by Nathan Baker-Lutz
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Surfwise is brilliant. It is the rise, fall and grasping of hope by the first family of surfing. Writer and director Doug Pray takes you through the lives of the Paskowitz family as they grow up, grow together, grow apart and grow old.
Led by Dorian “Doc” Paskowitz through the sands and white wash of the road-accessible Western Hemisphere, a family of 11 (nine children, Doc and his wife), travel in a small camper without the complexities that life brings. Money is the devil, sex is the word of god and doing only as the monkeys would do. It seems simple, I suppose. Wake up when the sun bursts through the window, crash through the rusty door of a used camper, surf all day and show up for meals. It’s becomes painfully clear as Doug Pray tells the Paskowitz story though, that those things don’t end up as simple as they should.
As the story unfolds, layer upon layer of social deprivation pour out of the water as a mother with nine children, over the course of 10 years, along with a man with a medical degree from Stanford and a yearning for true life, raise a family. As their children grew, they were in the camper as their next sibling was conceived, the only daughter shared her brother’s underwear and the only education these children received was from the beach, the books their parents shared and things they experienced together. Doc Paskowitz was proud. He was giving is children a real education, not just knowledge. As they grew older, they didn’t see it that way.
The story of the Paskowitz family drags you in when you realize that this family feels guilty about being bitter. It’s in their eyes when they speak and in their memories as they reflect. They are bitter about the way that they were raised but they realize that the dream that their father had for them, albeit astoundingly selfish, is something they would die for as adults. This is not a documentary about a family surfing and living in a camper; this is about a family who was brought together by the world their father presented to them.
As the film moves through the highs and lows, so does your perception of Doc and what he put his family through. He is selfish and demands perfection and complete submission, but he also lives his life under such a mantra that he becomes almost a deity. He spends his free time treating people where he surfs for free, he teaches his children that when you take more than you need, someone else gets less. What could his children do? They had a father that made them genuine people, but at a cost that scarred them sexually and emotionally.
The great irony that Surfwise presents is that Doc’s children couldn’t grasp that they were immersed in a lifestyle they resent, but admire their father so much, even as he continues to live as he did when he raised them. And Doc’s only disappointment, the only place he perceives himself to have failed, is that his children didn’t end up like him.
Nathan Baker-Lutz Nathan is a graduate of Columbia College Chicago with a degree in Film and Video, including a concentration in Screenwriting. He has been writing for Film Monthly for 2 years.
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