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THE FIRST FAMILY OF SURFING'S JONATHAN PASKOWITZ ON LIFE W/ THE WAVES

THE FIRST FAMILY OF SURFING'S JONATHAN PASKOWITZ ON LIFE W/ THE WAVES

By Pete Pabon

I first learned about the documentary Surfwise back when I was living in Rockaway and surfing pretty much on a daily basis, regardless of the weather. Surfwise is about the legendary Dorian “Doc” Paskowitz, raising his 11-member family off the grid at the beach with strict diets of no sugar and all surfing. I watched it right after Alex Karinsky, a Rockaway local from Australia, had told me about Surfer’s Healing, the surf clinic for children with Autism (my daughter is on the Autism spectrum). Fast forward to a few weeks ago - I was in Santa Monica and reached out to Pat Conlon, a Rockaway local surfer and artist who has been living in Venice Beach for a few years. He invited me down to Lighting Bolt to hang out with him and Jonathan Paskowitz.

Jonathan Paskowitz is the second oldest of nine from the legendary Paskowitz clan, who, with their father, the late Doc, lived and drove in a 24-foot camper, teaching surfing and living life outside of society’s constraints. Jonathan has long been a part of the surfing community, both as a surfer and in the surf industry with brands like Black Flys and now Lighting Bolt. It was a honor to sit and talk to Jonathan about his experiences in the industry, his incredible tall tales of surfing, and his father.

PETE PABON: Who are you and where are you from?
JONATHAN PASKOWITZ: My name is Jonathan and my last name is Paskowitz. And I’m the number two son of the late Doctor Dorian Paskowitz. This is the first time I’ve said that, “The late.” And I’m a man.

And you were born where?
I was in Hawaii, I was born in the Kapiolani Hospital in Hawaii in 1961 by doctor Satoro Nishajima. If you care.

What is your role at Lightning Bolt?
I am the head bottle washer - I don’t really use a title, but I guess legally I’m the President or CEO or the Big Cheese.

Lightning Bolt has a deep-rooted legacy - is Gerry Lopez still associated with it?
Well, we’re not associated with Gerry in the sense that Gerry is working for us, because he’s sponsored by Ivan who is a friend of the family… But he’s not adverse to shaping boards for me, so he’s shaped me quite a few boards. Probably about 15 or 20 today. Beautiful, beautiful spears.

You sell boards now too, right?
Yeah. All the other boards I kind of mark them up as little as possible, but the Gerry’s - he can’t shape as many as he wants to or used to so there’s a set price for those. It’s kind of universal - he charges the same, I charge the same.

“THIS ONE GROM SAID, ‘I WOULD LIKE TO BE PAID TO BE A SURFER.’ IT DIDN’T EVEN DAWN ON US THAT YOU COULD BE PAID TO BE A SURFER. THEN HE SAID, ‘AND MAKE A MILLION BUCKS.'”

Those are works of art by that point. Being a member of the legendary Paskowitz family and surf community, how does that help you and your role at Lightning Bolt and your previous ventures?
That’s like almost a moot point, it’s like that Time Warner Internet commercial where the guy says, “Do you wanna be six times faster?” “Hells yeah.” “Do you want to be connected with everybody from Duke Kahanamoku to Kelly Slater?” “Yeah.”

That’s just he way it is, I don’t feel like I have to trumpet that around or wear it on my sleeve. My dad was very humble and it just - I don’t know what it would like to be anything other though. Like John Doe guy trying to be me, because the eye sees not itself so who knows. But I kind of feel like it’s been a blessing, in every way, it’s been a blessing.

You’re connected to the actual culture.
It’s my life. When I was raised, up in the camper, it was a microcosm, I didn’t even know there was a surf industry. There wasn’t really a surf industry. I remember lying on my belly one time in Hawaii with the boys, two little grommets, and somebody said, “What do you want to be when you grow up?” And I remember we were probably 7 or 8, somewhere in there, and everybody was like, “Fireman.” “Lifeguard.” One kid wanted to be a banker, and everybody else had regular ideas.

And this one grom said, “I would like to be paid to be a surfer.” It didn’t even dawn on us that you could be paid to be a surfer. Then he said, “And make a million bucks.” Then we kind of laughed and went, “Huh. That’ll be the day, when a surfer gets paid a million bucks.”

I remember distinctly when I thought Kelly had got that “million dollar contract” - how the science fiction became reality.

