that life up to this point has been its own, most peculiar piece of performance art. Today, he’s opened a small gallery and performance space in San Clemente, called Aloha Doc, in honor of his father, and his muse, Dorian Paskowitz.
Dorian Paskowitz, by Josh Paskowitz.
I’d just started up a gallery in San Clemente called Aloha Doc. Dad and I were supposed to open it together. He flew out from Hawaii for the opening with me and then broke his hip.
My dad’s my hero. I named my son Dorian. Dad’s the muse in my artwork and pretty much everything I do is based on the life I led with him. I’m so grateful to for the people who appreciated his value, and I’m going to do everything I can to share that with the world.
Josh and Dorian Jr. Photo Courtesy: Josh Paskowitz.
Dad was a very complicated human being. And you know, he was actually, really fucking cool. He once had an art gallery in San Francisco called the Dorian Gallery. He’d hang out with people like Jean Yanko Varda, Anaïs Nin and Henry Miller.
When dad was young and strong and gorgeous and looked like Arnold Schwarzenegger, he struck a powerful figure. But as you know after his second divorce, he had a crisis of ego. He kind of went insane from the pain – and he came up with this new vision of life. Something like a Mendicant sage, or a Greek fucking philosopher who can tell you things that will change your life forever. He was that kind of guy. He restructured the values and he lived his values. And he had this radical notion of family love that he deconstructed from his failed marriages. He was so heartbroken he was like, well, fuck this. I’m going to live with my kids every day. Like the Lost Boys in Peter Pan.
The Duke. Art by Joshua Paskowitz.
He had so many experiences where he crossed paths with people like The Duke – riding with him in an outrigger from Molokai to Waikiki, or the Shah of Iran – who he met surfing at Waikiki, or Haile Selassie, who he met on a bridge in Israel. He got a letter from David Ben Gurion, the first prime minister of Israel, encouraging him to come to Israel and support Zionism. And you should have seen it when dad met Sean Penn. He he had Sean in a corner and the two of them were just having the heaviest conversation.
When he Learned that Doc wasn’t Sending the Kids to School, Israeli Prime Minister David Ben Gurion Invited him to Israel for a Discussion on the Matter. Image Courtesy: Moses Paskowitz.
CD: I point out to Josh that he and my wife were in the same class at Marco Forster Middle School in Dana Point. She recalled him as both popular, and far more worldly than any other eighth grader in Dana Point.
“Well, four months before your wife knew me, I was in Mexico with my dad, dragging bloody corpses out of a ditch, and doing surgery on the hood of our camper. Then I literally got rabies. Dad had been invited to a Mexican national surfing championship in Acapulco. He fell in love with the place, and when he came home, he put us in the camper and drove all the way back down from L.A. Everyone else had bailed on him by that point and were in the deep dark jungles of Mexico. He was the only doctor for miles, so people traveled by foot to see him. He would treat these poor campesinos like, full triage style – right there with the camper hood as his operating theater. People got stabbed, shot – all kinds of jungle warfare casualties, and Dad and I were the MASH unit. We lived there – making our own shelter out of Paleolithic materials and sweltering. After almost a year, the straw that broke our collective backs was when the vampire bats gave our dog rabies, and then we got exposed to it and needed the vaccine – 14 shots in the spine – one a day, for two weeks. You gotta do it slow, 10cc’s at a time, or it will kill you. After that, Doc decided that we should maybe head back to the states for a few years. And I got to attend the eighth grade.
By that point, my insane dad had alienated all the older brothers. Everyone else had been smart enough to get the fuck out of dodge. But staying with him made me know him in a way I’m so grateful for. It was like looking behind the curtain of the Wizard of Oz.
The Wizard of San Onofre. Art by Joshua Paskowitz.
What drove him? What really Drove him? Honestly, it was his desire to be what he called healthy. But really, I think it was sanity. What he thought of as health, really, he was thinking, was sanity. He was so amazingly out there. But surfing grounded him to a reality that was enough to keep his incredible spirit tied to the world. It was, like, the sanity of nature’s law. If you think about it, if you’re a surfer and are connected to the water, you’re more likely to be environmentally conscious and aware. Dad was so far ahead on so many issues. Surfers think they’re hardcore because they go out at 5AM for the dawn patrol. Well dad moved his whole family to the fucking break. There has never been a more devoted surfer. He loved surfing and Hawaii like I love art and music.
Did you ever see The Mosquito Coast with Harrison Ford? His mission to escape the world and introduce ice to the people of Central America. It was a crazy movie. A great movie. And Ford’s character – he was a lot like my Dad, but Dad’s drive was surfing. He wanted to take surfing to all these places and pioneer it in the same way. He followed his own law – the law of aloha. The spirit of Hawaiian people. The culture of surfing. Hawaiian culture it was his religion. He would literally transfer the Hebrew prayers in to prayers for surf.
Young Disciples. Photo Courtesy: The Paskowitz Family.
