Surfing in Gaza

Surfing in Gaza…..?  Yes.

No pictures needed for this blog post.

I’m sitting listening to Jeremy Grange’s piece on The Gaza Surf Club on Radio 4. Its radio doing what radio does best: conjuring up images more detailed than any photo. And its insightful and inspiring stuff.

Violence and conflict have never been very far from the tiny Palestinian territory of Gaza. Damaged buildings and empty spaces in Gaza City still bear witness to Operation Cast Lead, the Israeli military attack on the territory four years ago. Today, militants launch rockets from Gaza over the border and Israeli helicopter gunships return fire. The people of Gaza are hemmed in by checkpoints and walls, fences and watchtowers and few are able to leave the territory or to import and export goods.

But one thing Gaza does have in its favour is the sea. Long sandy beaches stretch right down the territory’s west coast and on summer weekends it seems that most of Gaza’s one-and-a half million residents are enjoying themselves on the beach. And that’s where you’ll find members of the Gaza Surf Club, a group of young Palestinians who defy both the Israeli blockade and a sea that’s often polluted with raw sewage to ride the waves off the coast of this troubled territory.

In Gaza Surf Club we meet Mahmoud El Reyashi, Yousef Abo Ghanem and Ibrahim Nehad, three members of the Club in their teens and early twenties who take their boards, turn their backs on the land with its hardships, politics and conflict, and immerse themselves in the surf. In Gaza the unemployment rate is 44% and the average per capita income is just $2 a day. Young men are vulnerable to being drawn into a cycle of radicalism and violence but Mahmoud, Yousef and Ibrahim have defied this, finding in surfing freedom, optimism and even hope for the future.

One source of hope is the fact that many of the boards they use were originally donated by Israelis and Jews who believe that surfing transcends national and religious barriers. We meet surfing legend Dorian ‘Doc’ Paskowitz, a 91 year old Jewish-American who in 2007 arrived at the Erez border crossing, the main Israeli checkpoint into Gaza, with fifteen surfboards. He’d been inspired to travel the twelve thousand miles from his home in California by a newspaper picture of two Palestinians surfers sharing one beaten-up old surfboard between them. Fifty years earlier Doc Paskowitz had brought surfing to Israel and now he was doing the same for Gaza.

It’s a very moving piece and worth 28 minutes of your time to have a listen in my humble opinion. Should be here on iPlayerRadio soon.

  • Alice C. Macchi

    I remember seeing this exhibit two years ago – it was really nice http://www.parallelozero.com/visual_rep.php?cod=572

  • barbara cook

    oh my g! i’ve been looking for Somewhere i could feedback about this programme to radio 4 , friends , etc. ! i’ve managed to find one small link which i filled in to bbc radio 4, urged friends to share on facebook and now i’ve found this connected to the i-player page , – i’m presuming you are the makers of the programme..?.
    – well, to you , i’d like to say this has been my FAVOURITE RADIO PROGRAMME OF THE YEAR!!!!! TRULY!

    i’ve Loved this programme on so many levels , … it’s ability to re-establish optimism as we’re constantly weighed down with negativity and stereotypes..,it’s ability to give insight into a way of life in such a compassionate and accessible way; it’s ability to jolt us out from the limitted views we have of a place with it’s gentle force of inspiration; it’s gentleness and humility; the people it let me meet and care about from my home far away.

    if there is any award i could nominate this programme for i’d love to do so – first thoughts for : top documentary of the year. top piece to encourage understanding and peace between nations ; top creative documentary . – while we’re at it lets give the nobel peace prize to Doc Paskowitz .

    I have also loved it as a creative piece of work, the way it was put together , the pace and rhythm, the use of sound and music – i should think by now you can tell i really liked it . YESSS i did . I received it like a gift on monday and it is still resounding around me three days later – Thank You So Much and Well Done!

    • Barbara thanks for the response. I wish I could take credit for its creation, but its the work of Jeremy Grange! I was merely a moved listener.

      I absolutely agree with every word you say. It was a wonderful piece of radio, profoundly moving and inspiring too.

      Tell your friends!!

John MacPherson was born and lives in the Scottish Highlands. He trained as a welder in the Glasgow shipyards, before completing an apprenticeship as a carpenter, and then qualified as a Social Worker in Disability Services. Along the way he has cooked on canal barges, trained as an Alpine Ski Leader & worked as an Instructor for Skiers with disabilities, been a canoe instructor, and tutor of night classes in carpentry, stained glass design and manufacture, and archery. He has travelled extensively on various continents, undertaking solo trips by bicycle, or motorcycle. He has had narrow escapes from an ambush by terrorists, been hit by lightning, caught in an erupting volcano, trapped in a mobile home by a tornado, kidnapped by a dog's hairdresser, rammed by a basking shark and was once bitten by a wild otter. He has combined all this with professional photography, which he has practised for over 35 years. He teaches photography and acts as a photography guide & tutor in the UK and abroad. His biggest challenge is keeping his 27 year old Land Rover 110 on the road. He loves telling and hearing stories.

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