Talking Doc’s Story. New York Times Conversations with the Paskowitz Family. Episode Four: Screentime with Salvador
by Chris Dixon
Doc and Salvador. Photo Courtesy: Salvador 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 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.
Today, we’ll hear from child number seven: Salvador Daniel, 43. Sal grew up on the road with his siblings and on the beach at San Onofre. As a teen, he illustrated and published Surf Crazed Comics, which appeared in Surfing magazine for years. He studied at the Art Student’s League in New York City and was classically trained in oil and canvas, he later ran a graphic design firm that did a lot of surf-related business before taking up screenwriting in the early 2000’s. In 2004, Sal wrote and developed a screenplay for the film Age of Adaline. His patience paid off when he learned that not only would the film be produced by Lakeshore/Lionsgate, but it would star Harrison Ford and Blake Lively. The film premieres April 24th, 2015. To continue the roll, Sal’s now working with John Jacobs on a TV adaptation of the book St. Lucy’s Home for Girls Raised by Wolves, and he’s casting for his first directorial project, The Shore, a tale of a boy fisherman that derives heavily from Sal’s life on the road with his family. A fascinating dude. — CD
Practicing His Trade. Photo by Erica Monroe Williams, Courtesy Salvador Paskowitz.
When Dad was a kid – like five or six – he used to toodle around on driftwood in Galveston, Texas. He was born in 1921, right after that huge hurricane that sank Galveston and killed so many people. It was just a tiny town, and there was hardly anyone there. It was just him and the ocean. He had terrible asthma. He was dying from it, and it turned out that Galveston Island with the sulfur flats around – is like, the worst place in the world to have an asthmatic kid. His mom was superstitious. She didn’t want to take him to the doctor. She took him to healers and sages. Dad saw a picture of two guys surfing in San Diego. He said, “Mom, take me to San Diego and I’ll get better.”
So they took him. And he became a surfer. And the ocean cured him.
After World War II, Dad was stationed on the USS Ajax at the atomic testing on Bikini Atoll. He handled the animals that were subjected to the blast. Saw them glowing at night from radiation. And all his friends from the ship died. Experiencing that was one reason he committed himself so much to healthy living. He said to us, “My time is limited because of exposure to radiation.”
Dad lived to 93. So that also shows the healing power of surfing.
Doc Watched the Bikini Atoll Test from Up Close. Click here for the video.
Sal at San Clemente’s Concordia Elementary. But Only For a Little While. Photo Courtesy: Salvador Paskowitz.
My dad, basically, he didn’t teach us in any ritualized sense. He simply said, there is the ocean. It will teach you everything you need to know.
So all of us in our lives – if there’s been an issue, problem or situation, we simply followed dad’s advice and said, okay, now I see. It’s an automatic thing. It doesn’t require distillation, observation or intelligence modification. It just is. That’s why he was so obsessed with the idea of the ocean – and keeping it clean and keeping it as a resource because it’s just absolutely a miracle.
Sal and Sister Navah. Photo Courtesy: Salvador Paskowitz.
With regards to our upbringing, you can either fall on the side of my sister, who says, I was cheated, I should’ve been able to go to Yale, or my brothers who say, Oh My God, it was fantastic. My thing, I’m brother Y with an asterisk. I feel like, no, we weren’t cheated, it was a fantastic way to grow up. But I’d always want my kids to have a choice. But what does that mean exactly? I don’t know. I’m still trying to figure that out myself. I would have loved to have had the lifestyle, but to not not have had money. The key to living is not having money, but it’s also not not having money. I’d love to be able to have my kids have the experiences that I had but with some measure of stability and foundation – so that if they wanted to go into society afterwards, they could.
San Onofre Surf Contest. Not too hard to Tell Which One is Salvador. Photo Courtesy: Salvador Paskowitz.
When I was seventeen years old, we were hanging with native Americans in Washington State. I asked if I could hang out and live with them for awhile. So there was one son in the family that I lived with. Their family was all about college. So I followed him to Evergreen State College. Matt Groening went there. So the kid got accepted. Then for fun, I went in and talked to the Dean. I told him what I was about and where I was from. And I got accepted. But here’s the thing. We didn’t have any money and Dorian had never even paid any tax. At age 17, I could have been emancipated and gone to college. But then they said, “Just make out your $12,000 check for this semester.”
Sal at 18 with Doc on the North Shore. Photo Courtesy: Salvador Paskowitz.
