Geriatric Jewish surfer brings boards to Palestinians

An 86-year-old Jewish surfing guru from Hawaii is bringing good vibrations to the impoverished Gaza Strip.

Dorian Paskowitz, a retired doctor and Stanford University graduate who has been surfing for 75 years, donated 12 surfboards to Gaza’s small surfing community last month in a novel gesture to promote peace between Israelis and Palestinians.

“God will surf with the devil if the waves are good,” Paskowitz said. “When a surfer sees another surfer with a board, he can’t help but say something that brings them together.”

Tanned and shirtless, Paskowitz emerged grinning at the Israel-Gaza border crossing after handing over the dozen boards to Palestinian surfers waiting on the other side.

He said he was inspired after reading a story about two Gaza surfers who could not enjoy the wild waves off the coastal strip because they had only one board to share between them.

So I said to my son, ‘Come, we’ll go to Israel and get them some boards.'” He described his mission as a “mitzvah.”

Arthur Rashkovan, a 28-year-old surfer from Tel Aviv, said Paskowitz’s project was part of a larger effort called “Surfing for Peace,” aimed at bringing Middle Eastern surfers closer together. He said eight-time world surfing champion Kelly Slater, who is of Syrian descent, is expected in Israel in October to take part in the drive.

“We want Palestinians to enjoy the surfing experience. We believe it brings people together,” Rashkovan said. “The idea is for people to forget about the violence and follow the journey to peace on the waves.”

That appears to be exactly what happened to would-be surfers Ahmed Abu Hassira, 28, and Mohammed Abu Jayyad, 34 on Gaza beach. “You imagine!” Ahmed told Agence France-Presse, displaying his new board and T-shirt. “An American Jew heard about us while reading the magazine in … Where was it? Ah yes, Hawaii. And he came here to give us the boards. It’s madness.”

Paskowitz is venerated by Israeli surfers as the man who brought the sport to the Jewish state in 1956 during a war between Israel and Egypt. He tried to join the Israeli military, but was turned down. So he surfed off the coast of Tel Aviv instead, where he was mobbed by Israelis charmed by the strange sight of a man riding the waves standing upright on a board.

The father of nine served in the Navy during World War II, practiced family medicine for more than half a century and has published books on surfing and health. He has surfed for 75 years all over the world, and ranks the waves off the Israeli and Gaza coasts as among the world’s best.