Surfing Israel

Surfing in Israel is in its Golden Era. Photo: YouTube

The Inertia

I wanted to write a story about surfing in Israel but it’s really about much more. They say war only happens in the summer here (or before elections), and maybe that’s why I came in the winter. Or maybe it’s because of all the surf videos and photos I’ve seen from the area lately. Coincidentally, people have been calling this past winter the best one Israel has had in over a decade.

Israeli surfing is in its golden era. Articles, photos, and videos appear daily with Israeli surfers, photographers, and filmmakers sharing the growth of the sport in the region. You can find dozens of surf schools, surf shops, and local shapers all over the coastline. And hundreds, maybe even thousands of new surfers join the already-crowded waters every year.

I was born in this country and was raised in a small seaside village on the central coast. The sand of the Mediterranean Sea is where I learned how to walk and it’s where I surfed for the very first time. It’s been years since I’ve lived here but the truth is, maybe I never really did — at least not in the version I most recently visited. I grew up in a bubble where many of this country’s problems, to my luck, were absent from my life.

In the nineties, when suicide bombers attacked the streets, buses and cafes in main cities around the country — some only 10 to 15 minutes away from my hometown — or when Hezbollah fired its missiles, or over the past 18 years that Hamas has been shooting its rockets along the southern part of the country, I was never impacted. Even after serving in the military as a combat soldier for three years, I couldn’t fully understand what it’s like to live on the borders.

In the past year, the tactic of launching balloons carrying explosives from Gaza into Israel has become a popular method of Palestinian protests and attacks. Between April 2018 and June 2018, Israeli firefighters extinguished 1,954 fires started by arson attacks in the fields, forests, and grasslands around the Gaza Strip. In that same period this year, they’ve battled 383 blazes, all causing entire fields to burn and millions in damage for farmers.

One of my best friends lives in Nirim, an Israeli kibbutz only two kilometers from the city of Khan Yunis along the Gaza Strip and an area where these types of attacks are common. I came down to visit him and see for myself what it’s like to live there. It’s only an hour and a half away from my hometown, but it’s a world away.

It was cold and rainy when I arrived at Sderot train station. My friend picked me up and on our way to his kibbutz I could already see the area’s military presence along the roads. It’s hard to believe that in such a beautiful, green, and should-be-peaceful place, escalation can happen as quickly as the wind changes.

It was a bit late by the time we got to the kibbutz and the wave forecast wasn’t too great so we skipped the 40-minute drive to the nearest beach and barbecued at home with friends. They reminded me that in the summer of 2014, during the last big military operation between Israel and Hamas in Gaza, their community paid the highest price when two of their men were killed from a rocket that hit in the kibbutz. It’s good insight for me, flipping burgers and drinking beer for two hours, of what everyday life is like here.

Just past 9 p.m. that night, my friend’s wife got a message that two rockets had been shot from Gaza toward Tel Aviv. After getting updates on the TV news and internet, they started to prepare for a red alert siren — Tzeva Adom in Hebrew, an early-warning radar system — in which we would all move to the protected shelter (Mamad, in Hebrew) of the house. I woke up many times that night hearing bombs exploding in the distance but when I woke up the next morning my friend told me no rockets had ever been fired in our area. The explosions I’d heard were airstrikes by the Israeli air force against 100 Hamas targets in response to the rockets.

We continued with our day and as we drove I could spot TV news vans on the side of the main road, all pointing their cameras at the building of Gaza in anticipation of explosions. Hours went by, but nothing happened that day. In fact, after our afternoon siesta, we drove back to our old hometown and listened to radio reports that it had actually been the quietest day along the border in a year. No arson balloons. Not even demonstrations along the border. Nothing. In fact, the alarms of the night before, they said, had all been a mistake. Someone hit the wrong buttons and accidentally launched the rockets that were aimed to Tel Aviv area ready to be used on the next round of fighting. Hamas notified the Israelis so both sides would cool down after the events of a crazy night that was never supposed to happen.

The next day I woke up and finally drove down to the beach to look for waves. I thought about how in another reality, another lifetime, I could have come here to surf one of the fine beach breaks and Palestinian surfers could come and surf in Israel — just casually jumping the border for the day, hoping for waves. The quiet, sunny day of yesterday was all gone by now and the surf was messy. It seems like the sea here works much like the conflict on land. One day everything is warm and quiet, and the next, out of nowhere, it’s stormy.

But it all could have gone a completely different way. This is how fragile life is here. And in the middle of it are millions of people. On both sides. And all they want is to wake up the next morning and live a quiet day like the one I was welcomed with.


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