In the spring of 2004, surfing Ambassador Dorian “Doc” Paskowitz was on a trip to Israel, where he had introduced surfing nearly 50 years before, and expressed his interest in meeting some local Israeli-Arab surfers to Arthur Rashkovan, a local surf and skate industry exec, and then-Director of the Israeli Surfing Association. Arthur introduced him to Abdallah Serri (pictured, at left, with Doc) and later that year, organized the first surf contest for Israeli Arabs. With the success of the contest and a donation of boards from Doc to the Israeli Arab surfers, Surfing 4 Peace was born.
On July 27, 2007 The Los Angeles Times published an article by Louise Roug detailing the plight of Palestinian surfers living in the Gaza Strip and forced to share a single surfboard between them. Within hours, Doc Paskowitz and his son David were on the phone with Arthur in Tel Aviv. They decided then and there that something had to be done. After a few short weeks, the team had gathered 14 used surfboards from Israeli surf companies, for donation to the small but passionate surfing community in Gaza.
With the assistance of One Voice International, the S4P team secured the necessary arrangements and permits to deliver the boards to the Palestinian surfers at the Erez border crossing between Israel and Gaza. But upon arriving on the agreed date for the handover, with extensive international media in tow, the team and their equipment were denied entry to the crossing by the Israeli Border Authority. But Doc would not take no for an answer and after trying unsuccessfully to convince the border guards and their supervisors to allow him in, he walked around the guards and headed for the crossing. "You can shoot me in the back if you want to", he declared, "But I have friends waiting for me on the other side that need these boards".
Doc's stubborness prevailed and both he and his son David were permitted to deliver the boards to the waiting Palestinian surfers. Articles detailing the donation appeared in scores of newspapers, journals and magazines around the world.
Following the successful surfboard delivery to Gaza, the S4P, including the production team of Shuki and Adi Weiss, held a Surfing 4 Peace benefit concert in Tel Aviv in October of 2007. The concert featured the Israeli band Malka Baya joining forces with Doc’s sons David and Joshua Paskowitz, both established musicians.
The event was headlined by surfing world champion Kelly Slater and Big Wave champion Makua Rothman, who both traveled to Israel for the event. The concert was preceded by a surfing clinic for Israeli Arab and Jewish youth in the town of Hertziliya led by Kelly Slater.
Later that evening, the festivities in Tel Aviv were opened with a surfers circle in the waters off of the concert grounds. As the sun set, the concert opened and Doc Paskowitz, the man who brought surfing to the Middle East, told the crowd of over 3000 of his vision of peace, co-existance and celebration.
Meanwhile, on the other side of the world, Seweryn “Sev” Sztalkoper had read the same LA Times article and had launched a project called Gaza Surf Relief, in cooperation with the Levantine Cultural Center in Los Angeles. Sev was busy gathering a massive donation of brand new surfboards and equipment to send to Gaza. In Gaza, Matthew Olsen, an S4P ambassador and the founder of Explore Corps, was meeting the locals and founding the Gaza Surf Club. A partnership was quickly formed between Gaza Surf Relief and Surfing 4 Peace to insure the successful transport, import, and distribution of the donated equipment from Gaza Surf Relief to the waiting surfers in Gaza.
With S4P handling shipping and customs, the donations made their way to Israel, thanks to the generous support of DHL, Flying Cargo and The Peres Center For Peace. During the summer of 2008, the majority of the smaller equipment was delivered and distributed to the surfers in Gaza. But a ban on the import of surfboards to Gaza by the Israeli army meant that only 4 of the surfboards were delivered in the first year.
After more than two years of negotiations with the Israeli Border Authority, permits to import the surfboards were finally issued in August of 2010. In the preceding two years, the Hamas government in Gaza had banned all peace initiatives and cross-border cooperation between Palestinians and Israelis. Fortunatly, Matthew Olsen and Explore Corps had already established the Gaza Surf Club project and was able to secure the necessary permissions on the Palestinians side and manage the distribution of the surfboards to the waiting surfers. In total, 30 surfboards were delivered to Gaza as part of Gaza Surf Relief, including 15 brand new surfboards from Global Surf Industries. For the first time, every surfer in Gaza had their own surfboard, including the newest addition to the Club, Gaza’s first female surfer.
