- The Washington Times - Friday, May 30, 2008

He wanted the best for his children.

What made him unique, though, was the end goal he had in mind for his daughter and eight sons - and his approach to helping them get there.

Mr. Paskowitz graduated from Stanford Medical School in the 1940s and became a respected medical professional in Hawaii. Soon, however, panic attacks and insomnia led to his discovery that the world of money, material goods and status-seeking wasn’t for him. So he created a new world for his wife and nine children in a 24-foot camper that was forever on the move from beach to beach.

As revealed in “Surfwise,” the latest documentary from Doug Pray (“Scratch,” “Hype!”) the Paskowitz offspring were something of an experiment in asceticism, surfing-style. They slept piled on top of one another like puppies, and instead of formal schooling, their parents taught them to worship waves, healthy food and familial bonds (as well as how to put up with cramped quarters, the sounds of mom and dad’s lovemaking and the rule of an iron fist).

Mr. Pray makes an interesting connection between Mr. Paskowitz’s guilt over being at the peak of his success during the Holocaust and his emphasis on taking only what is necessary.

To take more, the patriarch said, was to steal from others. However, the film raises questions about whether Mr. Paskowitz allowed his children to have even their fair share. Knowing that they wouldn’t stay in the bubble of the camper their whole lives, did he not owe them a traditional education and the opportunity it could bring?

The filmmaker never seems to have an agenda, nor does he tilt the storytelling scales to support or criticize Mr. Paskowitz’s extreme lifestyle. Instead, through myriad interviews with family members and connected parties (watch out for Doc’s “colorful” language) charming vintage photographs and old video footage, Mr. Pray lets the Paskowitz clan paint its own portrait, warts, profanities and all.

There are a few spots, however, where incidents or comments aren’t explored sufficiently. For example, the film discusses the Paskowitz family’s surf camps as a source of income but only once mentions that Doc took on odd medical jobs and never explains how this worked or how it fit in with the patriarch’s anti-establishment worldview.

Additionally, the family’s final reunion after years of estrangement feels somewhat superficial after some members of the younger generation have revealed how much resentment they feel toward Doc Paskowitz and the alternative lifestyle he forced on them.

In spite of a few bumpy patches, though, “Surfwise” is generally a smooth, fascinating ride that makes a timely inquiry: What if we thought in terms of needs, not wants? What do we really need, and what does it cost?

***

TITLE: “Surfwise”

RATING: R (for language and some sexual material)

CREDITS: Written and directed by Doug Pray.

RUNNING TIME: 93 minutes

WEB SITE: www.surfwisefilm.com

MAXIMUM RATING: FOUR STARS

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