| Get surf report

Wavescape - Surfing in South Africa

Mon, 2 October 2017

Former Springbok surfer and hippy savant Donald Paarman passed away yesterday from lung cancer. Here is a tribute to one of our most enigmatic surfers, by family friend Bernie Shelly.


REDEMPTION SONG: Donald Paarman was the archetypal bleached beach boy.

DonaldPaarman-LSD-WavescapeA time remembered - the sixties, when we were young and surfing was new to Cape Town. Glen Beach, young too, replete with wildly adventurous blond boys - the Paarman brothers. There were six of them and Donald was the eldest and the blondest, the boldest in the water. A brilliant surfer from a very young age, fearless, good looking, full of life and mischief. That's how I remember him.

For a while I lived in Bakoven with Ken and Leonie (Donald's parents) and the six boys: Donald had to forfeit his bedroom for me, their boarder, and he did so with a certain affable resignation. During the time that I stayed with them, Donald was hopelessly in love with a human goddess and with the ocean. I got to share the latter with him occasionally, on our Whitmores, in the icy Atlantic, sans wetsuits.

We travelled to contests a couple of times, as members of the early Western Province Surf Team, and right from the start Donald's talent was obvious. No wave was too big, too gnarly, no challenge was too great, no paddle-out too strenuous. He won his first contest when he was 12 years old and went on to wear Springbok colours, surfing in three World Championships. Although he looked smart in his green blazer, the hippy in him was soon to emerge: never really conventional despite a relatively conservative Catholic upbringing. Donald was his own person, a student of life. Being a tad older than him, I was not privy to his secrets, but I was aware he had "things" going on - his covert half grin said it plainly enough.

Empathy wrought from life's experiences was his toolPerhaps it was simply the times, perhaps something else, but Donald's was not an untroubled journey. Fame, substances, misjudgment - these took their toll, repeatedly. The smiling, philosophically easy-going older Donald hid another facet of his personality, one that he used as a basis for helping others in therapeutic need. Empathy wrought from life's experiences was his tool - and then there was always the ocean as his backup.

Above everything, despite adversity, and after all troubles, there was always surfing. That is what Donald meant to so many people: he personified the sixties surfer. A shock of sun-bleached hair was his signature, quiet utterances that revealed vast sea-knowledge, an enigmatic aura - all these contributed to an allure of almost superstar proportions.

And then he left, both figuratively and literally. His autobiography attests to a roller coaster life. I did not know him then, in those years, but met up with him some time after he returned to South Africa and surfed in the SA longboard champs.

Still very blond, with an air of folklore about him - still enigmatic. That is how I remember Donald.


1970 Boks: Left to Right: Shaun Tomson, Gavin Rudolph, Michael Tomson, George Thompson (Capt), John Whitmore (Manager), Philippa Hullett, Jonathan Paarman, Donald Paarman, and Sally Sturrock

About Donald Paarman

Donald Paarman died yesterday aged 65 from lung cancer. Born in 1952, Paarman was one of SA's first national surfers, and one of the best when he was in his prime.

He lead a helter skelter life. One day, he broke his leg surfing at Vic Bay, and he decided to put pen to paper to write his memoir. His book Lunatic Surfer or Destiny? came out in 2008 when he was 56 years old. LSD details a chaotic life of drug abuse, alchoholism, broken relationships and reckless living.

Six years later, in 2014, he wrote this on his blog: "Even though I never made millions as I had hoped to do, so that I could go to Bali to surf some of those perfect warm water waves before I pegged off, it still went well." He was diagnosed with advanced stage lung cancer in August 2017.

With an almost gleeful candour and no-holds-barred narration (and minimal editing), Paarman recounts his life story in his self-published book (which has sold more than 3,500 copies). It was a case of early rock star status for him. As a Springbok surfer from the age of 14 he was travelling the world and - as someone prone to various substance dependencies - getting into heaps of trouble.

He started smoking dagga - not in ganja-adled Cape Town - but California as a member of the Springbok team in 1966. He still went on to surf for South Africa in 1968 and 1970 but a troubled dependency on various chemicals ultimately ruined his surfing career.

I put on an Australian accent and no-one ever queried itHis adventures are legendary. When he went to Sydney to compete in the World Surfing Championships in 1970, Paarman missed the flight home and ended up living in Australia. "I put on an Australian accent and no-one ever queried it," he said. He was 25 when Shaun Tomson won the world title in 1977. He was good enough to have been in the same echelon, but chose another path.

As his book recounts, after marrying a New Zealander, he took to the booze, and the marriage was destroyed. He even ended up in an asylum, where he says he was subjected to electroshock therapy.

Eventually, after stints in psychiatric care and severe bouts of addiction, he turned his life around. Various spiritual and philosophical epiphanies led to him writing his book. He became a house painter, and lived in a small house in the Wilderness. You'd often see him out at Vic Bay ... still charging. He knew exactly where to sit for the slight wide-swingers.

Having been in dark places in the past, he also took to helping people. His Facebook page and website blog both offer help: "I find myself very comfortable working with people in very dark and scary places. Before you pull the plug on yourself or sumbit to psychotic drugs, give me a shout and I will help you get your life back into balance, no judgment."


Cleeve Robertson
0 #1 DrCleeve Robertson 2017-10-02 19:01
The Paarmans will probably never know how they inspired us as kids and the respect we had for them as 'watermen',absolute legends in the small village of Camps Bay! RIP Donald in the peace of the Big Blue!
Joomla SEF URLs by Artio

Wavescape on Twitter

Sat Jul 14 11:05:06 +0000 2018

This was one of the great heats in surfing, not just because a Supertubes great was bowing out but because of three… https://t.co/HtZVwuu9BC
Fri Jul 13 17:54:46 +0000 2018

Huge pods of dolphins and pumping Supers delivered a sublime Friday 13 today to welcome the women back to J-Bay aft… https://t.co/fzOR0CkJRU
Fri Jul 13 12:06:45 +0000 2018

The soul of surfing is captured in the video edit from the 2018 edition of the Logjam, an Unconventional Surf Festi… https://t.co/JZWRXI6rfY
Fri Jul 13 12:06:26 +0000 2018

Bad luck @biancabuitendag It was a noble effort especially after almost pulling out with an excruciatingly painful… https://t.co/5K53tKs1T3
Fri Jul 13 11:25:31 +0000 2018

RT @spike_wavescape: @biancabuitendag on a beautiful wave earlier, on her way to a semifinal berth against @lakeypeterson up next in perfec…
Fri Jul 13 10:30:49 +0000 2018

RT @wsl: "Hey you guys down for a party wave?” “Dolphinately” 🐬 #CoronaOpenJBay @LakeyPeterson @corona https://t.co/H5h6pScJrA
Follow Wavescape on Twitter

Wavescape friends and partners Isiqalo Foundation DIFF CSIR Isiqalo Foundation Surfing  South Africa Save Our Seas Shark Centre Isiqalo Foundation Red Bull Media House DIFF National Sea Rescue Institute Shark Spotters ASP Africa