Doctor and Surfer Lived an Endless Summer

PASKOWITZ-obit-superJumboDorian Paskowitz, a Stanford-educated doctor who gave up a lucrative medical practice to embark, with his family, on a peripatetic and celebrated surfing life, died on Monday in Newport Beach, Calif. He was 93.

The cause was complications of a fractured femur, his son Joshua said.

The founder of a well-known surfing school, Doc Paskowitz, as everybody knew him, had been a familiar figure in the surfing world when he, his wife and their nine children were introduced to a broader public in “Surfwise,” a 2007 film by Doug Pray that captured their barefoot lifestyle.

Manohla Dargis, reviewing the film in The New York Times, called it a “wonderfully engaging look at love and family and the relentless pursuit of happiness, personal meaning and perfect waves.”

The film focused in part on the Paskowitz Surf Camp at San Onofre State Beach in Southern California, which Dr. Paskowitz ran in the summer. Thousands of people have attended the camp, including the Vanity Fair editor Graydon Carter, who helped produce “Surfwise”; the actors Shia LaBeouf and Peter Krause; and the designer Tommy Hilfiger, who was a partner with the Paskowitz family on a clothing line.

“Their camp was a pretty big deal,” said Matt Warshaw, author of “The Encyclopedia of Surfing,” adding that scores of surfing instruction operations today follow the Paskowitz model.

Dr. Paskowitz did not believe in conventional schooling for his children; their education came from books and travels across the United States, Mexico and Central America. He earned enough money in temporary medical jobs to reach the next stop.

“I don’t care about being a great doctor or a rich person or a celebrity or anything else,” he said in “Surfwise.” “I just wanted to be a good husband and a good father, and thus a good man.”

Dorian Paskowitz was born on March 3, 1921, in Galveston, Tex. As a boy he was fascinated with medicine and the ocean, but was hampered by childhood asthma. When he was 10, a lifeguard taught him to surf. Soon he saw a newspaper photograph of surfers in San Diego.

“He said to his mother, ‘If you take me there, I’ll get better,’ ” his son Moses said. “So they moved to Mission Beach.” His health improved. He later became a lifeguard and played football for San Diego State University.

In 1939 he left California for Hawaii, where he befriended many of the renowned Waikiki Beach Boy surfers of that era, like Alfred Kekai, known as Rabbit; Richard Keaulana, known as Buffalo; and Duke Kahanamoku.

“Dad was this friendly, herculean guy who loved surfing,” Moses Paskowitz said. “So he fit right in. Hawaii changed his life. He said, ‘First I’m a surfer, then a Jew, then a doctor.’ ”

After the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor, he joined the Navy. He later graduated cum laude from Stanford Medical School and set up a medical practice in Honolulu.

It thrived, but he became weary of the doctor’s life, feeling uncomfortable around his affluent colleagues. He began having panic attacks. By 1957, with his second marriage falling apart, he gave up nearly all his possessions and traveled to Israel to live on a kibbutz in Tel Aviv.

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“He took his surfboard to the beach and taught a lifeguard and two guys to surf,” Moses Paskowitz said. “He brought surfing to Israel.”

A year later, back in Southern California, Dr. Paskowitz met Juliette Paéz, a former opera singer, on Catalina Island. They married and traveled to Mexico to surf. In 1959 they had a son, David, who also survives him. Then came a long sojourn in Hawaii, where Dr. Paskowitz resumed practicing medicine and helped found a medical outreach organization, Doctors On Call.

Nearly a decade later, Dr. Paskowitz uprooted the family — by then there were seven children — and returned to California, taking up residence in a 24-foot camper and embracing the lifestyle portrayed in “Surfwise.”

He was married three times and had children by all three wives. Besides his sons Moses, Joshua and David, his survivors include his wife; six other sons, Jonathan, Abraham, Israel, Adam, Joshua and Salvador Daniel; four daughters, Deborah and Sarah Mogelberg and Navah (a daughter of his third wife) and Claudia Paskowitz (from one of his previous marriages); his brother, Adrian; and his sister, Sonia.

Late in life, Dr. Paskowitz wrote “Surfing and Health,” an influential book among surfers that laid out his five pillars of health: diet, exercise, rest, recreation and attitudes of mind.

He also became convinced that surfing could help close the rift between Israelis and Palestinians. With the surf champion Kelly Slater he helped found the organization Surfing for Peace. In 2007 he learned that Palestinian surfers along the Gaza Strip were forced to share battered boards because of the Israeli embargo.

“So he rushed the border crossing with a load of surfboards,” his son Joshua said.

Slater recalled that Dr. Paskowitz “was like a father to me; he was always trying to show or teach me something — whether it was how well a relationship could work out or how to get in shape, or create peace.”

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Derek Dodds
 

Derek Dodds is founder of the world's first ecological surf company Wave Tribe, surfboard shaper, world traveler, author and Mini Simmons enthusiast.

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