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Joshua Paskowitz shares family story through art

THE ORANGE COUNTY REGISTER

Just hours after Joshua Paskowitz was born, his parents brought him straight from the hospital to the sands of San Onofre.

It was decades ago, and the secluded beach lined with cliffs wedged between Orange County and San Diego was their home where Dorian "Doc" Paskowitz and wife Juliette raised their nine children inside a 24-foot trailer.

Days were spent surfing, nights crammed in the trailer, bodies everywhere as all the Paskowitz kids found a spot, any spot, to sleep.

"It was really intense. I don't know if you could do that nowadays. I don't think it would really fly," said Paskowitz, the youngest of nine and now 37, on a recent day sitting on the same sands of San Onofre State Beach.

Stories of the Paskowitz clan – dubbed by The New York Times as the "First Family of Surfing" – are well known in the surf world. Father Dorian became fed up with life as a doctor – and all the societal expectations and pressures – and began a nomadic life with his large family in tow. There was no surf industry, no big surf contests, nothing to prove to anyone. Just days spent simply surfing.

"It was magical; we'd come down to San Onofre, it was our home," said Joshua. "We couldn't image anything better than this."

Joshua's life would take him away from the ocean and down unexpected paths – from battling drug addiction, to fame on stage in the '90s with a one-hit wonder, to the war-stricken region of Gaza – but now he finds himself back to his roots in Orange County, ready for his next chapter to start.

On Saturday, Joshua will be showcasing artwork at his first show called "The Paskowitz Experience" at Mint Gallery in San Clemente, featuring sketches and paintings based on his life experiences, including inspirations from his eclectic family and unorthodox upbringing.

The Paskowitz story starts with father Doc, who grew up in Texas, but asthma problems had his family seeking relief closer to the ocean, so they settled at Mission Beach in San Diego in 1934 when he was 12.

He graduated from Stanford Medical School in 1946, but life as a doctor simply didn't suit him. He rejected the traditional educational system, teaching his kids – who didn't grow up going to school – that true knowledge came from real-world experiences.

The family focused on surfing, with son Izzy becoming a world champion longboarder, and Jonathan also made a name for himself in the surf world. The family ran a surf camp, the first in America aside from the Waikiki Beach Boys. They had everyone from celebrities, to rock stars and politicians who would come down to San O to learn to surf.

Joshua doesn't remember the first time he hit the water, it's just something he always did, following in his siblings' footsteps. But surfing was such a big part of the family's identity, he found himself less interested in hitting the water than the others. Instead, he'd spend hours inside the camper to find a creative escape.

"In the camper, there's not a lot to do. There's just my family, no power, no friends, no diversion of any kind. We did a lot of drawing, reading and singing – anything you could escape into," he said. "From the time I was able to hold a pencil, I was drawing."

By the time Joshua hit his teen years, the older siblings had moved out from the camper and went their separate ways, and Joshua found himself traveling the world with his father.

In Acapulco, as his father tried to introduce surfing to the region, Joshua saw a guy shot to death, another one stabbed. He contracted rabies and had to get 14 shots in the spine. He was attacked by scorpions.

Then, at 13, he was sent to live with one of his brothers in Dana Point – and for the first time started school – entering the eighth grade.

It was at a school dance he first picked up a microphone and played in front of a crowd, his first taste of what it was like to be on stage.

He hit a low spot during his teenage years, dropping out of school and getting into the drug scene.

"We were experimenting with drugs and fighting; we were wild. The attitude was not aloha style – it was more aggressive and reflected our anger at not having the support we needed. I can see it so clearly now that I'm an adult," he said.

He was sent to live in Hollywood with his brother Adam, who just so happened to be in a band.

Joshua started out as a roadie, and then ended up joining the band, bringing a reggae rap style to the group that was popular during the '90s. The group, The Flys, ended up releasing "Got You (Where I Want You)", which peaked at No. 4 on the Billboard charts in 1998.

"We got a lot of cool recognition. It was infectious, and we did really well with it," Joshua said.

They could never quite find that level of success again, and Joshua found himself back with his family in San Diego working at the surf camp.

In 2007, Joshua joined with his father to bring a benefit concert to Gaza to bring peace to the region, joined by surfers such as Kelly Slater. That same year, the family was in the spotlight again after the film "Surfwise" came out. The movie – produced by brother Jonathan – brought attention to the family's unusual way of living.

The Paskowitz story is far from over. There's word of a movie starring Sean Penn playing a part as Doc in a film in the works, and Doc, now 91, and Joshua have been going back to Israel as part of an upcoming documentary related to the Holocaust.

"The art show is about the family, and about the story," Joshua said. "The special part of our story is not what makes us so different from everyone else, but what makes our family the same as everyone else."

Contact the writer: lconnelly@ocregister.com


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