He definitely turned the industry around.
He’s a good little grom too, I’ve known him a long time. Despite his great, great, great, ridiculous, Herculean success, he is the exact same grizzly grommet he was when Bill Yerkes at Sundeck was yelling at him on Coco. Coco Beach town.

Thats amazing.
Swear to god he’s the same.

How have things changed since Surfwise?
Well, it helped my mom sell books because she kind of survives on selling my dad’s manuscript, Surfing and Health. That helped a lot. And just the surf camp, getting more people from different walks of life paying attention to it. But also, for my dad - who never saw the documentary, by the way, because he felt it would be disingenuous for him to see it in life. So I told him, “Make sure you see it after you die.” Maybe he’s seen it by now.

He got a lot of personal people-attention that made me feel good about doing that. Because my original intention was to just put my dad on a soapbox so people could see and hear what he’s talking about. Because he’s talking very, very high-tech, sensible shit. But just because he was born in the '20s, everyone thinks he’s got some kind of old school, fart and dust theories.

In reality, my father’s theories were so incredibly ahead of their time and there are so many people, nutritionists, that think of all sorts of weird hyperbole. Famous guys have made millions on diet and nutrition - Linus Pauling, Cambridge, Pertican, Cooper, Atkins. Pauling, I think he was the guy with the Vitamin C. Where he said, “Take ten grams of vitamin C a day and it will do this and this to your metabolism, which will help you burn-“ it was total bullshit.

My dad’s theories are based on observation of the universal diet. Most of the guys that are the best of the best - body fat to caloric intake - are the below middle class poor that work hard so that their intake and their output puts them into this one sweet spot that is healthy. Just thinking that instead of giving you a pill to think of a way to make you better, it was revolutionary.

Lifestyle’s a lot easier than having to sit there and -
You can make changes that are fundamental… it’s like when you learn to surf. I wanted to do Surfwise so people questioned themselves and wanted to read something that would make them better.

Dad wrote the book, not to make money, though it did help him make money a little bit - when I say a little I mean a little; like survival [money]. Food stamps and that - you could survive. And the theory is to help surfers have a better quality of life longer and be healthier.

Having people come up to him and say, “Oh my god, isn’t it great that I did this with my life? That I became this surfer?” That they respected his choices - made him feel good. So maybe that’s, for me, the best thing that came of it, that people - he was adorable. So when you adored him and he was adorable it was cute, it was wonderful.

Definitely changed my [outlook]. I started surfing later in life and you have to adapt the lifestyle, you have to be healthy. I didn’t start when I was five or six, I started when I was in my 20s, so it was just like, “I need to make up for the time I lost in the water.” Health and nutrition and diet and exercise was the only way I could get back whatever time I lost from not starting surfing early. Growing up in New York doesn’t help either.
But being healthy helps you to do things that are physical, there’s no doubt about it. My dad would always say - he said stuff that’s hurtful. But he’s trying to be helpful. Sometimes you got to be cruel to be kind. I remember a very big, heavyset person came up to him one time and said, “What can I do?” And he gave him a lot of good advice. Then, I forget how he said it, he goes, “So if I eat this and that, even if I’m big, if I stay big, I’ll be healthy?” My dad said, “There’s no such thing as a healthy obese person. So you’ll be better by being active, but if you stay grossly overweight, you’re taxing your heart, liver, lungs, everything.” And that’s true, it’s a hard truth.

America created something that’s a total aberration in nature. If you look back across the time of humans, once you started to actually see humans gain weight… [when] we started to eat and live and actually be able to put on weight; that was revolutionary.

But now we’re in a place where you can go and shop at the store or go to McDonald’s or whatever and you can be obese and malnourished. It’s impossible to think of when you look at the young, fat people - look at just even the '40s and the '30s and the '20s, there are guys that are slimmer than the average guy on the street in the United States today that were hailed as the fat man. If you look at the old Barnum and Bailey flyers for the fat man, he didn’t even have an apron back in the day. And that was like, the ’20s or 1910 or something.

So anyhow, I think that changed a lot, having him noticed for what he was. And he had strong beliefs on food, sex, politics, a lot of things that I think people would be better for at least listening to.

You pretty much adhere to that now?
Oh, absolutely. I keep all of my vices to a minimum - I have so few vices, they’re virtues. But now, I definitely do everything I can do to do what he said. A lot of vegetables, a lot of fruits, a little bit of meat, keep fats and sugars to a minimum, get a lot of activity, sex, sex, sex, whenever possible, surf everyday. If you look at my Instagram you see every post every morning is at 6am in Malibu because I always check it there first.

