Talk About Endless Summers! An M.D. Drops Out to Run a School for Surfers, and His Family Hangs 11
09/15/1980 at 01:00 AM EDT
The administration building of the International Surfing School consists of one road-worn camper truck. Its tenured faculty is made up solely of Dr. Dorian Paskowitz, 59, a dropout from the medical profession and the father of nine, eight of them boys. Yet every June since 1972, the peripatetic Family Paskowitz materializes—one wave ahead of creditors and truant officers—for another 12-week summer session on San Onofre Beach in San Clemente, Calif. Its reputation is such that it attracts students from across the U.S., as well as from Latin America and Europe.
For a tuition of $295 a week, young surfing addicts learn the finer points of hanging ten from the chief mentor, assisted in one way or another by the rest of his family (the older Paskowitz sons themselves rank among the top American surfers). It has always been Paskowitz' aim to strengthen character, not just bodies. Between strenuous workouts, students gather around the master for evaluations of their techniques and to hear his homespun philosophy. "There is wisdom in every wave for those who would but paddle out," he intones. The school motto is "Live clean, eat clean, surf clean." That translates: no drugs, no alcohol and a natural-food diet.
The family's own lifestyle is strictly catch-the-wave, traveling and living year round in their overcrowded camper, which was designed to sleep no more than four. The school is their only source of regular income. "Last winter we were down to two nickels and four pennies between us," claims the paterfamilias. "So we sold our surfboards." Licensed to practice medicine in California, Hawaii and Rhode Island (states where he worked at one time or another), Paskowitz often hires on temporarily at health clinics while the older children take odd jobs. If his children's formal schooling is haphazard, that suits their father just fine. "I've got plenty of bad habits I can teach them," he says. "Why send them to school?"
Born in Galveston, Texas, the son of a businessman, Paskowitz received his M.D. from Stanford University and what he regards as the most important part of his education in the Gulf of Mexico. Recalling that his mother questioned him about his career choice, he jokes: "I must be the only Jewish doctor whose mother wanted him to be a writer or an artist." After three years in the Navy, he became acting chief of the Hawaii Bureau of Venereal Diseases and Cancer Control. Then in 1948 he began research on a still unpublished book, How to Choose a Mistress, and traveled the world in search of women to collaborate with him on the project. "It worked in a lot of cases," he boasts, "but I got my face slapped a lot too."
Back in private practice in California, he met his Mexican-American wife, a contralto who abandoned a career with the Roger Wagner Chorale to join him in his wanderlust. Making a home for a steadily growing family that was always on the move "can get tough," Juliette Paskowitz concedes. "But I don't lie awake at night worrying. My husband is really capable of anything." Says Dorian: "I could not have done any of this without a wife as primitive and courageous as Juliette."
Now that another summer session is coming to a close this month, the Paskowitzes have already made plans to hit the beaches of Spain, France and Israel. "People ask why I turned my back on making a lot of money as a doctor to pursue a childish adventure," Paskowitz reflects. "Well, surfing is not childish; it has profound things about it if you are willing to look for them," he insists. "You get a sense of your own perspectives, you realize how minuscule you are compared to even the smallest wave. So I don't think what we're doing is an escape. We've simply found our way."