By Adina Laufer
Hanging ten on blue and white waves
Winter or summer, Israeli beaches offer just the right conditions for some 'epic' surfing. If you've never surfed in the sea, Israel should be your trial destination.
If you've never surfed in the sea, Israel should be your trial destination. With a 300-kilometer stretch of sandy beaches, and a sea that is virtually seaweed- and shark-free, Israel is a great spot for beginner surfers, say the country's experts.
"The water's warm and you only have to worry about a couple of weeks of jellyfish in July," says Nir Almog, a member of Israel's founding surfing family. "We've got soft, weak waves and you can surf absolutely anywhere. You can't find that everywhere in the world." Almog's father, Tel Aviv lifeguard Shamai "Topsi" Kanzapolski, was recruited by Dorian Paskowitz, a California doctor who came to Israel in the 1950s and wanted to create Israeli surfing champions. Paskowitz brought six long boards made partially of balsa wood, each depicting the blue-and-white Israeli flag. At that time, lifeguards were catching the waves with the Hasake, a flat, wide board that had initially been used for near-shore fishing by Arab fishermen. The lifeguards and other locals began using Paskowitz's boards, and slowly a surfing tradition began, with Almog junior riding along with his father.
The Tel Aviv waves were very high in those days, and would break right on the beach due to a lack of piers, creating a fairly dangerous setting for surfing. Subsequent property development along the beachfront helped to create safer conditions, and now Tel Aviv locals can easily stay put for decent surfing, says Almog, who tends to surf along his city's shores. Beyond Tel Aviv, there's surfing to be had in all the major beach towns and cities, from Herzliya to Haifa, Netanya, Ashkelon and even Gaza.
Surf the water, not the Net
What's more, Israel also offers year round surfing, given the relatively mild Israeli winter conditions in the country's center, where many of the surfing beaches are located. During the infrequent heavy winter rainstorms, the sea's waves are higher and that's when the surfing swells and local surfing stars show up, says Orian Kanzapolski, Topsi's youngest son. He's also a surfer and owner of Topsea, a Tel Aviv surfing school quirkily named after his father.
The water temperature in the Mediterranean varies from winter to summer. During the hot summers, temperatures can rise as high as 82 to 84 degrees Fahrenheit (28 to 29 Celsius), while the winter waters cool down to some 57 degrees (14 Celsius). Wave heights also vary, with summer waves ranging from about one and a half to three feet (0.5-1 meters) on medium surfing days, and early mornings consistently offering the best swells, with waves "breaking long and perfect," in Almog's words. Fall and winter swells can reach from six to 10 feet (2-3 meters), which is the time for the more experienced Israeli surfers to hit the waves.
"When I was a kid, we had to convince parents to bring their kids to learn how to surf," Orian recalls. "Now it's the opposite. Moms are trying to convince their kids to surf the water instead of the Internet. It's more mainstream."
With its long sandy beaches, shark-free seas, and great surf, Israel is becoming an increasingly popular surfing destination (Photo courtesy www.goisrael.com)
Surfing in Israel has become more popular because of these welcoming conditions, says Orian, explaining that given the relatively mild waves, Israeli waves are especially suitable for beginners. As more people have become interested in the sport, the number of surfing schools has grown, particularly during summer and winter vacations, when they offer special courses for kids and their parents. The Kanzapolski brothers estimate that there are some 30,000 surfers in Israel, about 20 surf shops and about two dozen surf schools.
No surfing stars, yet
Both Almog and his younger sibling helped to found the fledgling industry, after following in their father's footsteps, mastering the Tel Aviv waves and creating businesses built around the seaside sport. Their father first began making surfboards in a small shack on the Hilton beach in Tel Aviv that doubled as his makeshift store. The business and the sport received a boost when an army sergeant and fellow surfer told Topsi about a new material being used by the army, called polyurethane, which would be easier to mold and use than wood in surfboard production. It was the early 1970s, and Topsi began using polyurethane for the surfboards that he made, sold and rented to local kids. When Almog finished his army service, he apprenticed at a boat shop, learning how to work with fiberglass, and eventually opened Intersurf, his company that manufactures and sells surfboards in Israel. His younger brother, Orian, went in a different direction, opening a surfing school in Tel Aviv. What unites all the local surfing enthusiasts is their thrall and love for the still recreational sport of surfing. "There are some very good surfers in Israel but they don't surf for prizes," says Kanzapolski. "They love surfing as a sport, and they love the water."
For now, there's little money in Israel for surfing as a sport, and both Kanzapolski and Almog say it's a recreational experience, in which learning is encouraged and newcomers are welcome. While there are some local celebrities, such as Adi Gluska, who trains on the O'Neill Europe junior team and Gili Zilka, another well-known local surfer, there aren't yet any career surfers and scant media attention is paid to the sport.