To all that, I’m riding a long board - I like to stay out of the South Bay proper because I’m always scared of the dirty water.

The run off, yeah. For me, coming from New York, we can only surf Rockaway in Long Beach and the Jersey Shore, so coming out here is just like -
[New York accent] I lived in New York for a while over there, I worked with Tom Sachs, I lived on the Lower East Side with my sister, 29 Orchard you know? I did a lot of shit over there. We’d go out to B 149 with Pat “The Rat” Conlon, Paul “The Walrus” AKA Paulrus the Walrus. The one-eyed Willy who speaks with the weird accent - all those guys.

I’ll tell you, there’s nothing like getting either off the A train, far Rockaway train, or getting out of someone’s car [laughs] - [once we] went wet suit on snow. That will take the lead out of your pencil really fast.

Yep, it’s usually you’re in the suit for usually an hour, if even.
I remember one time - Pat mentioned this the other day - that we surfed a six inch, perfect, offshore, beautiful morning in the snow, for what we reason we d not know, but man, it took a half an hour in the car with the heater on full blast just to stop the shivering. It was wild.

People don’t believe me, but the biggest waves I ever surfed in North America, EVER, was about six or seven years ago, it was in New York - the streets that are like, Wyoming, Colorado, and all that - and we were out there. I remember I went out there with David [Selling] and Tom Sachs and Tracy Feith was out there and people were coming in lamenting how gnarly it was. And I’ve never even seen waves in North America that big.

“I WAS JUST WHIMPERING IN THE COLD, THE WATER FELT THREE TIMES AS HEAVY, COLD AS A WITCH’S TIT.”

I’m conservatively saying Whiteman’s rating was a 20 foot face, maybe more on some sets. Any Hawaiian would’ve called it a solid ten to possibly 15 foot. Triple, quadruple, overhead, gigantic, lumbering, massive waves. And I had mittens and kittens and gloves and everything, five four wet suit, the hood, everything, and I learned what that string on the hood is for. You have to make that tight so that when you eat shit on a fucking 20-foot face in freezing cold water, it doesn’t blow water into your skull and then your head looks like a lollipop full of water and then that washes into your body and freezes your fucking heart. But then you’re full and like a dough boy and you can’t move to save your own life. It’s literally popping up, taking a breath, and trying to push off the bottom like a Uniroyal man. It was one of the scariest survivals for me ever.

It gets a little gnarly out there, especially in the winter time.
It’s crazy, too, because the locals over there have none of that surf cool etiquette, but they make it work on a hard charging, gnarly level. Where these good boys are showing up, “Yeah, that’s Dan over there, he’s a cop, that’s Patrick , he’s an EMT, there’s another Dan over there, he’s a cop, there’s Michael, he’s a cop, there’s Dan, he’s a fireman.” And they’re all these Irish mafia guys and they drink this fucking whiskey and they paddle their 8’8 Bill Barnfield out and fucking make those waves. They charge.

That was the same guy I think I was calling a kook on a 2 foot day of long boarding and the here he was, the man. Just standing up on these throating, gnarly barrels. I was just whimpering in the cold, the water felt three times as heavy, cold as a witch’s tit.

It wakes you up, man. When you live in Rockaway, that’s pretty much when you surf, you surf in the winter.
Yeah, but that big, I never knew that you literally have to - people need to see what it’s like. Surfers that don’t think that New Yorkers haven’t tested their metal.

It’s like a New York mentality but out in the water too. You get that same surliness and attitude.
Pat doesn’t believe the story when I cut off that guy and he got mad at me and he came in and the guy, because he liked me, offered to give me a choice of whether he was going to punch me in the head or the belly. He’s like, “It’s your choice. The head or the belly.” I told him the belly, but before he actually punched me, he found out that I had worked on the Surfer’s Healing and apparently there was somebody that he knew that had gone to the Surfer’s Healing, so he was cool with me after that.

I have a 15 year old daughter who’s autistic too. She’s Aspergers, PDD-NOS - pervasive developed mental disorder, non-specific. She’s high-functioning, usually she gets into - she gets stuck in a little repetitive cycle sometimes. On that note, how’s [Surfer’s Healing] coming along?
It’s a hard deal. It’s a hard deal and it always blows my mind when guys like Scotty Caan, he could be the biggest nerd in the world if he wanted to, he comes to the beach and he’ll work for eight hours with the kids with us when he helps us. Or Kelly or any of the other guys that have helped, the Makuas, the Tenay Forsythe, Wally Forsythe’s kid. These guys are mensch and they go and they take these kids out, I’ve done it a lot. It’s hard, it’s ego-shattering, you cry, the parents cry, the kid cries, and it’s wonderful. What Israel’s doing is wonderful, wonderful.

