The look on our hotel-keeper's face speaks volumes. Instead of speaking to us, he turns to his young co-worker and says, "They came all the way from America to surf. In Israel! I tell them, 'Why you come here? There is no surfing in Israel.'"
We heard it at the airport. The rental car place. Even before we left. Surfing in Israel? For our little crew — Santa Cruz surfers Peter Garaway and Josh Mulcoy, and Floridian Alek Parker, along with SURFING TV's Jessica Garaway, filmer Jerry Ricciotti, and SURFING photographer Nate Lawrence — we must have faith. Which is one thing this region has plenty of. All flavors.
"Tomorrow," the hotelman continues, pointing to the fierce wind gusting the streets of Tel Aviv outside, "tomorrow there will be waves."
We are reminded of what local pro surfer and our local connection Adi Gluska told us upon arrival. "In Israel," he said, "we surf when the storm is on top of us."
"Do you know where the second best wave in Israel is?" asks the hotelman's younger co-worker, his eyebrow a symbol of unification. "In Gaza," he smirks. "The Gaza Strip."
"Wasn't there some trouble there today?" we ask.
"Yes," he says. "25 dead."
"No," his partner says. "It's 30 now."
Both men bow their heads and return to their work — a jaded frustration stretched across their faces.
The storm is definitely on top of Israel now. The windows are rattling. The once-placid seas are raging. The worst fighting ever in Gaza. A suicide bomb in nearby Eliat: three dead. And tomorrow, tomorrow there will be waves.
Everyone told us not to go here. Too many bombs. Terrorists. Middle Eastern madness and political unrest. But Israel is not like that at all. In many ways, it feels safer here than in LA. There is almost no petty crime. Virtually every citizen has served in the army and is patriotic and upstanding, not to mention armed and dangerous. There is little poverty. Little pollution. Everyone speaks three languages and is incredibly friendly. The national airline, El Al, screened our baggage before passing it along to the TSA for their screening. They have never once had a terrorist incident. And they are very careful. The flight was smooth and comfortable, among the finest airlines we've ever flown. The customs was efficient and simple. No hassle whatsoever. The hotels in Tel Aviv are clean and plentiful, and our hotelkeepers at the beachfront Abratel Suites are pleased to assist us in our surfing adventures, showing us daily surf reports and each day asking how we fared. Everybody here, they're stoked we came.
"Where are you from?" the surfers in the lineup all ask.
"California," we say ("USA" carries a weird stigma, and the OC sounds so much more pleasant than Bush-land).
"Really?" they say. "Welcome to Israel. But why would you come here? Your waves are so much better."
You will not find bad vibes in the lineup here. You just won't. Even when conditions are severely tossed and eggy, they are smiling for opportunity to surf.
The Mediterranean has very little fetch, so swell period is, well, non-existent. Surfing is non-stop excitement. No waiting for sets, just duck-diving and then more duck-diving. But when the right reform finds you, it's surprisingly fun. Long down-the-line rides and a quick rip-ride back to the peak… or, uh, peak-like-area.
"We are just croutons in the soup," a local laughed to us in the tossed salad lineup.
A fitting metaphor.
Another thing we hear often is: "Tomorrow," every surfer tells us. "Tomorrow the surf will be better."
Today is tomorrow. And yes, I guess, the surf is a bit better. Sorta. We've only been here four days so far. Just enough to conquer our eastbound jetlag. So it's hard to gauge what's what. We keep asking, and they say, "This is Israel. Whenever there are any waves, we thank god." The storms are lining up though, and we're hard at "work" making surf stories to bring back home. There is much local culture to find, so stay tuned as we continue to report from this trip. In the meantime, here are a few things we've learned about Israel so far:
-If you paddle for a wave and miss – turn and duckdive immediately.
-Every swell has only one set, and it lasts about two days.
-Israeli surfers are friendly.
-Hummus makes you fart.
-Every single building is equipped with a bomb shelter. Is that good news or bad news? Hmmm.
-Tel Aviv traffic can ruin your session.
-Hummus makes your pee smell funny.
-This country is small; about the size of Rhode Island. You can check the entire coast in one day. But don't do that.
-Don't watch swell, watch the wind. Wind equals waves here, immediately.
-This land is sacred ground to Christians, Jews and Muslims alike. Israel is the center of the "cradle of the world". Hence all the bomb-related bickering.
-Hummus is good.
Special thanks to the Israel Board of Tourism, El Al airlines and the Abratel Suites Hotel, www.abratelsuiteshotel.com the best place to stay in Tel Aviv!