I just watched a piece on the New York Times by Michael Slackman and Shawn Baldwin on the Gaza Surf community. It stirred up a sense of nostalgia for one of the greatest summers of my life; the one I spent in Gaza in 2005.
I was making my doc on the Disengagement and rented a place right on the beach near the former settlement Hof Dekalim (Palm Beach). I would go into Gaza City to interview Hamas leaders, and then cross back into the settlements to interview settler leaders. I made sure each and every day ended up in the pristine waters of the Gaza beaches.
I rented a cheap suite at a mostly abandoned run down hotel right on the beach. Prices were cheap because of the impending evacuation. Most of the predominantly secular Jewish surfers had already taken the government compensation and left Gaza.
The last remaining die hard surfers hooked us up with some old boards. I remember one of them claiming that 2005 was one of the best surfing summers in recent history. (Generally winter storms churn up the best Mediterranean waves). He thought it was a cruel joke from God (or Murphy and his damn law) that the last summer they could surf there would turn out to be the best one ever.
I remember thinking what a shame it was that the Arab surfers and Jewish surfers couldn't even meet each other in the water, since each tribe was relegated to surfing in their respective beaches.
I also remember how surreal it felt to be surfing in Gaza. Surfing is always an escape, but in Gaza the warm waters felt like returning to the womb. With the constant threat of Qassam rockets looming overhead, I knew the water was the safest place to be. The rocket probably wouldn't detonate in the sea, sparing both myself and the fish from the deadly shrapnel.
Straddling my surfboard in the warm Mediterranean waters, I looked East and saw armed teenage Israeli soldiers trapped in the camouflage netting of a soon to be evacuated army base. Due North, Israeli F-15's swooped over the densely populated Gaza City, frightening a million people at once with a sonic boom. To the South, I saw the smoke clouds rising over the Rafah weapons smuggling tunnels.
But squinting to the West, I saw something different. I saw a perfectly round orange ball flatten and lose its shape as it sunk behind the horizon. Before it retired for the day, the sun decided to put on one last show, spraying fluorescent light on the water, illuminating the faces of the surfers. As energy crashed into the sandy seafloor, hot pink, liquidy bumps rose out of the sea. I heard joyous shrieks from stoked surfers and seagulls serenading one another. Mostly, I heard the quiet. Surfing is so much more than a sport. It is a meditation. On an epic day, whether you live in Hawaii, Israel, or Gaza, the hardest thing to do is leave the water.
The view from my suite in the Palm Beach hotel in Gaza