Talking Doc’s Story. New York Times Conversations with the Paskowitz Family. Episode Three: The Friendliest Guy in the Water.
by Chris Dixon
Jonathan Paskowitz Very Spiffy in Hawaii. Photo Courtesy: Jonathan 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 two: Jonathan, 53. I first met Jonathan back in the summer of 1999 at San Onofre. I recall three things about him. First, he always wore a full wetsuit – even when the water was warm enough for trunks. Second, he really was a most excellent longboarder. Third, he was the friendliest guy in the water. Unlike most Californians, he wanted to find out who you were and talk story in the lineup. A very Hawaiian lesson I reckon he took from his dad. Today, Jonathan is president of Lightning Bolt, probably the most storied surf company in existence. — CD
Jonathan and Stephen Colbert. That’s Really Stephen. Not a Cardboard Cutout. Photo Courtesy: Jonathan Paskowitz.
Photo Courtesy: The Paskowitz Family.
Dad paddled out at Waikiki in the early 1940’s after steaming over on the Madsen Lines. The Big Kanaka says, “Who are you? I’ve never seen you here.” And Hawaii became his love. It was the people first, and then the waves.
Latter Days of the San O Surf Camp. Around the time I met Jonathan — CD.
Photo Courtesy of the Paskowitz Family.
My mom and dad – they had their ups and downs. But not compared to normal people ups and downs. Really, Dad taught me the nobility of masculinity. My whole life growing up, the one thing I admired most. I never heard dad raise his voice to mom or call her a name, or tell her to shut up. He never did anything but tried to grab her ass at the movies. And dad – he was a card carrying chauvinist. But he was not a misogynist. He agrees with equal pay, but also in opening a door for a girl, buying her dinner, putting a coat down in the puddle for her – the good parts.
David (left), Abraham (middle), Jonathan (right). Hawaiian Lei Session. Photo Courtesy: Jonathan.
My brother David – he was born in California, then Dad and Mom moved to Hawaii. Me, Abe, Israel, Moses, Adam, (Salvador) Daniel, we were all born in Hawaii. Then we went adventuring. For me, personally, my time frame of life growing up was steeped in being with Hawaii with dad. Being a kid on the beach and going to the North Shore, or helping him with medical shit. He was always surrounded by prostitutes and heroin addicts. He was happy, really, helping the most unhappy people.
Photo Courtesy: The Paskowitz Family.
And you know, he wrote another book besides Surfing and Health – this one was about sex. The original title was How to Choose Your Mistress – the mistress meaning your wife. He later changed it to Surfing and Sex. It’s never been published. Surfing and Sex was really Dad’s odyssey. He was married and divorced twice before Mom. He really believed that the fault for his divorces was his choice of wife and his inability to please them sexually. He really thought that. So the book was about his mission to seek out and f**k 100 women and test them on what he called a “male deficit syndrome.” He would actually vet these women and then he’d make an analysis of how they they performed in bed. Several questions ended up being very telling – and true. Women that were inhibited by their family lives were usually terrible lovers.
When I was young, and dad was doing very well running the Board of Health stuff in Hawaii, some pretty heavy local guys said, ‘Why don’t you run for Governor? You’re a doctor, you’re a surfer’ – this and that. Dad loved the attention, and found all that very ego pleasing. But he was more interested in staying close to his family and the medical work he could do in a hands-on basis. That was so rewarding for him.
So my lifetime and traveling. I spent winters in Martin, South Dakota; Portals, New Mexico; Lubbock, Texas; Block Island, Rhode Island. Not places a surfer wants to be. All we did was help poor people. We’d go work our asses off and save as much money as we could and care for miserable people, then take whatever we’d saved and drive around the country ‘til we ran out of money again.
Far from Waikiki or San Onofre. Photo Courtesy: The Paskowitz Family.
Once in Martin, we had something ridiculous, like $5 or $6000. So we had a group family meeting, okay, where are we going next? Each person’s vote counted. One time, we said, let’s go somewhere with warm water. So we went to Florida. The surf scene was blowing up there. It was one of those first trips where we bonded with Kelly Slater. I have no idea what year that was. You gotta remember, from living in a camper for so long, our social skills are so atrophied. If you asked me, what does 7-14-14 mean? I’d have to look at it on a calendar. We didn’t even use dates like normal people. Life was always one thing a day.
Jonathan, Armed and Dangerous. Photo Courtesy: The Paskowitz Family.
Dad broke his hip after coming home from Hawaii to see mom. He was rumored to have been catching up on his libidinous behavior. Then he did the absolute classic for an old person – slipped in the bathroom and can’t get up. Broke the tip of his hipbone. We said, we’re gonna get an ambulance to take you to the hospital in Mission Viejo or San Clemente. Dad said, “No, my doctor’s in San Diego.” But we were gonna have to wait to do that til the next morning. So Josh helps him get back into the bed, and he sleeps that night with a broken hip. Then next morning, we converted the Honda seat into a bead. Abe, Salvadore, Josh and I got him in the car and drove him to UCSD (University of California San Diego) where his doc was.
Doc and Juliette. Photo Courtesy: The Paskowitz Family.
The doc looks at Dad, says, “Okay, clean break.” They fix him arthroscopically. Boom, boom, boom, Dad’s doing so well, they release him in 48 hours. But then later, Dad developed a cough – I think probably from the hospital. A cold developed into pneumonia. Then we took him back to the hospital and he never really got better. It was just steady – he got more and more depleted. Really, he died of chronic old-manism. But even three, four days ago, Dad was pulling himself up in bed. The nurses were saying, “Don’t’ let him try to do that.” I said, “Well, what’s the worst case? He breaks his arm and then he dies?”
Dad also had cancer of the prostate. But he never took any medication for it. The urologist was like, dude, it’s very slowing growing – will take twenty years to kill you. Our joke when we found out was, well, he’ll be 115 by then.
Kelly Slater came to visit dad. He spent copious amounts of time. Then all these people. like Bobby Friedman, the famous tandem surfer, came to visit. We turned the room into a party – in the best of ways.
Jonathan and Kelly. Israel. Photo Courtesy: Jonathan Paskowitz.
Dad agreed with Kelly Slater – Surfing’s not a lifestyle, it’s a relationship. That’s a heavy statement if you think about it. Not your actual physical self, but your spirit, your soul, is more connected to something you do on a board, in the ocean. That’s more important than God or Allah.
Israeli Peace Enforcers. David, Arthur Rashkovan, Jonathan, Kelly Slater, Makua Rothman, Joshua, Doc and Eddie Rothman.
As you well know – one thing Dad was very, very bad at was money. All of us are getting together right now to help figure out how to support mom. The VA doesn’t pay much. He didn’t have a stock, bond or bank account, no hidden assets, no stashed money. No debt either, but zero when it comes to leaving anything tangible behind. We were floored to hear that. He didn’t even have (U.S.) Navy life insurance.
For my family – and my mom – it’s the death of a father and spouse. The number one emotional trauma. Mom’s at full redline and we want her around as long as we can possibly have her. So we’re going to do anything for her. And that’s the story of the end of life of my dad.
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.
Talking Doc’s Story. New York Times Conversations with the Paskowitz Family. Episode Two: Life through Navah’s Eyes.