Paskowitz, Dorian


Enduring, charismatic Southern California surfer; runner-up in the 1941 Pacific Coast Surf Riding Championships; founder of the Paskowitz Surf Camp; lifelong advocate for improved health and diet among surfers, and a staunch believer in the health benefits of surfing itself. "When he's away from the ocean he's an old man," Paskowitz's wife said in 1990, looking at her then-68-year-old husband. "He's a boy when he surfs."

Paskowitz was born (1921) and raised in Galveston, Texas, and began surfing at age 12. He moved with his family to San Diego in 1934, where he worked as a lifeguard at Mission Beach, played football at San Diego State University, helped revive the area's flagging surf scene, and became one of the first regulars at San Onofre; in the 1941 Pacific Coast Surf Riding Championships he finished second to surfing ironman Pete Peterson.

Paskowitz divided his time throughout the '40s between surfing (in Hawaii and California), school (earning a B.A. in biology from Stanford University in 1942, and an M.D., also from Stanford, in 1946), and military service (stationed aboard the USS Ajax in 1946–47). When he moved to Israel in 1956, "Doc" Paskowitz took his Hobie Surfboards pintail, hoping, he later said, "to get Arabs and Jews surfing together." After founding a small surfing colony in Tel Aviv, he paddled out to a likely-looking break near the Gaza Strip just as the Suez Canal crisis brought live fire to the area; an Israeli solider ordered him out of the water and confiscated his board, thinking it was a cleverly disguised missile. Paskowitz was at that time married to his second wife, and had already fathered three children.

In the '60s and '70s, Paskowitz and his ever-growing family (a third marriage to a one-time opera singer produced nine children) lived in a mobile home and traveled often from one side of America to the other, with family practitioner Paskowitz working ad hoc at various medical clinics, and his Mexican-born wife Juliette home-schooling the kids. The Paskowitzes spent much of the year living in the beachfront parking lot at San Onofre.

In 1975 Paskowitz wrote the first of nearly 30 columns for Surfer magazine, in which he skillfully mixed surf history with health, diet, and fitness advice. Also in 1975, the three-year-old Paskowitz International Surf School, founded in Tel Aviv, was relocated to San Onofre, with weekend learn-to-surf camps offered from June to February. In the early '80s, the camp was renamed the Paskowitz Surfing Psychiatric Clinic, specializing in kids with drug problems and/or personality disorders; in 1985 it made a final change to the Paskowitz Surfing Camp, offering weeklong surfing seminars administered by the Paskowitz family, with guest appearances by pro surfers. The Paskowitz Surf Camp wasn't the first of its kind, but it was by far the most popular and durable. Clothes designer Tommy Hilfiger signed on as a Paskowitz Surf Camp corporate sponsor in 1997; the following year the camp was featured in a lengthy New York Times article, with Paskowitz described as "the 78-year-old camp founder whose body looks like that of a man 40 years younger."

Paskowitz and his surf camp were featured in articles by People, GQ, and Sports Illustrated. In 2007, Surfwise, a riveting, sometimes disturbing documentary chronicling the successes and failures of the Paskowitz clan's unique upbringing, was released to critical praise. "It’s Doc who revs up the story," the New York Times noted in a review, describing him as "a born pitchman, part carny, part evangelical." (Paskowitz himself, by turns charming and tyrannical during his onscreen appearances, disavowed Surfwise entirely. "I didn’t want anything to do with the movie. I still haven’t even seen it, and I will never see it.")

Israel and Jonathan Paskowitz, two of Dorian Paskowitz's sons, became nationally known longboarders in the late '80s; by the mid-'90s Israel had taken over the Paskowitz Surf Camp's day-to-day operations.

Dorian Paskowitz was inducted into the International Surfing Hall of Fame in 1991; Surfing and Health, his memoir and heath advice book, was published in 1998.

Paskowitz died in 2014, at age 93, of complications following a broken hip.