‘Surfwise’ – Beach brood bingo

‘Surfwise’ – Beach brood bingo

The 24 foot cabin the Paskowitz family called home in Surfwise

Some stories are so colorful, so over-the-top insane the term “stranger than fiction” hardly covers it.

How else can you approach “Surfwise, the 2008 documentary (now on DVD) about a family of 11 who lived in a 24-foot camper along a surfer-friendly beach?

Blame Dorian Paskowitz, the Jewish doctor turned beach bum who fathered nine children and housed them in that cramped camper. Paskowitz’s story screams to be turned into a documentary, and director Doug Pray delivers precisely the kind of movie this tale demands.

But just when Pray’s film seems poised for greatness, it pulls back, leaving audiences begging for more.

“Surfwise” starts with the family patriarch, a man who studied medicine but transformed his life after a visit to Israel. His approach to parenting was a cross between surfer dude 101 and zen master redux. Don’t take in sugar or any other bad foods. Live a life without material possessions. And don’t complain if your mother and I have copious amounts of sex a few feet from your beds.


The film’s first half romanticizes the sunnier aspects of the family’s life. No school! Surf all day! The beach is your personal backyard!

Then, reality seeps in. The children grew up woefully unprepared for the real world. They lacked a formal education as well as the social skills required when their lives moved away from the beach.

And they’re angry as hell about it.

But it’s here where Pray starts pulling his punches. He teases us with the depths of the children’s resentment toward their father, but the film steers clumsily toward the kind of happy ending that seems ripped from reality TV, not the fractured lives we’ve just witnessed.

“Surfwise” is a must-see all the same, if only to witness Dorian in action. He’s in his 80s now, and despite various ailments he remains dedicated toward his singular approach to living. He also works out in the nude and blames his children’s complaints on laziness, not his own imperfect parental skills. Yet he’s too smart not to be on to something about society’s obsession with consumerism and greed, even if he took his approach to child-rearing to unhealthy levels.

Those methods led to one heckuva documentary, but you’ll probably hug your parents a little harder the next time you see them.

(Photo: The 24-foot cabin the Paskowitz family called home in “Surfwise” – photo courtesy of Magnolia Pictures)

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LindaNo Gravatar December 5, 2008 at 12:19 am

I loved this film. There were a lot of touching scenes. The reunion recap had me in tears, especially when the parents were waiting at the airport. Not a conventional family, but an enthralling story.

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