Dad and I had come so many miles together from when he first started. After my divorce in 2004 (Ed’s note: Josh is today engaged to his sweetheart Brittany Orahood), I totally devoted myself to being there for dad. He wouldn’t see any other than a Stanford doctor, so I had to drive him to Palo Alto and fly on these hell missions where we thought he was going to die, and on occasion driving back, he had to catheter himself on the roadside to pee – and there was a liter of bright red blood instead. We had a serious existential crisis. But that kind of thing also makes me feel like had such a unique relationship.
Photo by Dan Lemaitre. Courtesy: Josh Paskowitz.
Late in dad’s life, my brother Moses was taking care of him in Honolulu and giving him the opportunity to be out there. But he had limited resources, so we were starting up this business – Aloha Doc – at 93. He came out here in the hopes of trying to help provide for his family. And that, I think, is one takeaway for me on his passing. A 93-year-old man. He never stopped trying to make a difference for his family and that’s just phenomenal. I hope we can all do that on some level.
Photo Courtesy: Josh Paskowitz.
I have a few other notes too.
In 2007, when dad found out that there were hardly any surfboards for surfers on the Gaza Strip, he rushed the border crossing with a load of surfboards. The Israeli border guard said, “I’m going to shoot you.” Dad said, “I’m 90 years old, fire away!”
Surfers in Palestine, their hero is Doc Paskowitz. A jew. What is that? To me, it means he led an artfully crafted existence that had a beautiful thread wound through it. And that thread was the spirit of aloha. The love of human character and human dignity and the largess and grandness of spirit to act like a servant to everyone you meet.
Palestinian Surfers. Photo Courtesy: Josh Paskowitz.
It was those kinds of bold, principled actions that he made as a human being that make me such a fan of his. 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.’”My brother Israel (the founder of Surfer’s Healing). He’s the living legacy of my dad. His aloha, and social consciousness, for giving back a very special group of people, autistic children, who deserve who really, really deserve it, and using surfing to do it. It’s incredibly authentic and incredibly true to the spirit of what dad wanted for us.
Israeli Surfers. Photo Courtesy: Josh Paskowitz.
For fifty days I’d been taking care of him. At the hospice, it’s a dark and heavy place. It’s the best possible place to be if you’re dying, but still, there are peple in pain. It was so gnarly for me. Just as real as it gets. Then one day, ‘bam,’ right around the corner comes the King of Surfing. It was Kelly Slater. He stayed there for hours. Crying and being there for dad. Dad had incredible visitors at the end – Slater, Kevin Ancell, Matt Archbold. All these wonderful people who came to see him. I was with him an hour before he finally went. Abe was the last brother to be with him.
Blessings to you, Dorian #DocPaskowitz. You’ve been a beacon of truth, light, knowledge, and determination for all of your surfing brothers. Despite numerous reports of Doc’s passing over the last week, he quietly said his #LastGoodbye this evening. I was lucky enough to spend time with him a few days ago and get a couple of big hugs and this final photo. He was passionate about diet and exercise but his biggest wish was to see peace in Gaza between Israel and Palestine and always believed that those who could surf together, could live together peacefully. He told me that if they would ‘pave the streets of Palestine in gold’ there would be peace between the people. He personally walked donated surfboards over the Israeli border to give to his Palestinian surfing brethren as a sign of respect and acknowledgment. Maybe one day his true dream will be realized. I’ll miss this crazy, old man who helped raise my little brother and teach me about the ways of the world. Condolences and love to his wife and 9 children. #Surfing4Peace #SurfersHealing #PaskowitzFamily
A photo posted by Kelly Slater (@kellyslater) on
It was the heaviest thing I ever experienced in my whole life. I’m just really glad I was able to go as far into the dragon’s den as I did with him, and be there for him and really let him know how much I cared.
I can really say it all like this. It was living by his own principles and showing people that if they are bold and live by their own principles, their own heart, nature, family and the universal, it creates health, sanity and wholeness. I’m not arguing. I’m doing it. I’m living it. We as a family are living his dream forever. And I’m going to preach it every day I’m alive.
Got You Where I Want You. Photo Courtesy: Josh Paskowitz.
I think about all the miles I did with dad. Hundreds of thousands of miles. Not just in the camper. Not just in that car. With no space. Or being straight out homeless on the streets of Honolulu at eight years old and staying in George Downing’s toolshed when he was taking care of my mom – she was deathly ill with brucelosis. I’ll never forget walking around Honolulu and Dad trying to score an extra plate at Sizzler by objectifying how miserable I was, like, “I know we only have one plate but this boy is very hungry and has nowhere to go tonight. His mom may not make it and he has to be alone all by himself, could we please get two plates?” By the time the litany at the Misery Parade was over, the waitress and I were all traumatized. But we got an extra plate.
It was those kinds of moments that made life so impossible but so meaningful. Dad was just so heroic and amazing and untroubled by the some of the things that make the rest of us mortals weak. I love him forever.
The Doc Paskowitz Memorial Paddle Out will be held at the San Clemente Pier, Saturday, December 13. From 10AM to 1PM.
Pay Doc’s years of good medical work forward by purchasing his book Surfing and Health, make a donation to the Doc Paskowitz Legacy Fund, or have a look at Josh’s mind-blowing art. http://www.alohadoc.com/
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