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Free to RV with Dorian Paskowitz

Originally Published in MotorHome Magazine

One of the greatest joys of RVing is being able to chart your own course, explore what you want to explore and stay where you want to stay.

So long as you’ve got the basics – food, shelter and a place to sleep – there’s nothing really stopping you from RVing full time. And many RVers do – for months or years at a time. Of course, people usually become full-timers after they’ve retired and built up a nest egg to sustain themselves in their travels.

Most people would never dream of beginning their full-timing adventure at the front end of their adult lives – before settling down, perhaps getting married and having children – and continuing the full-timing lifestyle throughout most of their adult lives.

But that’s exactly what Dorian Paskowitz, 88, and his wife, Juliette, have done. In fact, they raised nine children within the confines of various makeshift and brand-name RVs, the largest a 24-foot Open Road motorhome, while Paskowitz pursued his lifelong passion for surfing, a love he instilled in his children, with whom he co-founded a surfing school in 1972 that continues to provide income for the family to this day.

What’s even more remarkable is that Paskowitz, who graduated cum laude from Stanford Medical School, never used his knowledge to build a lucrative medical practice.

“I never wanted to enrich myself from people’s sickness,” he said during a recent interview with MotorHome, adding that he prefers to work like a doctor on a humanitarian mission, offering his skills for free or for little pay – basically only what he needed to survive.

“I was like a missionary doctor,” he said. “I would just go someplace and take care of people. Sometimes I’d go to an Indian reservation. Sometimes they’d pay me with a chicken or a goat.”

Perhaps not surprisingly, Paskowitz and his family have become the subjects of a documentary movie, “Surfwise,” and he’s written a book, “Surfing and Health,” in which he shares his observations and advice on the interconnections among diet, life, surfing and health.

To cut to the chase, Paskowitz thinks we’ve got it backward. We spend far too much time trying to nurture our minds to be successful in our materialistic society, he said, and in the process we neglect our bodies. On the other hand, he said, “When the body becomes healthy, the mind follows suit.”

For Paskowitz, no lifestyle offers more freedom from the pressures, constraints and monotony of society than full-time RVing.

“Living in a motorhome at the lowest end of the social and financial scale in America,” he said, “one can have the same freedom as a millionaire living at the upper end of the social and financial scale.”

“The person who is caught in the social, political, economic, academic or even spiritual milieu and wants to spread his wings and be free should just buy a motorhome.”

The second great experience that full-time RVing brings, he said, is a sense of anticipation. “You wake up and you think, ‘Where will I go today?’ It’s a random harvest of health, happiness and peace.”

The change of scenery can bring enormous psychological benefits. “Day after day, you see the same crows, the same garages, the same dogs, the same signs,” he said. But with RVing, he said, the scenery changes and life is renewed.

Born and raised in Galveston, Texas, Paskowitz got his first taste of living out of his vehicle when he was a teenager in the 1930s. At that time, both Paskowitz and his mother were struggling with asthma – a chronic condition that would ultimately inspire Paskowitz to pursue a career in medicine. But after seeing a newspaper travel section story with a photo of the waves in San Onofre, Calif., Paskowitz, who was an avid surfer, told his mother: “If you take me where that wave is, I’ll get well tomorrow.”

Within a month, Paskowitz’s mother relocated the family, including his sister, brother and an uncle, from Galveston to Southern California. His father followed a short time later, after shutting down the family’s clothing store, a casualty of the Depression.

“We had nothing to lose by leaving Texas,” Paskowitz recalled, adding that his mother was always ready to try something new. When Paskowitz arrived at San Onofre, he wasn’t disappointed. “It gives you a wave of such classic beauty. It gives you a chance to really enjoy surfing.”

In those days, people parked their cars on the beach. “People would convert their vans or cars into a sleeping arrangement, so we would stay in our cars. In those days, it was the absolute ultimate. You could park on the beach and stay there for a week. Now, if they caught you there after sunset, they would probably shoot you.”

