Donald Paarman, a prodigy who lived for surfing

08 October 2017 - 00:00 By Chris Barron

Donald Paarman, who has died in Wilderness at the age of 65, was a member of South Africa's most famous surfing family and became the youngest surfing Springbok at the age of 14.
He was regarded as South Africa's best teenage surfer in the '60s and one of the best South African surfers ever.
By the age of 17 he had represented South Africa three times in world championships in the US and Australia.
In 1970 an Australian surfing magazine voted him international surfer of the year.
It was predicted that he would be a world champion. From a purely surfing point of view he had everything it took, technique, flair, passion, courage, small-wave skills, big-wave prowess, tube riding talent and competitive nous. He was always relaxed on his board, always stylish. No wave was ever too big for him. He was fearless.
But he had a schizophrenic and addictive personality, and first drugs then alcohol destroyed his chances and almost cost him his life until he cleaned up his act and became addicted to religion.
He was born on May 4 1952 in Cape Town, the eldest of six boys, four of whom surfed. His younger brother Jonathan was also a Springbok.
Paarman's uncle John Whitmore was the doyen of South African surfing. He was the first builder of surfboards in the country, designed the first roof rack for surfboards and pioneered most of the surfing spots between the Orange River and Port Elizabeth.
Paarman grew up in a bungalow on Bakoven beach. He began surfing when he was nine and spent every minute he could catching waves at Glen beach.
He entered, and won, his first surfing contest at the age of 12.
He had a strict Catholic upbringing and was forced to go to church every Sunday morning. He had a strong rebellious streak that did not take kindly to this or anything else that interfered with surfing. He left school without matriculating to concentrate on surfing.
After competing with the Springbok team in San Diego - where he started smoking dagga - at 14 and Puerto Rico at 16, he took part in the world surfing championships in Australia in 1970.
Joined a hippie community
He had the looks and enigmatic aura of a rock star, was treated like one and behaved like one. He became addicted to various chemicals and in a drug- and alcohol-addled haze missed his boat back to South Africa. He decided to stay in Australia, which he did for the next seven years.
While wandering on a beach in Sydney he was picked up by someone who took him home and raped him. He went to the Gold Coast in Queensland, joined a hippie community, sold drugs, took drugs, drank heavily and married a New Zealander.
He was diagnosed as a schizophrenic and committed to an asylum, where he was given electroshock therapy.
Eventually he broke out. His wife, with whom he had a son, left him and he returned to South Africa in 1978.
He was called up for army training. As Paarman was nearing the end of his one-year stint the law was changed and he was told he had to do two years. This pushed him over the edge and he was sent to the psychiatric ward at 2 Military Hospital in Cape Town. He was nursed back to sanity by the woman who became his second wife. He was given a dishonourable discharge from the army, did an apprenticeship and worked in a factory making tractor engines.
Paarman began drinking heavily again, which led to the end of his second marriage.
He went to live in Jeffreys Bay where he became a house painter. He bought a cabin in Wilderness and began surfing again. He broke his leg badly while surfing at Victoria Bay and while recuperating filled 15 school exercise books with an unblinking, unpunctuated but fascinating account of his turbulent life and the international surfing culture which had seduced and then almost destroyed him.
Called Lunatic Surfer or Destiny?, it was published by Paarman in 2008.
He put his life back together again, became a convert to New Age religious beliefs and advertised himself as a counsellor. "I find myself very comfortable working with people in very dark and scary places," he said.
Paarman, who was diagnosed with lung cancer in August, is survived by two daughters, two sons and his third wife, Jeanette.

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