When you've got a subject as colorful as legendary surfer Dr. Dorian "Doc" Paskowitz at your disposal, you'd have to mess up pretty seriously not to have an engaging documentary on your hands.

Fortunately, Doug Pray's "Surfwise" doesn't blow it.

The HDNet Films and Magnolia Pictures presentation makes for a buoyant viewing experience that should find itself riding a modest wave of audience appreciation.

Still very much a force to be reckoned with at 86, Paskowitz was a hard-working physician back in the '50s before packing his third wife and, ultimately, nine kids (eight sons and a daughter) into a cramped camper and going only where whim and spare change took them.

An observant Jew, Paskowitz was an early proponent of the organic and raw foods movement, home-schooled all his children and eventually started a successful, family-operated Surf Camp in Mission Beach, Calif., that's still in operation today.

But what at first would seem to be a wacky fusion of "Riding Giants" and "The Partridge Family" compellingly shifts gears as Paskowitz's fearfully forceful personality is revealed to have taken its dysfunctional toll on his once inseparable family.

Pray, probably best known for "Hype!" his 1996 survey of the Seattle rock music scene, wisely gives the inimitable doctor the floor (he's first introduced doing his morning exercises in the nude) before illustrating how strict adherence to his "aloha spirit" philosophy could be constraining in its own right.

While the archival footage is fun, it's ultimately those bittersweet recollections of his equally energetic wife and adult children that give "Surfwise" its compelling edge. (partialdiff)
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