By the time Paskowitz was old enough to have his own car, he quickly found that he was happiest when he had a vehicle he could convert into a camper. His first makeshift RV was an old truck. “It was just a cab with lights and an empty back,” he said. “I covered that with a piece of wood, built cabinets on the side and put a tarp over it.” Functional, at best, but it served its purpose.

It was the beginning of Paskowitz’s nomadic lifestyle in cars, makeshift RVs and actual name-brand RVs.

While some may cringe at the thought of living most of their lives on the road, it never kept Paskowitz from doing what he wanted to do.

He managed to get into Stanford during World War II and the military paid for most of his education in exchange for a few years of service – a bargain by any stretch of the imagination. He interned in the Navy during the war and later spent two years at sea in 1946 and 1947. “I went to a special project where we exploded nuclear bombs in the Marshall Islands,” he said.

When he got out of the Navy, he decided to stay in Hawaii, where he lived in a house until 1955. But he found living in a house too confining. He also didn’t like the island restrictions against RV and car camping on the beaches. He subsequently returned to the mainland and converted a 1948 Chevy woody station wagon into his new home. “The car looked like a mess, but it was in good mechanical order,” he said, adding that he later picked up a teardrop trailer, which he towed behind the vehicle.

Soon after returning to the mainland, Paskowitz met the consul general of Israel and decided to spend a year there. “I am Jewish, and I was fascinated by the idea that Israel was a state,” he said. “So I got my surfboard and went to Israel in 1956.”

“Israel at that time was a very exciting place,” Paskowitz recalled. “Not that many people. Not that built up. Part of Tel Aviv was still sand dunes.”

He spent a year in Israel. “The New York Times” later credited him with introducing surfing there. But when Paskowitz returned to the states, he returned to life in his woody. He eventually found his way to Catalina Island, off the coast of Southern California, where he met his wife, Juliette, who was working as a telephone operator at the time.

“We lived in the woody for a while,” he said. “Then we both decided to have this wonderful adventure.” With their woody equipped with a bed in the back, a Coleman stove, plus a cooler – with surfboards on top – they set out to explore life on the road.

They later lived in a 1949 Studebaker Champion for three years. “We traveled through 6,000 miles of Mexico,” he said, “from the big cities of Chihuahua and Durango to the fishing town of Topolobampo, and we only had a couple of blowouts.”

They started having children on the road, too, which eventually prompted them to move into larger, mobile accommodations.

“After our second son was born,” Paskowitz said, “we became lords of the manor and bought an old one-ton, 1949 Chevy truck, Israeli blue, with a McNamara Camp King slip-on cover. It had a beautiful bed and cooking facilities.”

In retrospect, Paskowitz said, “I would have had to have a home in the millions of dollars to make up for the way we felt living in the McNamara slip-on.”

They lived in the McNamara until 1968, when they moved into a house in Tarzana, Calif. They stayed there for one year, and then headed back out on the road, this time in an Open Road motorhome, which served as their home on wheels until a bank foreclosed on it.

That didn’t stop them, however. They later acquired other RVs, including an Establishment Class C, although hard economic times led to the loss of that vehicle, too.

Today, Paskowitz and his wife live in an apartment in Dana Point, Calif., which has been their home for three years. They live frugally, subsisting on small amounts of revenue from the surfing school in Mission Beach, Calif., which their children now manage, as well as proceeds from Paskowitz’s book.

And while life on the road hasn’t always been easy – in fact, several of the Paskowitz children talked about the difficulties they experienced growing up in cramped vehicles in the documentary, “Surfwise” – Paskowitz has no regrets. His children, he added, have grown up with intense feelings of love and togetherness as a result of living in RVs on the road.

Paskowitz, perhaps not surprisingly, can’t wait to get out on the road again. He had just gotten back from a surfing trip in Hawaii when MotorHome caught up with him recently. “My hope,” he said, “is to eventually own a half-ton Ford with a six-cylinder engine and a small short bed with a cabover slip-on.”

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