So I never went to Evergreen College. But I never regretted it either. The way Dorian had us live has been far more valuable than any other life would have been. That’s why dad’s story is such a paradox. To be a surfer, you’ve got to be a pretty selfish person. It’s unlike almost any other sport, which you can take up and get training and in a summer be pretty good. You can surf for 15 years and still be terrible. To be surfer like dad, and raise your kids to be surfers – it was intensely selfish, but in the most productive of ways. That’s one of the paradoxes.
Sal on the Far Left. Photo Courtesy: Salvador Paskowitz.
I started Surf Crazed Comix right about the time I met my wife Kristin – I did first segment “Riders of Steel” and the last image Save Our Seas. I think we printed like 10 issues and Riders was in Surfing Magazine for a time. Man, it takes me back.
Today I’m a screenwriter and I’m incredibly excited because a film I just wrote called The Age of Adaline is about to come out. It stars Harrison Ford and Blake Lively.
Because of my upbringing, getting into screenwriting was a jolly hard time. I wasn’t prepared for that on any level. But here’s the paradox of it all. You can’t go halfway to Neverland. And that’s the trouble. I wish Dad would have given us this amazing life, then on our 18th birthday, said, “Here’s the sea, but I also have a nice savings bond for you.” So I’m basically of two minds. I want to give my family more stability, but God what an amazing time we had.
CD. The New York Times once called the Paskowitz’s The First Family of Surfing. Did Doc perceive himself as surfing royalty?
Who Are We to Argue? Photo Courtesy: The Paskowitz Family.
Hell no. All he was interested in was the people who touched his life. Dad wanted to hear your story. He was greedy that way. He was so beyond modest. And you know, he never saw Surfwise. He would not watch it. I said, ‘But Dad, it’s so good.’ No thank you. He was way more interested in other people. He loved it when other people reached out and talked to him, and he got to hear about the labors of the lives of the people that touched him. The river definitely flowed to Doc – not away. And that was to his detriment as a doctor too. He wasn’t bound by the clock. If a patient was sitting there, he’d sit there with ‘em all day. My wife of 22 years. She always looked at Dorian not as the standard father-in-law. Their relationship was him as the sage and she was the grasshopper. She loved to get his advice. When he was sick, dying, near the end, she said, “Can’t we wake him up? Just for a second? To ask him one more question? ” Because he would sit and talk all the time with her. All his life was sitting on a beach and talking story.
Doc Attended to the Premiere of Surfwise, but Never Saw the Film. Photo Courtesy: Salvador Paskowitz.
When we were doing the film Surfwise, I was talking to Doug Pray, the director. Doug Pray said: “There’s something missing here. I know I’m just not getting from Doc, the kind of did I do the right thing? So I pushed him and pushed him in the interview – the last interview of the whole movie. It was after the reunion. We were in Israel. I pushed him ‘til I thought he was gonna punch me. And it came down to basically, Well, that’s the price you pay when you’re Captain Hook and you raise your kids like Peter Pan. Was I tough on them? When I sent them to the bog and fired cannons at them? Yes.
Dad loved Peter Pan. That’s why he was Captain Hook.
Where my own kids are concerned, I’m in an interesting situation. I found a beautiful wife at age 21 and had a baby, who grew to be now 20-years-old. And I have a three-year-old named Emma. Doc loved her. Her last day with Doc was beautiful. She took his hand and said, “Don’t be afraid.” It was just wonderful.
Salvador, Doc and Sal’s Baby Emma. Photo Courtesy: Salvador Paskowitz.
Salvador and Daughter Halo. Photo Courtesy: Salvador Paskowitz.
I went to visit him, just before he passed. Driving thru Laguna, I just felt compelled to jump in the water – like a Paskowitz. So I jumped in and found myself alongside a big piece of kelp and I started yelling and splashing, and I swear to God, I don’t believe in anything supernatural, but this, this, just pristine five foot wave suddenly came – just in out of nowhere. I felt like that was Doc’s spirit.
It’s amazing, the life he’s led. That’s why, in a way, I was almost sort of glad when he died. I didn’t want him to suffer anymore. He lived man, he saw it all. And he would tell you this. Forget all the bullshit about the legendary surfer dude. I was a father first. And I was a surfer, and my family was the entire surfing world, and that’s that.
The Doc Paskowitz Paddle out is at the San Clemente Pier, December 13. From 10AM to 1PM. Illustration, Roy Gonzalez.
Pay Doc’s years of good medical work forward by purchasing his book Surfing and Health, or make a donation to the Doc Paskowitz Legacy Fund. http://www.alohadoc.com/
Talking Doc’s Story. New York Times Conversations with the Paskowitz Family. Episode Three: The Friendliest Guy in the Water.
Talking Doc’s Story. New York Times Conversations with the Paskowitz Family. Episode Two: Life through Navah’s Eyes.