While the Olympic games dominate our television sets, I have had the pleasure of reading this delightful story of building bridges through surfing. I couldn’t wait to share it with all of you and I want to especially thank Allan for sharing this wonderful adventure. Surfs up!
Four years ago, a group of cyclists from San Diego traveled to Israel to ride from Metula in the north to the Shaar Hanegev and Sderot in the south. We had each raised at least $10,000 to participate in the tour that criss-crossed Israel’s narrow east west breadth. The money we raised was to help fund the building of a new “Quassam-proof” school in the Shaar Hanegev. In our group, we boasted the Principal of San Diego Jewish Academy, Jeff Davis. Jeff enjoys a particularly warm friendship with Aharale Rothstein, Principal of the Shaar Hanegev High School. Jeff, along with my friends, Larry Acheatel and Rick
Kornfeld and my wife, Meg, had been instrumental in raising funds from San Diegans for the new school.
We rode about 65 miles every day, and saw the country from a completely different perspective. On the last day, 75 cyclists from Shaar Hanegev joined us for a ride around their region. At a function following that final ride I met Omer Zadikevitz, who noted that the t-shirt I was wearing touted the “La Jolla Shores Surfing Association”. He told me that he too was a keen surfer. We struck up an instant friendship, exchanged items of surf clothing and intended to stay in touch.
Last month, at the ceremony Meg and I attended to mark the opening of the new school, a lady approached me, and asked if I remembered her husband, the surfer. “Omer” I replied – “of course I do!” She handed me her phone with an excited Omer on the line – who exclaimed, “Allan, I don’t know what your plans are for tomorrow night, but cancel them. We’re going surfing!” I was a little worried. Surfing at night within rocket reach of Gaza didn’t seem like such a healthy option. How would I explain this adventure to Meg, already set on going midnight potato harvesting on Kibbutz Ruchama?
At 8:45 the following evening, Omer collected me. In the back of his SUV were surfboards, the best kayak gps, board shorts, rash guards, towels and a big cooler of food prepared by his wife – only in Israel. During the half hour drive, Omer’s phone rang incessantly – “Nu, where are you?” his friends demanded, “Is Allan with you?” Apparently, I was more of a celebrity than I warrant. On arriving, I was amazed to see five, powerful, stadium, floodlights mounted along the sea wall bordering the marina. They lit up an area the size of a football field – the surfing beach of Ashdod.
Apparently, the local Ashdod Surfing Association had been petitioning the City Council to install the lights for a few years. Night surfing is far less harmful to your skin, but the real benefit is providing a healthy, recreational outlet for local teens. This is the ONLY floodlit, surfing beach in the world that I know of. Proximity to Gaza notwithstanding, it makes a lot of sense, given Israel’s sweltering summers and inviting sea temperatures.
Omer proudly introduced me to his surfing friends, telling them, that not only did I know Shaun Tomson – the world champion surfer from 1975 through the 1980s, but that I SURF with him. Far be it for me to dispel a good myth, especially when it elevates me to hero status. The truth is my great friend, John Smaller, is married to Shaun Tomson’s sister, Tracy. Like me, Shaun, is a Jewish emigrant to the USA from South Africa. Shaun is not only an international surfing legend he’s a real mensch. He was inducted into the Jewish Hall of Sports Fame in Israel in 1995 and is revered by their surfing community. I actually HAVE been surfing with Shaun, but it wasn’t as memorable for him as it was for me.
Omer’s friends were very happy to make my acquaintance, and all offered me their surfboards to try out. I’m simply not accustomed to such open generosity, especially from strangers – once again, only in Israel. We donned our board-shorts, waxed up the boards and strode across the beach into 85 degree Mediterranean water. It was 9:30pm. There were well over a hundred surfers out there, ranging in age from ten to seventy. The waves were small by California standards, but very rideable.
Not many waves and lots of surfers made it a melee. Add macho Israeli aggression, and you have what I call “combat” surfing. Anyone who’s driven in Israel will know what I’m talking about. Polite surfing protocols are understood, but totally ignored. Israelis surf like they drive, there’s no place for wimps. However, Omer and his pals treated me like surf royalty. I was told where the best take off points were, and every time a big wave came through, I was invited to take it. If anyone else dared to ride it, they were loudly warned
to get off. If I rode the wave well, the whole crowd hooted and hollered.
As the night wore on, the tide came up, and the waves abated. The crowd and camaraderie didn’t. It was still packed well after 1:00 am when we got out. Then all the surfers gathered around Omer’s picnic cooler, to drink Coronas and eat pita with delicious hummus and olives, until well past 2:00 am – only in Israel. It was without a doubt, one of the very best surf sessions of my life.
Omer gave me a couple of DVDs with documentaries on the history of surfing in Israel. He also left me two T-shirts from the 2012 Ashdod Surf Competition. The shirts have flowered Hawaian surf motifs with Hebrew writing. You can bet that one is for me and the other is for Shaun Tomson!
So where do we go from here? The owner of PB Surf Shop visits Israel every year. I will do what I can to put him in touch with Omer so we can establish some sort of surf exchange program. Maybe surfers in San Diego can open our homes to visiting Shaar Hanegev surfers and vice versa. Our contact in the region is, Omer Zadikevitz, at 972-52-565-6247 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Omer has my contact information for Shaar Hanegev surfers wanting to visit and surf Southern California. I realize that this is only a small gesture, but it’s a start. The surfing experience won’t be the sole reward there are wonderful friendships to be forged and floodlights awaiting us in Ashdod.