Matt Olsen and Arthur Rashkovan unloading the Gaza Surf Relief Boards in Tel Aviv on their way to Gaza.
God Went Surfing With The Devil is a feature-length documentary produced and directed by pro skater-turned director Alex Klien that follows the efforts of the Surfing 4 Peace team in Tel Aviv to deliver the Gaza Surf Relief boards. Filmed during the spring of 2008 and released in 2009, the film documents the rollercoaster ride of trying to import "banned" surfboards into the Gaza in the context of cross-border attacks, economic embargo, the Hamas takeover of Gaza and endless bureaucracy on all sides. The film also visits Gaza and documents the efforts of Gaza's surfers to build a surf community of their own.
In the summer of 2010, as the Surfing 4 Peace team negotiated the import of surfboards into the Gaza Strip, they got word of several new faces showed up on the beach, eager to give surfing a try. But these faces were different than usual. They belonged to four girls, Rawand, Kholoud, Shoruq and Sabah Abo Ghanem. The Abo Ghanem girls are two sets of sisters, whose fathers are brothers and were two of the first surfers in Gaza. Unlike other girls their age in Gaza, Rawand, Shoruq, Sabah and Kholoud had learned to swim practically before they could walk and could be found swimming at the beach every day and accompanying their fathers, brothers and cousins out into the surf and beyond.
Before the arrival of the Explore Corps team that summer the girls had already begun to practice surfing on the family’s old windsurf board and on the board belonging to the Yousef, the brother of Rawand and Kholoud and the cousin of Shoruq and Sabah. That board, like practically all the other surfboards in Gaza, was originally delivered as part of the highly publicized 2007 Surfing 4 Peace surfboard donation. Yousef would soon be receiving a new surfboard as part of the new shipment that waited on the Israeli side of the border for permission to enter. But it was clear that these girls were eager to join Yousef in the water, and the best way to make that dream a reality would be to get them boards of their own... or so we thought.
After meeting with the girls and their fathers, it became clear that the lack of boards was not the main obstacle to the girls’ surfing dream. With conservative social standards for modesty being prevalent in much of Gaza, the older girls were more concerned more about the lack of appropriate clothing than they were about boards. Appropriate “Islamic Swimwear”, as it has been called, is not available in Gaza and as a result women swim fully clothed. And so the Gaza Surfer Girl Project was born. The S4P team quickly assembled a “catalog” of design ideas, colors and materials and presented it to the girls and their parents, who selected their preferences.
Over the next week the girls participated in workshops of the Gaza Surf Club, much of which was documented by a French film crew for the program 66 Minutes, as well as by Sarah Topol, writing for The Atlantic. The new shipment of boards finally arrived in late August and included a board donated to Rawand and Kholoud by Renee Johnson and The Eastern Surfing Association, Southern South Carolina District. With one board delivered and a design book full of ideas, the Explore Corps team departed Gaza ready to begin the next phase of the project.
Explore Corps Director and S4P Ambassador Matt Olsen was in New York the next week answering questions at the New York Surf Film Festival’s premiere of God Went Surfing With the Devil, where he explained the new project to the crowd. Immediately after the presentation, Matt was approached by Shany Cohen, an American fashion design student at Parsons The New School of Design. Shany was eager to make the “Islamic swimsuits” a reality and within a few days she had assembled a diverse design team ready to take on the challenge. After an initial meet and greet with an advisory board set up especially for this project, the design team got to work designing and building custom swimwear for Rawand and Shoruq. The results were nothing short of fabulous.
