A day in the life of a Gazan surfer

A story of rare hope and the kind I wish I read more about.

The National publishes a piece about surfing in Gaza, of all places, and the surfers in Israel and America that want to help Gazans experience the global sport. We often hear about attempts at understanding but this is the real deal, with all the associated difficulties, not least the Israeli and Egyptian-led blockade. Somehow, surfing lives on:

It took Mahmoud El Reyashi nearly a year to get it right. At first he just imitated the surfers he’d seen on television. The swells would roll in from the deceptively powerful Mediterranean toward the shore, where they would break sometimes into decent waves, and in the beginning, he couldn’t get anywhere on the beat-up boards he used. There were other surfers to watch in the water, guys who’d bought a couple boards from a second-hand shop in Israel in the mid-90s, and they taught him things. He practiced. First he could only stand for two metres, then five, then ten. But on one summer day in 2005, when the sea was good, he stood up and he stayed up. He was 16 years old, and after he’d ridden the wave to shore, he dashed home, to a three-storey building 100 meters from the beach in jam-packed Gaza City.
“Come and look,” he cried to any of the 29 family members in the house who might hear him. “I can make it. I can do it.”

Most of them followed him back, uncles and brothers running video cameras, snapping photos. He paddled out again, stood up, rode another. He saw people standing on the beach watching him. He felt like a hero, like a star. It was one of the best days of his life…

Gaza is, among other things, a natural place to surf. Waves that build across 3,000 miles of the Mediterranean break on its beaches with surprising frequency and occasional intensity.

I didn’t see anybody surfing during my recent visit to Gaza, but I certainly saw a popular beach always over-run with families.

Text and images ©2024 Antony Loewenstein. All rights reserved.

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