Jewish surfing legend Dorian ‘Doc’ Paskowitz dies at 93
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Jewish surfing legend Dorian ‘Doc’ Paskowitz dies at 93

Stanford-educated physician defied convention to introduce surfing to Israel and raise nine children in a 24-ft camper

Renee Ghert-Zand is a reporter and feature writer for The Times of Israel.

Dorian 'Doc' Paskowitz (left) with eight of his nine children during the family's nomadic years. (Courtesy of Magnolia Pictures)
Dorian 'Doc' Paskowitz (left) with eight of his nine children during the family's nomadic years. (Courtesy of Magnolia Pictures)

Dorian “Doc” Paskowitz, the Jewish father of surfing’s first family, and the man believed to have introduced surfing to Israel, died on Monday in Newport Beach, California at age 93.

His death, following a deterioration in his condition after hip surgery earlier this fall, was confirmed by his daughter Navah Paskowitz.

Paskowitz, who had long been known as a legend in the surfing community, was introduced to the rest of the world through “Surfwise,” a 2007 documentary film by Doug Pray about Paskowitz’s unusual life and eccentric parenting style.

Paskowitz was born in to a Russian Jewish immigrant family in 1921 in Galveston, Texas. A Stanford University-educated physician, he left the practice of medicine and his second wife and their children in 1956 to go to Israel for a year. According to an account of the life of Shamai “Topsi” Kanzapolski, the father of Israeli surfing, Paskowitz, who had been a surfer since his youth, brought over with him six longboards decorated with the Star of David, with the hope that he could put together a team to represent Israel in international surfing championships.

The American visited various Israeli beaches, and finally at the Frishman beach in Tel Aviv, he found Kanzapolski, who was working there as a lifeguard and was willing and able to take up the challenge of growing the sport in the new state.

Upon his return to the United States, Paskowitz embarked on a nomadic existence with his third wife, Juliette. The couple had nine children (eight sons and one daughter, all given biblical names), whom they raised in a 24-foot camper.

In “Surfwise,” the children described how they traveled with their parents around the Western Hemisphere in search of the best waves and never went to school. Their father instead insisted that they surf every day and excel in the sport. Eventually, some of the Paskowitz sons became competitive surfers and earned money for the family through prizes and endorsements.

Despite their unconventional lifestyle, Paskowitz, Juliette (a convert to Judaism of Mexican Indian descent) and the children followed the cycle of the Jewish year, celebrating Shabbat and holidays on whichever beach they happened to be camping.

The freethinking Paskowitz, who described himself as “devoutly Jewish” wrapped tefillin every morning for the past fifty years, he said in a recent video interview.

“I do that not at all in keeping with my responsibility to God, because God doesn’t have the faintest idea what I am doing this morning. I do it because it is my respect for by forebears, some of who were devout and paid with their lives for that,” he said.

“But to me the whole thing is witchcraft,” he said, presumably referring to wrapping tefillin and other particularistic Jewish religious practices.”It’s a kind of self-serving witchcraft that is terribly, terribly destructive to the human soul.”

Eventually, the Paskowitz family settled down near San Clemente, California and opened a surfing school there. The school is still open and is run by some of Paskowitz’s sons. The other children went on to pursue a variety of careers. Many of them commented in “Surfwise” that they struggled to adjust to the competitive work world after having had very little, if any, formal education.

‘Health is a presence of a superior state of wellbeing, a vigor, a vitality, a pizzazz you have to work for every single day of your life’

In his later years, Paskowitz lived and surfed in Hawaii and California and fashioned himself as a health guru, writing a book about diet, exercise and other aspects of wellbeing titled, “Surfing and Health,” and which was well-received by his admirers in the surfing community.

“Some of the most profound realizations that I came to about health did not derive from medicine, but derived from surfing,” he said.

“Health is a presence of a superior state of wellbeing, a vigor, a vitality, a pizzazz you have to work for every single day of your life.”

Paskowitz’s connection to Israel did not end with his first visit in 1956. He and members of his family made several trips to Israel, and in 2007, he co-founded a non-profit organization called Surfing 4 Peace to support the sport in Gaza.

Paskowitz arranged for Israeli surfboards to be transferred to Gazan surfers, and he hoped that cooperation in surfing could help bring about a measure of peacefulness in the region.

In the recent video interview, Paskowitz said that all his life he had been afraid of dying because a soothsayer at a party he attended at age 16 told him that he would live a good life, but that he would die young. When he didn’t die at 18, he thought he would die at 28. When he didn’t die at 28, he though it would be 38.

“Now that I’m past 88 (can you believe it?) I don’t give a shit. I’m ready to die,” he said not long before catching the wave that would take him from this world to the next.

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