Real Axe: Israel!
In which photographer Duncan Macfarlane gives us a highly entertaining recollection, through words and pictures, of an ecstatic dance in the middle east...
Israel wasn’t what I expected. When I first told my wife I was going she was like, “Nope, you can’t go,” and to be honest, I second guessed it for a moment. Maybe I was ignorant… well, I definitely was. But the media that reaches the west about the middle east is almost exclusively negative and regularly violent. But by the end of the week, the first day even, I was blown away by the contrast to my expectations and the reality. Israel felt like one of the safest places I’ve been. And, we were assured you’re more in danger in Sydney than Tel-Aviv… and it was true. With that put to bed quickly, we were able to dig deeper and discover the true Israel. The friendly people, incredible food, fun waves, the hummus, buzzing surf culture, and did I mention the food? At the end of the week and the pilgrimage to find surf in Israel, I didn’t want to leave...
Within 15 minutes of being at the beach in Israel, literally just off the plane, Occy spots a mother and her child being swept out in a rip along a breakwall that bares a striking resemblance to D’bah. Occy had just kicked out from a wave and he spotted them and by the time he got to them they were both unable to keep their heads above water. He pulled them above and with the help of a few other people dragged them both back into the shore. The woman was hysterical and the boy was semi-conscious. The ordeal made national news that night, and the whole country then knew that Billabong was in the country. Occy got invited to the Morning Show a few days later for a live interview and a meeting with the woman he saved. She gave him a trophy she made for him and they hugged and it was amazing.
Our guide described Jerusalem as a place of sharp contrast, and everywhere we looked while there it became more and more apparent. The old city juxtaposed to the new. The different communities mixing together, yet in rather distinct areas. The desert against the city and trees. We wandered through the city for a few hours by foot. We’d pass a loud and busy market then duck through a short maze of corridors and be in the quiet residential area of the old city in seconds. We were able to go to the Holy Sepulchre, which is supposedly the place where Jesus was crucified, washed and buried. Now, Im not religious at all, but to see all the people come and throw themselves at it was a pretty powerful experience to witness.
But, we were there on a different type of pilgrimage. One to find surf. Occy mounted a camel with his surfboard, said where’s the surf? and trotted down the road. And we, his disciples, followed unquestioningly into the middle eastern desert in the search of waves.
On our pilgrimage of surf through the holy lands we came across a sea. Hopeful for waves, we headed down to what is the lowest point on the planet earth. It ended up being more of a glorified lake but it was called the Dead Sea. A hyper-salty body of water that you can lay in and float, and it holds you almost above water. The temperature was a searing 47C and the water wasn’t much cooler. So, to cool our bodies we covered ourselves in Mud from the Dead Sea, which is apparently amazing for your skin, but didn’t do much for the heat. Occy, persistent in his quest for the elusive middle eastern wave, took his board down to the water and paddled out in search of surf. There was a small buoy about 500m off the shore and he decided he’d go for a paddle for a bit of exercise if nothing else. I don’t think the lifeguards were used to seeing people stray out of the netted-off area and started yelling at him to come back over the loudspeaker. Occy, oblivious, was way too far out to hear by that stage. The buoy ended up being a balloon which was blowing across to the other side of the sea, which happened to be Jordan. When he got back to shore the lifeguards snapped at him, about why he didn’t come back when then asked. In the end, the Israeli military were calling up the lifeguards and were about to be dispatched, because Occy almost paddled across the international border to Jordan.
Arthur, who runs a surf shop in the heart of Tel Aviv, runs a program called Waves for Peace. The idea of the program is to breach gaps between the Arab and Jewish communities with the common ground of surfing. There has been tensions between the two communities for decades and the aim is to use surfing and the ocean to break down barriers and provide a platform for the two to mingle, and hopefully improve.
Arthur, along with his good friend, the late surfing legend Doc Paskowitz, launched this initiative some years ago. They managed, with no permits or plans or inside help, to get a collection of donated surfboards into the heavily militarised and conflicted zone of the Gaza strip and planted the seed for a surf community there.
While we were there, Billabong took a few soft top boards to a small Arab shanty community an hour outside Tel Aviv and donated them to the locals, in hope of providing them with a means to generate income and tourism in their region, which hosts one of the better right points in Israel on its day. It was flat when we were there, but Occy and Creed pushed the young grommets around the small harbour, teaching them to stand, and they were all so pumped they didn’t want to come back in.
The surf felt a little bit like we were in the Endless summer movie where they say, "you should have been here yesterday.” Besides the first day when Occy heroically saved the woman in one foot waves, it was dead flat for most of the trip. Not that that was a problem, as we had plenty to do in that beautiful country. However, on the final day we were there a three foot wind swell rocked up and the boys surfed all day. Billabong put on a “No Thruster” Event and Log event on the day, too. Tyler ended up winning the shortboard component and coming second in the Log event.
Down the beach were crumbly but punchy three foot peaks with the occasional ramp, and Creed surfed there with 50 of his best mates. The beach culture and surf froth in Israel blew us away. The sheer numbers and enthusiasm was not exactly what we expected, but it was cool to see such a vibrant collection of humans excited to go surf.
During the stay, Tyler had an art show of his paintings at a radical bar in the heart of Tel Aviv. Heaps of crew turned up, and he sold all of them within the first half an hour. He was later invited to shape a board on the street outside Arthur’s surf shop, also in the heart of Tel Aviv. A lot of the Israeli shapers came and watched and talked shop with Tyler while he carved out a thruster, which he donated to the Legend Asaf who showed us around and took care of us all around Israel during our stay – often til the wee hours of the night. Thanks Asaf, you legend!