Fearless wave-rider from Cape Town, South Africa; world-ranked #15 in 1976. "An awesome surfer," journalist Derek Hynd said of Paarman in 1989. "He is to the beastly waves of Cape Town what [Hawaii's] Barry Kanaiaupuni is to Sunset Beach."
Paarman was born (1954) and raised in Cape Town, one of five brothers and the son of a commercial fisherman, and began surfing at age 10. Older brother Donald Paarman was one of South Africa's original high-performance surfers and was elected to the Surfing Magazine International Hall of Fame in 1966; John Whitmore, his uncle, often called the "father of South African surfing," was Cape Town's first surfboard builder.
Jonathan Paarman won the boys' division of the national surfing championships in 1967 and 1968; competed in the 1970 World Surfing Championships; and was runner-up to former world champion Midget Farrelly in the 1970 Gunston 500, held in Durban. Paarman served his two-year mandatory military service in 1974-j75, then returned to competition; in 1976 the tall (6'3") broad-shouldered regularfooter placed second in the Gunston, and made the finals of the Duke Kahanamoku Invitational and the Smirnoff Pro, both at Sunset Beach. "People [in Hawaii] at the time didn't realize how big the waves got back where I lived," Paarman said later, explaining how he was able to adapt so easily to big surf on the North Shore. "Going to Hawaii was getting into a warm bath."
Paarman's reputation, however, was based less on competition results and more on his forceful big-wave performances, often alone, at a number of frightening reefbreaks near his Cape Town home. Paarman also impressed during his annual forays to Jeffreys Bay. "Much has been made of the surfing of Occy, Curren, and Fitz and J-Bay," former world champion Shaun Tomson said 2016. "But my all-time favorite is Jonny. He had an absolute balls-to-the-wall approach, and at one time he was, without a doubt, the best power surfer in the world."
In the mid-'90s, Paarman became one of the first to regularly surf the massive deep-water waves at Dungeons. By that time he was a well-established boatbuilder in St. Francis Bay.
Paarman appeared in a small number of surf movies, including Going Surfin' (1973) and Playgrounds in Paradise (1976).