Editor’s Note: Disruptors is a new series powered by Oakley that identifies the thirty most groundbreaking moments in surf history.
Date: Late August, 1956
Moment: Doc Paskowitz leaves for Israel in one of the first steps towards a lifestyle that would inspire people around the world.
Location: Hawaii International Airport
“I entered the water that day wanting to blow my brains out. I came out a warrior. Surfing can make that change happen inside a man.” – Doc Paskowitz
Doc Paskowitz is responsible for a lot. He’d never own up to it, though, if you asked him. But the reality is that he and his family were the forbearers of the nomadic surfing lifestyle that’s grown so popular – the one where you live in a vehicle, following neither the road nor society’s definition of success, chasing nothing but waves and a simpler life. And it all began with one trip to Israel.
After graduating from Stanford in the mid-1940s, Doc moved to Hawaii and took a job as head of the Hawaiian branch of the American Medical Association. Soon after, however, he found that life wasn’t exactly what he expected it to be: he had an unhappy marriage, he wasn’t surfing, and he was barely sleeping due to anxiety. Somewhere along the way, Dorian “Doc” Paskowitz had grown tired of his life as a Stanford educated doctor. So, as a devout Jew, he packed his bags and headed for Israel. He spent a soul-searching year there, introducing surfing to a small group of lifeguards in Tel Aviv. Then he returned to the US, found a woman he wanted to spend his life with, packed everything into a camper van, and set off for a road trip with no scheduled end.
That trip turned out to last nearly 25 years, running through a succession of vehicles, the growth of a large family of nine children, and an education for all of them that couldn’t be found anywhere else. Their story is a well-known one: from the film about the family’s life, Surfwise, to a near-idolization of the patriarch by some of the best surfers in the world, Doc’s life on the road is one that piques surfer’s interests all over the world. Maybe it’s something to do with the type of person that enjoys surfing – there seems to be an inherent wanderlust embedded in the vast majority of us.
It’s rare that any one of us takes that desire to see things to the extent that the Paskowitz family did. But like anything else, sometimes it just takes one person to start a movement. Doc’s quarter century road trip told an entire generation that yes, it is possible to drop everything and go. “Going on the road was not a planned, contrived choreographed decision,” he said. “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.”
Throughout their childhoods, none of the children were formally educated. Although their father was an educated man, he developed a belief that society’s traditional education wasn’t what he wanted for his kids. “My children may not be as wise in the ways of the man,” he said about the way he raised his kids. “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.” His years on the road and his own upbringing play an important role in his outlook on life, too. “I am an educated man,” he told me. “Whether I am wise or not… that’s an entirely different question. I wanted my children to be wise before they were educated.”
And even now, years after the kids have moved on and the world has heard their story, in a time when the majority of inspiration comes from a few stylized words in a social media post or a motivational poster on the wall of your office, it proves that simple action will always be more inspiring than someone simply telling you to act.