At 13, I fell in love with both the ocean and filmmaking. I even had my Bar Mitzvah at a surfing museum, and received a video camera as a present. Ten years later, I’m about to premiere a documentary film about antisemitism in surfing.
Waves Apart, confronts a dark, untold history of our sport. The film is slated to have its global premiere at the Santa Barbara International Film Festival on February 16 and 18. Inspiration for making this project came to me in waves.
As a kid, I moved around a lot; I was born in Chicago, spent some years in Arizona, and ultimately landed in San Clemente, which became my permanent home until college. South Orange County served as a culture shock to me for two reasons. First, I was discovering California beach culture for the first time, and San Clemente had a plethora of great surfing waves. Second, I was suddenly one of the only Jewish kids in a town that lacked diversity.
The ocean was a place of refuge when I needed it the most. I encountered a lot of bullying on land, which often culminated in antisemitic rhetoric. At the time I was really skinny and un-athletic, all of which exposed me to more hateful stereotypes.
When I discovered surfing, it became an opportunity to assimilate into Californian beach culture. It gave me confidence, physical strength, and the opportunity to carve my own niche. But as I got older, my whole perspective began to change.
When I celebrated my Bar Mitzvah at the Surfing Heritage and Cultural Center, only years later did they nonchalantly tell me about the Swastika Model surfboard that was removed from the premises out of respect during my celebration.
Upon learning this, I began to think about some of the old surf films I watched growing up, such as how surfers in La Jolla would dress up as Nazis and wave swastika flags on the beach for “fun.” Although seen as one big joke at the time, it was shocking to discover that Jewish people were simultaneously discouraged from buying homes in La Jolla altogether.
As an aspiring filmmaker myself, I moved to Los Angeles and attended the University of Southern California’s School of Cinematic Arts. As a USC student, I started surfing Malibu, and learned more about Miki Dora. During my teenage years, I looked up to him as one of my surfing heroes from the past; once I learned about his Neo-Nazi vigilantism, it forced me to search for new heroes.
I directed Waves Apart as my documentary thesis project at USC. During the filmmaking process, I was surprised to discover that the sport of surfing had a profound cast of Jewish heroes. Filming back in San Clemente, I met Israel “Izzy” Paskowitz, one of Dorian “Doc” Paskowitz’s sons. Izzy told me about encountering somebody in the water who had a swastika spray-painted on their surfboard. Outraged by such bigotry, his dad confronted the man and destroyed his surfboard.
I also met Shaun Tomson, the 1977 World Champion of surfing, who revolutionized tube-riding. Shaun had a Bar Mitzvah when he too was 13. His Bar Mitzvah present was a surfing trip to Hawaii. In the film, Shaun speaks about how he required both surfing and his Jewish roots to overcome loss, and that in all of our lives, we all possess the power to pursue light over darkness, a major theme in the film.
Our film has received critical acclaim. At the 49th Annual Student Academy Awards®, Waves Apart was recognized as a Finalist in the documentary category. WAVES APART is now slated to have its global premiere at the Santa Barbara International Film Festival (SBIFF), a fitting venue since that’s where we filmed with Shaun Tomson. An Oscar-qualifying festival, our film will play Thursday, February 16 at 7:40 p.m. and Saturday, February 18 at 11:40 a.m.
The full list of film’s and info about passes can be found on SBIFF’s website.
As a kid, I started surfing to hide from my Jewish identity. Today, after making this film, I’m proud to belong to a new tribe of Jewish surfers, just like Shaun and Izzy.
Making this film would not have been possible without the support of my parents, my girlfriend, the USC faculty, and our incredible crew who told this story alongside me. This includes our fearless producers Aslan Dalgic and Ela Passarelli, who served as indispensable partners throughout the entire creative and logistical process. It was also great having my best friend as our cinematographer, Jack Lattin. In documentary filmmaking, the story is often told in the editing room, and I was honored to collaborate with Elizabete Sadauska and Liam Mills. Last but not least, the sound and music blended so wonderfully thanks to our sound team Aidan Barringer and Kristie Taiwo-Makanjuola, as well as our composer Scott Johnson.
Like any other sport, surfing possesses its own aspects of darkness. By telling this story, we hope to confront darkness with light, and continue pushing our favorite pastime in a more positive and inclusive direction. Now I’m just excited to see where my two passions, surfing and filmmaking, take me.