Doc Paskowitz has been surfing for a very long time. And in that time he has learned what it means to be a man, how to have a good relationships, and surf with Aloha. In this issue, he shares with us his deep wisdom and love for the ocean.
What was it like growing up?
My life began the day my Uncle Harry let go of me in Galveston, Texas at the age of nine in the Gulf of Mexico. All of a sudden I was airborne! From that time on, everything of high passion for me has been about the salt water. Once I learned to swim, I learned that there were waves. By the time I was eleven, I had learned to ride the waves by taking a little piece of board and jumping in front of the whitewater. My favorite toy or game from that point to this age – it has been the ocean. My real passion is for saltwater.
Who did you look up to and admire when you were a young man?
That was a big thing in my life and it still is. I consider myself a nice, wimpy little Jewish boy who learned to surf and who became much more of a man than if he had not. So, being who am, I have always looked up to other guys for inspiration and they are very clear cut in my mind.
The first, was a deaf and dumb or mute lifeguard, who lent me my first surfboard named Leroy Columbo. He was once featured the Guinness Book of World Records for saving more lives than any other lifeguard known. He would lend me my first board and he was my first hero.
My second hero was Preston “Pete” Peterson. He was in my estimation, the best “whitewater” man in the continental United States. Close behind him was Lorne “Whitey” Harrison. And finally there was “Peanuts Larson” George Zimmerman. These are men that were close – that I could actually reach out and touch.
But someone that was out of my reach was the great spirit in my life, Duke Kahanamoku. Later, as we became friends, it became more of a reality.
Tell us more about Duke Kahanamoku
He was beautiful as a man. Just handsome! Tall, ebony dark, with big hands, big feet and beautiful white teeth. Black eyes and black hair with graying temples. He was a man of such dignity as to be awe-inspiring, and yet he was very approachable and down-to-earth.
He didn’t particularly like me – although he liked my wife a lot. And he didn’t talk to me – he talked to my wife! He and I did a lot things together: We surfed together, we were on the open sea together in small boats. But he never talked to me much. He didn’t really like me. And the reason he didn’t like me was that I liked him too much.
Now I didn’t see this, but he rode some pretty big waves at Waikiki as a young boy. He was such a gentleman. When I had a child, I would put him in his arms and say, “Hey Duke, give me some manna for my little boy.” He was so gracious.
What code do you live by?
I want tell you the finest compliment in all the years of my surfing. I was walking down the street in Waikiki, and I was standing in front of The Duke statue when Duke Boyd walked by with a young lady who I assumed was his girlfriend. It turns out it was his daughter. Boyd was a very astute man and he and Tom Morey were the philosophers of the surfing community at that time. Boyd turned to his daughter and he said, “You know, Paskowitz reminds me a lot of Paul Strauch.” And that was the finest compliment I have ever gotten.
What is the greatest thing you have learned in my life?
Nobody has ever asked that question before. The greatest thing I have learned in my life has to do with “people” rather than “things.” If I was Einstein and had discovered the Theory of Relativity, I would still believe that the greatest thing involved people – other human beings.
And of the physical things that I have learned was from George Downing. Once were sitting out in big waves and we look to shore at the trees and he shows me two trees. And he says, “Everything in life is about alignment.” You’ve got to line things up carefully. Even a “physical” thing like that reflect upon my basic feeling that the greatest wisdom involves me and my fellow man.
The most striking, awe-inspiring, or enlightenment I have experienced has to do with women. And it is the love of a mother toward her child. Emmanuel Kent once said, “I am pressed by two great things in the world, the starry heavens above and the moral law within.” And that describes the feeling I have when I witness the love between a mother and her offspring.
What are you most proud of?
I am most proud of my family. What I wanted in life was to be a man. I’m not talking about machismo or riding Mavericks. Second, I wanted to find a good mate. And thirdly, I wanted to be a good father and to parent my children. Being a good man, a good husband, and being a good father is the goal of my life. And nothing ever trumps that mission or duty.
What single piece of advice you could give to a young person?
If I was talking to a young person who surfs, I would refer them to this passage. The Jewish Talmud says this: “As Israel has kept the Sabbath, The Sabbath has kept Israel.” In other words, as Jews take the Sabbath and kept it holy and celebrated it – so the Sabbath has celebrated, or prospered them.
In our family, we have the same Talmudic saying but it goes like this: “As the Paskowitz’s have kept surfing, so surfing has kept the Paskowitz’s.” If you really love surfing, and you keep surfing – surfing will keep you.
The second piece of advice I would give is to keep surfing with “Aloha.” Always feel that if anything goes wrong, it is your fault. If you hit a guy with your board – it’s your fault. If a guy hits you – it is your fault.
Keep surfing and know that surfing will keep you. And always surf with Aloha.
Where is your favorite place to surf?
It is very difficult for me to decide between San Onofre and Waikiki. If you said today, “Hey Paskowitz let’s go surf,” I would say let’s go to Waikiki. If you asked that same question at age 16, I would say let’s go to San Onofre. Those are the two great surfing loves of my life.
What is your favorite meal?
It is probably beans. Mexican beans the way my wife makes them. There is something almost sacred in them because they are so cheap and they taste so good. And people all over the world can afford to buy them and eat as much as they want. Although I must say I am also really fond of really hard dark bread.
What is your favorite music?
A period of music between 1935 and 1955 called Swing. These years were in the golden years of my surfing when San Onofre was available to me and when surfing really dominated my life – the music accompanied that. Benny Goodman, Gene Krupa, Buddy Rich, Glenn Miller, Artie Shaw. Every time I hear their music, which in in the morning hours on Saturday and Sunday between 6 and 9 on a program that plays Swing music, it brings a real tranquil, exciting, and fulfilling feeling.
What inspires you?
Last Saturday, I had the most uplifting experience in my whole life. I got to spend the day with the 24 surfers that will compete at Mavericks. To meet guys like Jeff Clark, Flea, and Peter Mel – these guys are absolute gods! Wonderful people on land and just gods in the ocean. It was if I was in a mystical place with these men in the water. Behind them I could see Mavericks itself. I just felt that these men had really achieved something that most mortals will never really achieve in life.
What’s next for Doc Paskowitz?
Next is death. And every day I prepare for that. The next step from now to “kicking out.” There are a lot of complications both physical and mental. In order for me to kick out there looms a whole scenario of people of people crying and the money for a casket my family does not have. There is all kinds of bullshit that goes on with dying.
So, I am trying to find a nice shark that will eat me. I found one at Waikiki but he wasn’t that interested in me. I saw one out in the blue water of Samoa, but I kinda chickened out. Now I am thinking if I can get to Tonga, maybe that same shark is there. And that would be magnificent just to have that shark just eat me up and that’s it! Period. Especially in an area when your children, wife, and friends are not around. And there you are – a nice end to it.
However before the end, as a physician for over 60 years, I want to share with the world my knowledge about the importance of health. The book I wrote, “Surfing and Health,” is truly life-saving. It is a group of narrative stories that all lead to one simple thing: How to keep your weight at an ideal level. And it is about the equals: diet, exercise, rest, and attitudes of mind.
The average American male for example, is almost never really hungry in spite of having food of all kinds. His food is high in fat content. It’s why animals in the wild are kept at an ideal body weight (about 5–10% fat) while the average American male is about 25% body fat or more!
I want my book “Surfing and Health” to be promoted in a way so that I can save lives, decrease human misery, and spread a word that will pay back a little for what I’ve gotten in my life. I want my final days to be filled with that because the end is in sight. I want to surf the reef a little bit before I kick out.