Doc Paskowitz: 1921-2014

A legend passes

It’s with heavy hearts that we announce that Dorian “Doc” Paskowitz has passed away. He’d spent the last days of his life surrounded by his family and friends, and with support pouring in from around the world through social media channels. The Texas-born, Stanford-educated physician leaves behind an indelible mark on surf culture. He helped introduce surfing to Israel, founded the Paskowitz Surf Camp—one of the world’s best-known surf schools, and became a kind of surf fitness sage, riding waves well into his 90s, and penning dozens of health columns for SURFER in the ’70s. The American public at large was introduced to Doc in the 2007 film “Surfwise,” which chronicled the eclectic Paskowitz clan’s time spent living and surfing together out of a van. It was an instant classic.

Doc was one of surfing’s most beloved characters of the 20th century. Below, Matt Warshaw offers his tribute.


Once a year, give or take, Dorian Paskowitz would call me. Out of the blue, no agenda, just checking in. We met when I was the editor at SURFER, and talked a few times in my office there, but why he kept calling after I left the magazine I never really knew. Might have had something to do with me being Jewish—hardly, barely, totally non-practicing, but still. Maybe because I do old-guy banter pretty well for a kid born in 1960. He knew I was writing surf history, and that might have had something to do with it. Dorian was a consummate politician. A couple tiny tweaks in his DNA, and he could have been America’s first Jewish president.

Anyway, we’d spend a half-hour or so on the phone, catching up, flattering each other. He’d casually drop a word or two of wisdom, along with a lot of F-bombs—the man worked blue. I’d hang up feeling absolutely buzzed, such was Dorian’s charisma and warmth. Who knows, maybe he was flipping through the Rolodex and I was merely call No. 15 for the day. But it never felt that way. It felt like I was the person he’d been looking forward to talking to all week. The thought that I’ll never get another one of those calls is a brick in my chest right now.

The quotes below don’t really do him justice. It was so much better to hear the words, or variations of them, in Dorian’s own voice. But this is what we’ve got now, this is what’s left, and it’s fine. It’s more than fine.

Dos lebn iz nit mer vi a kholem—ober ver mikh nit oyf.

Aloha Doc.

DOC ON INTRODUCTIONS:

“My name is Dorian Paskowitz. I’m one of the few dumb Jewish doctors you will ever meet.”

DOC ON LOST AND FOUND:

“The years between 1950 and 1956 saw one professional success after another for me, but in actual fact these were the worst years of my life. I deserted surfing and in its place I substituted ambition. It didn’t work. My spirit shrank until there was nothing left. You see, when I kept surfing, surfing kept me.”

“After my 18th birthday, life began to get complicated. Fun became a calculation, rather than just plain instinct. Ambition and selfishness helped kill fun. Eventually, I looked on fun as not just wasteful, but downright wrong. I was saddled with that delusion for 18 years. If there is no fun, there is no health. God loves happy people.”

DOC ON CARNALITY:

“Love makes the world go ‘round. But fucking makes love go ‘round.”

“Sex is the only thing in life that’s as much fun as surfing. So, like surfing, it deserves the very best you can give it.”

DOC ON HEALTH:

“Health is survival . . . but survival with style and class.”

“How productive I am, how creative I am, how sociable I am, how sexy I am—all of these things improve about 25% when I go from 154 pounds to 148 pounds.”

“Most people think of Spirit as that quality within us which descends from on high. That’s not my definition. Sprite to me is the body’s supreme creation, a complete ableness, which comes from being healthy. Health begets Spirit.”

DOC ON SECOND THOUGHTS:

“If I had my life to do over again—having nine kids, marrying a woman taller than me, not sending my children to school, all of us living in a camper as a nomadic band—there is one thing I’d do differently. Only one. I would have preached and practiced a more powerful, more contagious, more communicable form of social consciousness.”

“Fear draws a line across some men’s lives, beyond which they will not or cannot go. I am one of those men. But I have had such happiness within the limits of where I can walk bravely, that I say to others like me, ‘Accept yourself for what you can do. Don’t dwell on your limits.’”

DOC ON MOVING TOWARD THE LAUGHTER:

“A month ago [Summer, 2010] I paddled out at Waikiki. I can’t see anymore, so I get around out there by listening to the waves crash, the people laughing and having fun, and by feeling the ocean move beneath me.”

DOC ON KICKING OUT:

“Death is not a stalker, always looking for us. Death is a scorekeeper tallying up how much we love life and how much we are willing to work for it. We die when we stop living.”

“It’s easier to die when you have lived, then it is to die when you haven’t. So I say to all young people, go make memories; beautiful memories. Because when the time comes to go, you won’t go alone.”