Thursday, August 18, 2011

The First Family of Surfing


I want to tell you about an amazing, strange, inspiring family, the Paskowitz family. Dubbed the 'first family of surfing' in the US, this unconventional family took to the road in a 24-foot campervan for some 25 years while they raised their 9 children. Believing that the best education they could give their children was life on the road, the children never attended regular school; Dorian, their father, instead insisted that they dedicate themselves to surfing and live healthy, clean lives. 

It certainly got me thinking.

On the one hand, I found their enthusiasm for travel, their reverence for the ocean and nature, to be quite intoxicating. Before I knew it, I was imagining my husband, 18-month old daughter and I packing up our essentials-only items and heading out on an exciting, horizon-expanding trip round Australia. Something new every day. 

Oh the experiences we were having in my head! 

Long walks on pristine beaches. Climbing mountains and breathing in the freshest air. Staying in cabins and waking to birdsong. 

Was this the dreamy, idyllic existence the Paskowitz family enjoyed on a daily basis?

Not exactly.

They certainly gained a tremendous amount of experience and joy on the road, but there were definite costs. For one, Juliette, their mother, wore herself down to the ground, having so many babies so close together and with so little extra help. And with no formal education, the children grew up somewhat unprepared for modern life - one son, Abraham, desperately wished to become a doctor, but when he realised how much he needed to do just to catch up on his schooling, let alone qualify for medicine, he knew it was close to impossible. 

Their stories, captured in the documentary, Surfwise, really got me thinking about striking that balance between convention/security/responsibility and taking risks/being creative/defying cultural ideas about what gives us meaning and makes us happy. How many people are slaves to their mortgages, their jobs, sacrificing happiness and enjoyment now for the end of their lives when they retire? Alternatively, who wants to constantly worry about money and security, about feeding their family, in the pursuit of a freer life? 

Surely there's a middle ground. I'm just not quite sure what that is yet.

At the close of the documentary, reflecting on the choices he made for his family, Dorian Paskowitz said, "It's easier to die when you have lived than when you haven't. So go make memories, because when you die, you won't go alone, you will take them with you". 

Sage words. And definitely some food for thought.

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