What is changing is the number of people falling in love with surfing and wanting to learn how to surf up and down Israel's coast during all seasons. Almog notes that while many people try the sport once or twice, only a small number stick with it. Living near the sea is one necessity and even when one does, the water doesn't always oblige.
Scouting out the best waves
Still, surfing is considered a "cool" sport and with the combination of the popularity of the clothing, increasingly attractive surfboards and the freestyle surfing spirit, demand has grown. More surfing schools are opening and a "surfing scene" is emerging, with more people buying surf-style clothing or heading to the beach on the weekend to watch the fledgling surfers, if not to surf themselves. Most important to surfers is determining which beaches offer the best waves.
In Tel Aviv proper, locals like Orian and Nir Almog prefer the two Hilton beaches, named for the hotel towering above that particular stretch of sand. With two jetties that protect the waves from incoming currents, the beach offers one of the best reef breaks in Israel, holding swells ranging from one to seven feet that become stronger closer to shore. The Hilton Bet shore, also known as Topsy in honor of Israel's first surfer, is a break that is similar to the one on the other Hilton beach, but with a slightly different reef that tends to be less crowded. According to local surfers, the break often performs better in small to medium swell conditions. At the southern end of the Tel Aviv beach is the Dolphinarium Beach, named for an old dolphin tank now used as a nightclub. It offers decent surfing conditions during the summer months and even better conditions during the winter. Known also as the "Drummers Beach" because drummers, free-style dancers and jugglers tend to congregate there late on Friday afternoons, this beach offers great waves from the northwest with good surfing during all stages of the tide.
Almog favors Herzliya's Zvulun and Dabush beaches in both summer and winter, that offer good surfing conditions early in the morning when there's a southern wind blowing. His especially likes Marina Beach, just south of the Herzliya marina, which is also home to the yachting crowd. As Herzliya's southernmost beach, it sits between the marina and the first of the three Herzliya wave breakers, creating very ridable waves. "It works the best when there are northern winds," says Almog, and particularly during the dark, early mornings in winter, around five o'clock for 'dawn patrol,' when all is silent except for the surfers riding the crashing waves.
Literally "riding a bomb"
Up the coast from Herzliya are the eight miles of Netanya beaches that generally don't receive the highest of marks from the surfer dudes, but are considered "okay for surfing," says Almog. The Kontiki and Sironit beaches are an open stretch of beach in which the sand moves all the time, making it a more fickle surf spot. At the same time, Netanya Beach is a major site for sailing, diving and snorkeling, and there's plenty of space to paraglide and parachute off the Netanya cliffs.
The Caesarea strip of beachfront is divided into three major spots, including the Shonit, Sdot Yam and Arubot beaches. Orian Kanzapolski's favorite spot is Arubot, located near some major wind turbines, where surfers ignore the Do Not Enter signs and make their way down to the beach for some of the best Israeli surfing.
Farther north brings surfers to Haifa Bay, where the popular Backdoor and Casino surf spots are located on the Bat Galim (Hebrew for "Daughter of Waves") beach on the southern tip of the bay. They're considered excellent surfing beaches, particularly during the winter when storms create strong southwest winds offshore. Protected by two jetties, Backdoor has a moss-covered reef break that makes it a soft landing for surfing bodies. And with a hollow right wave, it has gained the reputation as the best tube-riding wave in the country.
At the other end of the coastline, Ashkelon has always been a surfers' spot for its locals, but is a newer beach destination for the rest of the country. Goote Beach is considered the best surf spot in this southern beach town, with jetties around the marina that make the waves smaller, and a break just south of the marina that holds great waves during rare winter storms. Surfing in Ashkelon has been affected in recent years by rockets launched from Gaza, an ironic turn of events given that surfing lingo for catching a big wave is called "riding a bomb."
Finally, there are the waves of Gaza, which has some 50 or 60 surfers compared with the 30,000 in Israel. The previously mentioned Doc Paskowitz, along with his sons David, Josh, and Jonathan, headed for the Gaza border a few years back to deliver some surfboards. Now Explore Corps and Surfing4Peace have sent surfboards and wetsuits to the 20 or so Palestinian wave riders. The Gaza Surf Club is situated on the beach at Sheikh Khazdein, a beachfront neighborhood in southern Gaza City, which is the place where surfers hang out on Friday afternoons in the Gaza Strip.
And so, north or south, winter or summer, there are almost always some waves to ride in Israel. They're not always "crackin'," but are fairly "epic," according to reliable surfing sources, who promise that it is definitely possible to "hang ten" on a surfboard on blue and white waves.
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