One of the worlds most volatile conflicts is put aside momentarily in the midst of Mediterranean ocean waves. Surfing 4 Peace is an organization that exists to uniquely subdue the long-surviving Arab-Israeli conflict through a community connected by a love of surfing. Surfing as a sport may seem insignificant in the grand scheme of things, but surfing for peace—in a place as war torn and historically conflicted as the Gaza strip—is all but small. In fact, Surfing 4 Peace is one of the only remaining peace initiatives still allowed by the Hamas government in Gaza between Israeli and Palestinian people. Following the creation of this organization, all other peace initiatives were made illegal. Young boys—and as of recent initiatives—young girls, from countries raised in opposition to one another come together to ride waves without discrimination.
The Gaza Strip is a small portion of land that has been a place of conflict since its earliest inhabitants of the 15th Century B.C. It was originally inhabited by a majority of Arab people that made up part of the British Mandate of Palestine. The region, which borders the Mediterranean sea and is wedged between Egypt and Israel, has been a source of conflict among the neighbors. Though its original Palestinian population was strong, Arab-Israeli conflicts have long presented back and forth dispute over this land. Israel gained control of the area after the end of what was deemed the “Six-Day War” in 1967. Israeli personnel was involved in the area up until 2005. Following this year, Israel removed all power, military and settlers from the region -- leaving behind Palestinians and original inhabitants. Now, the land is autonomously run by these settlers that make up the HAMAS government. The regions remains a source of tension amidst the longstanding feud between Arab and Israeli people.
The history of the Gaza Strip is essential to understanding the importance and rarity of an organization, or as they recognize themselves, “community” like Surfing 4 Peace. This collection of surfers began in 2005 following the peak of confusion and dispute among the two populations. This program, though a niche, proves that passion in and of itself is more powerful than indoctrinated hate.
Surfing 4 Peace began with a man named Dorian Paskowitz. He arrived in Israel with one goal: to share this idea that “people who surf together can live together.” World Policy suggested that the goal of this initiative was and is to extend the region’s possibility for long-term stability. The source suggested that the founders of Surfing 4 peace believed that surfing withholds the capacity to unite people and “create lasting friendships, not around politics or religion but around the joys of catching a wave.” It seems that the goal is to reorient the relationship between these feuding groups to recognize that life and relationships are more built on more than simply a foundation of religion and politics. Culture inevitably comes from many different facets, indicating that there is room for commonality among all people from all walks of life.
While the ultimate goal of the organization is to connect people via “beach-culture” and “a shared-surfing experience,” it has not been an altogether simple execution. Conflict has been largely instilled within the governments of Gaza and Israel. Not to mention, surfing is a niche interest, generally expensive, and requires a lot of education to gain momentum in its following for this particular area. Over the years, the “community” struggled to gather boards, move said boards into the country, educate the population about how to ride and why it’s a valuable pastime, all while dealing with less than supportive governments in the Middle East. In 2010, the Hamas in Gaza outlawed all peace initiatives attempting to reconcile relations with Israel. However, by this point, the “Gaza Surf Club” and the Surfing 4 Peace initiative had already been established. Surfing under this incentive started gaining a following and had overcome many hurdles to do with the expensive and difficult nature of the sport.
Despite their niche characterization, the group has extended beyond surfing to coordinate in other ways and with other groups to expand the message. For one, the organization is not limited to Gaza. They run surf workshops in Israel for the youth in the local area. They have been sending delegations of surfers to Hawaii to participate in festivities surrounding surfing. They have introduced new components to the club, including stand-up paddleboarding and longboarding, with events in cities around the world. The community continues to grow and has maintained their intention of not only getting these young people involved in sports, but getting them involved together. Not without its daily challenges, the program persists on a shared passion for something unique that became a much bigger scene in the storyline for peace.
ELEANOR DAINKO is an undergraduate student at the University of Virginia studying Spanish and Latin American Interdisciplinary Studies. She recently finished a semester in Spain, expanding her knowledge of opportunity and culture as it exists around the world. With her passion to change the world and be a more socially conscious person, she is an aspiring entrepreneur with the hopes of attending business school over seas after college.