It's always fascinating to hear stories of how subcultures and alternative scenes take root in music and sport. A couple of weeks ago I wrote a review about the insightful documentary Taqwacor: The Birth of Punk Islam, which sheds a spotlights on the Islamo-Punk subculture.
Today, I came across another fascinating Arab subculture: Palestinian Surfers. The Polynesian water sport is still a calling for the "wild at heart, locked up in cages" all over the world.
Surfing pin-up: Mahmoud El Reyashi
Taha Baker, fresh from winning London Girl's Torso of the Week, poses with one of the donated City Skateboards
Amidst the rubble, blockades and daily angst, Gaza surfers are hitting the polluted beaches to forget their woes - doing what surfers all over the world do: LOOKING TO CATCH THE RIDE OF THEIR LIVES.
The various blockades mean that it has been very difficult to get stuff like paracetamol let alone surfboards into Gaza, but thanks to some great efforts and surfing solidarity which transcends ideas of race and creed, those few Gaza surfers have been able to increase in numbers thanks to donations of surfboards and related paraphernalia.
Almost as soon as word got out that there were surfers in Gaza, help was on the way: Explore Corps, Surfing 4 Peace and Gaza Surf Relief have been instrumental in helping get the Gaza surf crews kitted up and feel part of the community.
Spreading the Stoke
The US-based Gaza Surf Relief have done a commendable job in getting big name surf labels and local Californian surf shops to donate surfing goods over to the Gaza surfers.
"We are collecting surfboards, equipment, and monetary donations from all over he world to package up and send over to Jerusalem, where they will then be picked up by a non-governmental organization, taken to Gaza, and distributed to the youth."
“This is all about surfing,” they say “No politics, no religion, and no hatred.”
Extending a Surf Branch
All this wouldn't have been possible of course without the involvement
of Hawaiian-based uber surfing legend, Dorian "Doc" Paskowitz (I love this guy).
Doc is one of my heroes. Along with his 9 kids and wife, he travelled around in motorhomes living the ultimate boho-surf dream lifestyle, far from the constraints of the New World Order and all its bullshit. There is a great documentary about him.
Having read an article in the Los Angeles Times newspaper about a couple of men surfing in Gaza, he later reflected "I saw the picture of the two Arabs in the newspaper and they had one lousy beat-up board between them," he said in an interview with the BBC near his home in southern California. "And I said this simply won't do."
Paskowitz, who is Jewish himself, decided to personally hand deliver 15 new boards to Gaza in 2007. The picture on the left captures the moment. This act prompted a whole set of surfing goodwill gestures.
Paskowitz enlisted the help of a young Israeli surfer named Arthur Rashkovan (pictured on left delivering surf boards to Gaza, who in turn started up an organisation called Surfing for Peace. Together with Matthew Olsen, they helped set the ground work for what later became the Gaza Surf Club.
All they need to do now is get a girl-surfer on board to complete the picture. Surely, there must be a Palestinian girl out there who longs to carve some waves up?
On another note, at the moment 15 donated surfboards are being withheld by the Israeli army from entering Gaza.
Surfing onto the big screen
Paskowitz is reportedly accredited with this soundbite:"God will surf with the devil, if the waves are good” which is where I guess the title for a recently released surf documentary on the Gaza Surfers was inspired from.
"God Went Surfing With the Devil" charts the difficulties and dangers encountered by surfers in the region. Along the way it speaks to Israelis, Arab-Israelis, and Palestinians affected by the violence, charting their daily struggle to supersede the conflict through the joys of surfing. Filmed in the summer of 2008, this Alex Klein docofeatures footage of The Gaza Surf Club and interviews with its members. Click for teaser here.
STILL FROM THE FILM
But what is it actually like to surf in Gaza?
The sea around Gaza is heavily polluted with at least 60 million litres of raw and partially treated sewage being pumped into it every day. But the 40 odd surfers say that they pick their surfing days very carefully. Apparently, the breaks are pretty good out there too. Waves that build across 3,000 miles of the Mediterranean break on its beaches with surprising frequency and occasional intensity, according to some reports.
"Life is difficult in Gaza but surfing makes me feel free," Mohammed Abu Jayab
Sheik Khazdien Beach Surfers with Matt Olsen.
Abdel Rahmal Al Haik proudly displaying his board. This is the first time that I have ever seen a Palestinian kid look so happy in a photograph. Its just beautiful.
Very sweet shortboard donated by Farid Mosher