Surfwise Doug Pray

Surfwise Doug Pray

Doug Pray is a master at turning niche American subcultures into highly reverent documentaries. First there was Hype!, a doc about the Seattle music scene in the ’90s and then came Scratch, a brilliant exploration of turntablism and DJ culture. Now we have Surfwise, a piece about the highly eccentric Paskowitz family and Pray’s most microcosmic study to date.

Eighty-five-year-old Dorian "Doc” Paskowitz is the patriarch of surfing’s most famous family. He and his wife popped out nine kids in an attempt to "repopulate the world with Jews.” Surfing Jews. A PhD scholar and one of the sport’s originating legends, Doc raised and home-schooled his kids in a 24-foot camper van on various beaches across the United States. He enforced a holistic lifestyle, living meagrely off the land without the trappings of money and few luxuries.

The children’s only daily duty, and one that was sometimes brutally enforced, was to surf. While the lifestyle seemed idyllic to those on the outside, and even to the Paskowitz kids before puberty hit and the real world beckoned, Pray’s documentary examines the repercussions of Doc’s philosophy when it came time for the kids to leave the comfort of the van and quite literally enter a reality they hadn’t been prepared for.

Despite the overwhelming task of having nine separate offspring to characterise, plus mother, father and outsiders, Pray does a bang up job of using archival footage and current interviews to compellingly explore each kid’s path (the most successful Paskowitz became the singer of the Flys — remember "Got You Where I Want You”?).

Though there are some amateurish editing missteps — while explaining Doc’s philosophy on eating as animals would eat, a still photo of a gorilla dramatically fades into the face of Dorian — and unnecessary flashiness in the title sequences, Surfwise is a truly immersive "but-all-was-not-what-it-seemed” story and another accomplished documentary by Pray. (Seville)