My sister has two autistic children, one almost at zero kind of. One has got some issues and, of course, Israel’s boy requires a lot of attention, you can’t leave him on his own at all. Hard speech and he’s a giant, he’s 6’6 370 pounds of muscle so you have to be careful with him. And when we go to the beach on these days, everything is cool. Since I’ve spent a little time around events for autism, nothing is like this. Usually the events I’ve seen are more pigeonholing the kid like, “What can you do?” And they’re trying to test them again for the umpteenth time. The parents are on pins and needles because the kid’s being pigeonholed and quantified in some cephalic, nightmare maze puzzle “A is for Algernon test” that the kid’s got to deal with.

Our deal, Izzy’s deal, Danielle’s deal is go to the beach with, say, 300 other parents who all have autistic kids - 150 kids on the beach - and have a good time. If your kid whips his tallywhacker and wizzes on a different kid’s head, it’s cool, you’re going to network with them, you’re going to have play dates with them. Everyone’s there to have fun versus going to something that is more like a doctor thing.

I don’t know why but I’ve seen surfing change kids.

“WHEN [BUTTONS] PASSED AWAY, THAT’S THE FIRST THING I THOUGHT OF - HIM JUST MANNING UP TO THE FULLEST DEGREE THAT NIGHT.”

It does. Something about being in the ocean and being in nature and just feeling that feeling of being pushed on a wave.
We did an afternoon in the Jersey Shores by Belmar, it was a hard day, rainy all my morning, and we finally got started. Kids coming in, going, the storm starts coming in, it’s the crumbly wumbly on the jetties so you have to belly board take off then stand up in the white wash and fight it and the wind comes. And there’s so many it’s just going on and on and on. Everyone’s busted, broke down, and out of nowhere these lights, as it starts to go into the gloaming of twilight, come through to the beach - through everybody packing and loading and leading. A lady drove from Ohio as we’re coming into twilight. Everybody is just like dropping like flies, some guys are still in their wet suits lying in the beach while everyone’s saying, “Get out of the rain!” They can’t even walk. And Buttons [aka] Montgomery Ernest Thomas Kaluhiokalani, the most gnarly legend of legends. Buttons turns around like, “What?” And he sees the woman, sees the kid, he busts up, walks over to her, says, “You’re late, we’re all closed, but let’s get him, I’ll take him out.”

And he took him out and caught wave after wave after wave with him until it was pitch black and we had to scream at him to come in. The mom’s crying, we’re crying, Buttons is crying, everyone’s crying. Can you imagine that moment? Buttons all tattooed and all this, and this little lily, I don’t know, just Southern belle, but she was from Ohio - just dying. I can’t even tell you, it was one of my fondest memories of Buttons that lasted - when he passed away, that’s the first thing I thought of - him just manning up to the fullest degree that night. When all of us were just pistol whipped, he just - he was such a great guy.

That happens all the time at Surfer’s Healing, there’s a billion stories about Surfer’s Healing.

Can you tell me more about Lighting Bolt?
For me, I grew up in Hawaii, so me and my dad surfed with Gerry’s Mom, Fumi, and growing up I saw Gerry and Raury and Rino PK, Tom Parrish. But even other guys, the Hackmans and the Angie Renos and the Jackie Dunns. Then the invasion, Pete Townsend my hero, Rabbit, Ian Cairns. All those guys, everyone was on a Bolt. So Bolt was everything, it was everything in spades. It was the kid that made a billion Bolts on his folder or the kid whose mom bought the white T-shirts that he made the Bolts on. You couldn’t buy a Bolt shirt, so he just made the Bolt; painted it on. The numerous, ghetto, jailhouse Bolt tattoos. There were numerous other things, trappings, that people created that reminded them of Bolt. Or carried on this thing that absolutely transcended anything we know today as a branding.

It was more like we branded Bolt, but then Bolt branded us as surfers. So it was a kindred spirit, a camaraderie, a thing that all of us wanted on us to show that we were the real deal surfers. It started with the board, Gerry and Jack Shipley and guys like that. But it really evolved into something magical.

By the later '80s, they were commercializing it, they were trying to get all they could out of it, it was a business. In the ’80s it was worth 120 million dollars. Nobody was doing that when they were. Then it sold to a smarter person who thought he could do a better job, they got rid of the surfers, and ended up with a complete puzzle falling apart. A wheel rolls because the spokes are all the same length. You take away a bunch of the spokes and you’ve got some kind of an egg, you have a trapezoid, you don’t have a circle.

