In April of 2008, aspiring filmmaker Alexander Klein, 27, flew to Israel with three friends and a couple of cameras with the goal of making a surf documentary.
"The idea sounded so strange that the people in customs had to believe us," he says.
Their goal was to chronicle the efforts of the non-governmental organization, Surfing 4 Peace, to bring 23 donated surfboards into Gaza and, if possible, share some waves with the small Palestinian surf community. Living on a steady diet of hummus, they filmed for two eye-opening months where they bargained with generals, visited bombed-out border towns, were nearly shot at a military check point, and dealt with the ever-present fear of rocket attacks by militants. The finished product is called God Went Surfing With The Devil and will be premiering on the film festival circuit this summer.
We caught up with Klein to get the inside scoop on the upcoming feature film.
How did you decide to call the film "God Went Surfing with the Devil"?
It's actually a quote from Dorian "Doc" Paskowitz who is an 87-year-old surf legend in Israel and one of the co-founders of Surfing 4 Peace. He said, "God will surf with the Devil if the waves are good." And I thought it was a good metaphor for how surfing can bring people together.
Where did you get the idea to make this film?
I met Arthur Rashkovan, the other co-founder of Surfing 4 Peace on a skate trip in 2004. We kept in touch over the years and when he told me he was trying to get boards to Gaza, it really struck me. I mean, here are combat guys who are our age, who could literally be fighting each other, but instead, they are rejecting rifles and picking up surfboards.
I knew it was going to be a difficult endeavor to bring 23 boards into Gaza and it seemed like the project might have a lot of drama and adventure. As it turned out, it had both.
It sounds a bit like "Mission Impossible."
There is certainly that element to the story, but it's not like we are tunneling into Gaza with a bunch of surfboards. Really, the film is about conflict as seen through the lens of surfing.
What's the surf scene like in Gaza as compared to the rest of Israel?
It's a lot more primitive in Gaza because they have fairly limited economic means and very limited access to goods and especially media. They don't have surf shops or videos or magazines. I mean, when we were there, they didn't even have gasoline, much less surfing magazines.
The surf scene is basically fifteen to twenty guys ranging in age from ten years old, all the way up to their thirties. They have a couple shortboards that people have left behind and a bunch of longboards that they have fashioned from wind-surfing boards by taking the straps off and sticking fins in them. They use rope for leashes, and they just got wetsuits from Surfing 4 Peace. A lot of times they didn't even have surf trunks, they were just in cut off jeans.
Does it ever get tense in the water?
No. What's really awesome is that there is such a bond between the guys, because they are literally the first surfers in the entire country. They all share boards and they are just so stoked on each other. All the lame things about surfing like vibing and dropping in don't exist. They all try to catch the same wave and then surf toward each other and high five or link arms and hold hands. They are really stoked on the purest aspects of surfing and that was cool to see.
What was it like trying to get the boards to Gaza?
The boards were collected by a California-based project called Gaza Surf Relief. Then they were supposed to be shipped from Los Angeles to Tel Aviv but it quickly turned into an ordeal. Basically everything that could go wrong, went wrong.
What was the most difficult part of the process?
Getting the boards from Israel into Gaza. Israel has a policy right now that says only humanitarian goods are allowed into Gaza. Obviously, that was a problem because surfboards aren't necessary to live. But the guys from Surfing 4 Peace argued that recreation is a huge part of people's lives, and it's a wonderful, peaceful activity that not only helps people, it also poses no risk to others. It was a huge battle trying to convince a room full of generals that these surfboards did not pose a military risk to them.
So did you eventually get the boards into Gaza?
You've got to see the film to find out.