Friday, June 27, 2008
Film Nerd: "Surfwise"
"Surfwise" killed the soul surfer.*
Two movies in one, Doug Pray's documentary about the remarkable Paskowitz family confirms our most optimistic sentiments of how life spent chasing waves leads to a higher plain of existence... only to cruelly crush them in the end.
"Surfwise" takes us back to the days of wooden boards and the opening chapters of author Dorian "Doc" Paskowitz's ("Surfing and Health") remarkable life story.
The narrative is familiar: A man cookie-cut into the American profile of success by virtue of a Stanford education, a thriving doctor's career, and the burdens of a community pillar, breaks down.
"It was the lowest point in my life," the still-living Paskowitz tells Pray.
What follows is a less familiar path hacked out by a man with courage enough to break with the past. It starts with a trip to Israel as the prophet of a new, exhilarating sport and the goal of unleashing a previously repressed sexuality.
Conquering everything in a skirt, traveling the world over in search of the best breaks, Paskowitz finds his paramour in a sexy 26-year old Mexican gal whom he puts to work bearing nine children; most given biblical names.
Together the tiny Judaic tribe roam the planet in the 1970s, "off the grid," the church of surf providing the lessons, parents lecturing that swimming with the sharks is okay, but the public school system deadly dangerous.
The many photos of the eight beautiful, shaggy-haired boys and one girl growing-up wilder than cattails are enough to make any Family Father heed that call, ditch the mortgage, buy a crappy 24-foot camper, and give the gift of a surfing life to those he loves most.
But the happy snaps are patched together in false camera-ready moments; like so many family portraits.
As the film moves beyond Doc's narration, and gives itself over to the angry ruminations of the now middle-aged rugrats, we learn that not every camper was happy at Camp Paskowitz.
The elder David served as dad's "captain" and beat those who strayed from the fearless leader's dictates. The food sucked and the quarters were too cramped. Worst of all, the grown-up Paskowitz kids wail, The Great Man's strategy was flawed.
Parents will recognize the ungrateful carping of kids who were given so much. Doc himself calls his offspring, "lazy," and recounts, like any family elder, all the boons bestowed over the years.
Yet the early successes as champion surfers, musicians with record deals, boardshort sponsors, and such, would suggest these original cuts of cloth designed by Dorian benefited much from the off-beat regimen.
Dan Paskowitz's griping that he failed to capitalize monetarily on his early luck thanks to poor-preparation might be uttered by any product of a "real world" school.
But you have to feel for the kid cutting onions in a San Clemente kitchen, because he can't find work elsewhere, or the medical student aspirant denied entry to school because he lacked the necessary credentials and accumulating them would take ten years (that he missed while surfing).
Yes, nature teaches, surfing disciplines, and the ocean cleanses us ready for new battles awaiting in those mean streets and foreboding crystal towers.
The Paskowitz yarn reminds us that even those battles, those streets, and those towers, are entered by invitation only.
*Refers to a surfer approaching the sport more as meditation than competition; as a path to deeper truths.