As the momentum grew, the effort was also joined by The Wahine Project, an organization that was created to reach young girls who would otherwise not have access to the resources that would allow them to surf. The Wahines began assembling a custom care package for the girls in Gaza, with clothing, accessories and words of encouragement in the form of cards, posters and letters. By mid summer the package was assembled and mailed off to Gaza.
While the packages were in transit, S4P secured delivery of another surfboard for the girls, donated by of Karoliina Viita and delivered by Julien Lescaux. Each set of sisters now had a board to call their own. The first package to arrive in Gaza contained the custom swimwear made by the S4P team as well as the wetsuits from The Quiksilver Foundation. The girls loved their new custom swimwear, which fit perfectly thanks to the expert talents of Shany and her team. The wetsuits were a welcome addition to the package and will allowed the girls to swim in winter for the first time.
Shortly after the arrival of the swimsuits the care package from The Wahine Project arrived and was delivered to the girls. In between catching waves the girls unpacked the goodies and read the words of encouragement from the Wahines. This final stage of the delivery couldn’t have gone better, ending with personal notes of encouragement written from the other side of the world but sharing the same dream: to paddle out, turn around and ride a wave.
Check out the photo album, below:
In the fall of 2011, Surfing 4 Peace was contacted by Michael Brooke, founder of Concrete Wave Magazine and avid longboard skateboarder. Michael had a dream to take the Surfing 4 Peace model, apply it to longboard skateboarding, and deliver his message of peace and balance to Israel and Palestine. In the summer of 2012, Concrete Wave, Surfing 4 Peace and the Peres Center For Peace launched the SEARCH-SPARK-STOKE TOUR 2012, the inaugural event of Longboarding 4 Peace.
Over the course of the summer, the tour saw a team of skateboard instructors and enthusiasts travel to multiple sites in Israel and Palestine to teach skateboarding clinics for at-risk youth and spread the message of balance and peace. The tour was a great success, with rave reviews and follow up clinics hosted by the Peres Center For Peace.
In 2013, S4P ambassadors Samuel Jacquesson and Ben Levy had an idea for the ultimate Surfing 4 Peace event, the Med Cup For Peace: a Medeterranean surfing festival celebrating the diverse surf communities of the Mediterranean sea and the mission of Surfing 4 Peace. As their first step they established a formal European division of S4P, Surfer Pour La Paix, based in Paris. By having a formal organizational presence within the Eurpean government structure, Surfer Pour La Paix aims to establish formal partnerships within the municipalities and organizations that make up the European Community.
S4P celebrated the launch of Surfer Pour La Paix and the Med Cup 4 Peace project with a Paddle 4 Peace, a stand up paddle event held in Paris on the Canal Saint Martin in September of 2013. Participants came from across the Mediterranean basin to lend their support and celebrate the S4P mission, with round-table discussions, presentations and a truly memorable display of the S4P community.
The Med Cup 4 Peace is the vision of S4P's European division, Surfer Pour La Paix and aims to celebrate surfing and the S4P mission in the Mediterranean. Surfer Pour La Paix is working closely with the European Community and the city of Marseille to organize the Med Cup as the ultimate surfing festival with a wide spectrum of events, contests and activities, as well as surfer delegations from every country in the Mediterranean.
The vision for the Med Cup 4 Peace has surfer delegations from across the Mediterranean coming to Marseille to represent their nations and the S4P mission. But assembling these delegations can be especially difficult in countries where surfing is a new and rare sport and where economic or political conditions make it difficult to promote the S4P mission.
So to help support the development of local S4P delegations, the team at Surfer Pour La Paix has launched S4P Trips, a surf trip series that brings together Mediterranean surfers on week-long surf excursions where they can meet other members of the S4P community, share their own experience and expertise and learn from other members of their community.
Whether you want to learn how to form and operate a surfing association in your own country or are simply looking to improve your bottom turns, S4P trips bring together the wide knowledge and experience of the S4P community to help surfers improve their surfing and their community, while catching a few great waves along the way. S4P now celebrates surfer delegations from nearly every country in the Mediterranean and planning for the next surf trip is underway!