CLASSICS: Words of Wisdom with Doc Paskowitz
“I like men who have known the best and the worst, whose life has been anything but a smooth trip. Storms have battered them, they have lain, sometimes for months on end, becalmed. There is a residue even if they fail. It has not been all tinkling; there have been grand chords.” – James Salter, Burning the Days
CLASSICS is a new series that provides insight, life advice, and general words of wisdom from surfing’s most respected individuals.
Dorian Paskowitz loves to be called Doc. He told me so when I asked him. I was very nervous, calling the man that all my surfing heroes call their hero. I stammered when he answered the phone, his humor cracking his voice as much as his age. I could hear him smiling.
“I love to be called Doc,” he told me. I had planned on calling him Mr. Paskowitz.
Doc Paskowitz started surfing in the Gulf of Mexico on Galveston Island. He’s 92, and he’s still surfing.
While he would never agree, Doc can be considered one of the earliest pioneers of the shape of today’s surf culture. He spent nearly 25 years on the road, living in a succession of used campers. It is, quite possibly, the world’s longest surf trip. He and his wife raised nine children in those campers, soaking them in the ocean and their idea of how life should be lived.
During the course of an hour-long conversation, Doc dropped some serious wisdom on me. He is an extraordinarily smart man – not because of his education, but because, in his own words, “Wisdom comes from intent, experience, and finding courage.”
Here’s a bit of that wisdom.
The way I lived was more in keeping with the way the great apes live; the way the noble chimpanzees live; the way the vast majority of human beings on the planet live.
I may have been considered “kooky” in a Stanford atmosphere, or a San Francisco atmosphere or a San Diego atmosphere, but I felt that our lifestyle was in keeping with a cosmic, universal human atmosphere. I really feel that we were just keeping with what is more human.
Saying I quit being a doctor was just a very convenient way to explain my bizarre behavior. “He was a dedicated intellectual, and he saw the purposelessness of life and gave it all up to become a nomad.” That’s bullshit! I was a nomad to begin with. I’m a nomad now.
Going on the road was not a planned, contrived choreographed decision. It was in keeping with the lifestyle that I grew up with. I grew up as a lifeguard and a beach bum. That’s been my lifestyle since I was 12. It’s a lifestyle I’ve stuck to. I’m still one now.
There was a lot of anti-Semitism in Malibu in the ’50s. But as long as I could surf, I didn’t give a shit. I would surf with the Devil, if I had to.
Buzzy Trent hated Jews. My best friend Wally hated Jews. Unfortunately he found out his grandfather was Jewish. The whole Malibu bunch disliked Jews.
Faith was never, for me, a road map. It was something that I found was in line with my surfing and my family life.
I was so affected by the the philosophy and gentility and humanity and the strength and the courage of the Hawaiian people and culture that I took on many of the behavior patterns of the Hawaiians.
I took from Judaism those things that I thought would help me do two things: have an uninterrupted, innocent view of God, and keep me from separating myself from the community of my brethren.
I think that surfing is unquestionably the elite human activity that puts the human being more in sync with the lifestyle that we’re supposed to live.
Why get an education by sitting on your ass, where the more you memorize, the more educated you are? Wisdom comes from intent, experience, and finding courage.
I am an educated man. Whether I am wise man or not… that’s an entirely different question. I wanted my children to be wise before they were educated.
My children may not be as wise in the ways of the man, but they are wise in the ways of Mother Nature and how the world works. It’s more important because in the long run, education wears off.
I wish I tried to do better economically. In all that time, we were always below the poverty line. I would have tried to get jobs. I had three of our homes/campers foreclosed under us. That was terrible. But would I change the way we lived? No.
I’m afraid of the things Kelly Slater and Garrett McNamara are doing. But I do have the remarkable opportunity to be around such men. That’s good enough for me.
There’s too much fat and sugar. Too much fossil fuel. That will bring our culture to its knees. Our life expectancies are much diminished from what they could be. We’re building a civilization that’s bound to end violently. A much longer answer to that question is in my book, Surfing and Health.
I think I would just like to be remembered as a nice guy like Paul Strauch. Or like a sweet man like the Duke. Or my father. He was one of the sweetest men in the world.
When I’m dead, I’m dead. My remembering life while I lived it is much more important than me being remembered when I can’t live it anymore.
For a much more in depth view of Doc Paskowitz’s ideas on health, check out his book, Surfing and Health