The [surfer] DNA isn’t there.
Yeah, so basically it went fallow for 18 years or 15 years, whatever it was. It didn’t go down to widely distributed levels like Hang Ten or an OP that go so, so, so widely distributed that eventually the core of it fell out. I still think OP and Hang Ten are the best brands ever, but when you see piles of stuff on sale, “Any garment $5,” or things like that, it hurts the equity of the brand. Bolt never had that.

Bolt just disappeared and we wanted to bring it back good, well, properly. That’s why we make nice stuff in Europe and other places, make T-shirts in America - wherever you can to make something that you’re going to want, enjoy, and respect the quality of it. The power of Bolt - I haven’t really even tapped into the real power of Bolt. I’ve talked to some guys that really remember the era and the way they explain it to me, the right guys, they lay it out.

It was like, Bolt ended up being that cherry, but the whole world was - ’69 world contest that young, turning, so that’s long board era ending - then from ’69 to whenever Five Summer Stories came out, it was just like this rapid acceleration, in my memory, to surfing. Going from cool, Hang Ten, everybody going surfing USA, to sexy lady [mouths guitar noise]. It just got, “Wow!” End of summer ’69, then everything changed.

Performance surfing came.
Yeah, [surfing] just became an incredible, sexy thing, These guys were driving Ferraris in skate parks instead of Cadillacs on golf courses. They were in the barrel, they were wearing these short shorts, glistening, and that whole thing happened at one specific time in Hawaii. Everyone in the world came to test their mettle against each other. And this rapid acceleration of ability, tricks, everything - leash came into invention, duck diving came into invention, that snapping cut back, the ripping off the lips, the thrashing instead of the Jay Riddle cover at Little Drake’s at the ranch where he does the off lip that we all wanted to do so bad. It wasn’t an off lip, it was a pivot. Everything changed. Then barrel riding and this progressiveness, this all happened and was tested against everybody in the world that came to test themselves against each other in Hawaii. Because that’s the birth place of surfing.

At Pipeline, almost exclusively was that theater of test. Lightning Bolt was the absolute board of choice, it was bar none. When you look at that era - I bought the Bustin’ Down the Door documentary book that Shaun Thompson did. I was looking through it, it’s absolutely beautiful, Dan Merkel, beautiful. Almost a third of every guy in every shot is on a Lightning Bolt. They didn’t try to do that, it just happens to be what everybody was riding at the time

Mark Richards, Gerry Lopez, Shaun Thompson, Ian, Peter - they were all on Bolts. Except, I think, Chapman.

I think they came out of the actual necessity, you needed to create a board for that environment and the Bolt was dead on.
It was the absolute. That was the board that you had to have if you were in Hawaii. So I’m stoked that in the new us - we’ve got guys like Cole, and we’re talking to, like, Pat Rawson and stuff. Cole from San Clemente did all of Archie’s and Christian’s and Nathan’s and all those guys’ boards. Andy Irons.

I was drooling over that quad.
I think that one’s a quad. But that guy’s really been my mentor on modern surfing shaping. It’s him or Timmy, they’re geniuses to me. He’s creating that modern Bolt guy. I still have replicas I had made by Rino and Gerry and BK and Tom. Tom is perhaps the best shaper of all time, ever. Gerry and him are probably the top two guys of all that era.

You really can see their abilities when you say, “Make me a replica,” and they really make the replica. Gerry’s boards, he doesn’t just make a modern board and just glass and color it like that. The rail, the second you touch it - it’s kind of like in Ratatouille when they give the guy the ratatouille to eat as the thing to judge their kitchen by. And as soon as he puts that goulash, that vegetable goulash, in his mouth - he goes back in time to be the little boy and with his mom patting his head. When I put my hand on that Gerry rail, I go back in time because it’s the real deal. It’s absolutely amazing.

We’ve ridden a few of them. Believe me, when you walk up the beach with that at Lowers or wherever, so many groms are like, “Can I? One wave, one wave!” It’s awesome though. There’s nowhere even for a leash - there’s no leash at all.

It’s a real board. Glass and fin, tints, pin striped, it’s beautiful.

Any parting words?
Oh, just that it’s been such an honor and pleasure to be a surfer and be in this world and do what we get to do. It’s just such a blessing, I’m just really stoked to be alive and be here.

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