Getting Tel Aviv on board

Meet Dorian ‘Doc’ Paskowitz, the Texas native who brought surfing to the Holy Land

dorian paskowitz 370 (photo credit: Courtesy )
dorian paskowitz 370
(photo credit: Courtesy )
Hit the Tel Aviv promenade any day during the summer and you’ll likely see a beach that is full of beverage-sipping sunbathers soaking up rays, you’ll hear the distinct sound of matkot players, and beyond the sand you’ll spot the sizable community of surfers riding Mediterranean waves.
It is probably not the first place that comes to mind when you think of surfing, but the Israeli surfing community has grown over the past six decades to more than 20,000, and one man can be credited for making it all happen.
“I feel very proud,” Dorian “Doc” Paskowitz says from Southern California, where he will receive a surfing award later this week. “I feel more egocentric than I should. All I did really was take the board, people talked to other people, and it was a self-sustaining magic,” he laughs.
Still active at 92, Paskowitz, who is not only a professional surfer but also a physician, does not miss any opportunity to take his surfboard out, regardless of where he is. When was the last time he picked up his board? “Yesterday,” he answers quickly. “I wasn’t surfing, though. I just paddled a board out but didn’t catch any waves.”
Born in Galveston, Texas, Paskowitz was surfing by age 13 and persuaded his parents to move to California, where he predicted there would be better waves for him to conquer.
“It’s like leaving the Alps to go to the Himalayas,” he says.
In 1935 the family settled in Mission Beach, California. Paskowitz explains that from that point onward, he saw surfing as ritualistic.
“I’m a passionate surfer, and it’s my first religion, exceeding even Judaism. I’ve learned so much,” he says.
In addition to the warm temperature of the seawater, another big draw to the Israeli coastline for surfing is the fact that it is shark-free and has relatively few jellyfish during the year.
Paskowitz says that on his first trip to Israel in 1956, he decided to go not as a pioneer but as a journeyer and a traveler. He brought a surfboard made partly of balsa wood with a drawing of an Israeli flag on it.
“My great love is surfing, so I thought maybe if I took what I love [to Israel], they would fall in love with it, and that’s exactly what happened,” he recounts.
At the beach, he says the lifeguards had a field day over surfing, saying that they conquered it within days. Spending a good amount of time at the Frischman and Hilton beaches, the lifeguards he first met when he came to Israel – Topsi Kanzapolski, Shaul Zimmer and Avraham Levy – helped him establish a thriving surfing community that would span the entire 300-kilometer coastline and maintain lifelong friendships.
Staying in Israel for one year from 1956 to 1957 and spending a decent amount of time on the shores of Eilat in a sleeping bag, he says the area was beautiful, clear and nothing was around except for one kibbutz.
While living in Israel, Paskowitz says that aside from surfing, there were many parts of the country and the people that really struck him. The Sabras, he says, were real pioneers from all over the world. Knowing Israel in a different time, he recalls the late 1950s and ‘60s, sitting in Café Kassit in Tel Aviv, meeting people like Yael Dayan and talking to army generals who would take a quick break for coffee.
“There were distinctions and contrasts of the Israel that I found,” he says. “I felt that I had entered into the Arabian, or rather the hassidic, nights.”
After leaving Israel in 1957, he promised to return and bring with him an entire shipping container of surfing equipment from the United States.
“I said I would be back and would bring treasures with stuff that would make a surfing community.”
Paskowitz made good on his promise and returned in 1960 with everything local surfers needed, such as T-shirts, surfboards, fiberglass and wax.
After returning to the States, Paskowitz raised his family in a counter-culture style in the 1960s. Piling his wife and nine kids into a 7.3-meter recreation vehicle and driving around the country to find the next best wave, he inspired many members of his own family, including his wife, to become surfers. A few of his children have gone on to become professional and have placed in various categories in different regions.
Dividing his time now between Oahu, Hawaii, and Southern California with his wife, Juliette, he still visits Israel every couple of years and has been involved in the surfing community, including a project he founded with his son David and Arthur Rashkovan called Surfing for Peace.
The organization, which started in 2006, helps bring boards to Gaza surfers. Making the trip to Gaza with Rashkovan and pro surfer Kelly Slater, Paskowitz feels strongly that surfing can help bring peace. He says the way everyone treated each other while in Gaza was incredible.
“We were all in tears,” he says. “We hugged and kissed one another. Those two guys [in Gaza] treated us like we were them, and we treated them like they were one of us.”
While the waves may not compete with those on Hawaiian coastlines, Tel Aviv gives surfers a good run for the wave, and the tight-knit culture of local surfers emanates a feeling of community that welcomes anyone to the sport, regardless of skill level. Besides, maybe it is the answer to help bridge gaps between cultures and conflicts in and around Israel.
A true spokesman for the sport, Paskowitz concludes, “Israeli surfing is marvelous. From the surfing community alone, it will drive a whole army of young men who will be some of Israel’s most creative citizens, especially soldiers.”