People are very strange these days. So this is a documentary about surfer Doc Paskowitz, who led an unconventional life; Doc refused at every point to conform to the norms of society, and he lived in a camper with his wife, daughter and eight sons and surfed in the Pacific Ocean every day. Now I really knew nothing about this before I sat down to watch this; the subject matter sounded interesting enough on the Netflix description, and it’s one of the 1,001 movies to see before you die, so my fiancé and I sat down to knock another one off the list.
I typically don’t seek out documentaries, because if the subject matter doesn’t grab me, I typically wind up getting bored with it. This is not one of those times. It presents itself as this happy little documentary with this old man that will say anything; in the opening fifteen minutes, you see him strip down to nothing in front of the camera and do morning exercises in the nude, that’s just the kind of person he is. At the time of filming, Doc Paskowitz would have been 86 years old, and when you get to be that age, you’ve pretty much won at life and can say or do anything you like without the fear of being reprimanded.
Interesting side note, we watched this on Sunday, 11/9, only for him to pass shortly thereafter on 11/11 at the age of 93. We are going to be far more careful about watching movies starring elderly people going forward.
The man is an enigma, and it takes you a little while to determine how you feel about him. He’s doing what makes him happy, which is something that I can respect, but he’s living like a hermit and forcing his family to lead such a radically different lifestyle that it forces you to question if he is making the correct choice for them. You get to that point about 30 minutes in where you say to yourself, “well, it looks like the kids came out okay, so what do I know”, but then it presents the counterargument. You get to hear from the kids who are now adults, and they really emphasize how this hippie upbringing hardly prepared them for the real world; it would have been fine if they continued to live like natives out of this camper for the rest of their lives, but when they spread their wings and got actual careers, there was a harsh learning curve. By the time you reach the end, you are really questioning if this man was a worthwhile father who tried to make his family as happy as possible, or if he was just selfish, doing whatever eccentric thing that he wants to do, and it’s really your call to make when you reach the end. This is a very interesting character study, and you feel like you get a really good look into the lives of each family member. It is always fascinating, thought-provoking, and very worthy of your time.
Surfwise (2007) ****
– Critic for Hire