Image Yarden Paula L / Words by Jamie Tierney
Few people know that Israel boasts a thriving surf scene. The late legendary Dr Dorian Paskowitz introduced wave riding to the Holy Land in 1956 and dreamed of a day when he would see Arabs and Jews surfing together. While Paskowitz’s dreams of peaceful coexistence have yet to be realized, he would be proud to know that his efforts led to Israel’s first WQS contest last week.
The SEAT Pro Netanya, held a short distance north of Tel Aviv, went off in fun chunky surf. Brazilian journeyman Pedro Henrique and French beauty Maud Le Car won the men’s and women’s divisions, and all the competitors were stoked to surf waves that for the most part were better than what they find in frequent haunts like Huntington Beach or Sao Paulo. Even the one and only Ozzy Wright, who you normally wouldn’t find anywhere near a surf comp, traveled to Israel from Australia and won his round one heat on a twin fin.
Many Israeli surfers also entered the contest, and locals Vladimir Merlis and Alon Evron both posted highly respectable 9th place finishes. We caught up with Vladimir, a powerful goofyfoot, to find out more about surfing in Israeli and some of the unique challenges he faces. Many of the world’s surf destinations lie in Islamic countries that he is forbidden to visit. Imagine being blocked from the Mentawai trip of your dreams because of your religion and nationality and you’ll get an idea of what Vladimir is up against.
How did you get into surfing and when did you realize that you wanted to be a professional?
I started surfing at the age of 12. I was following my big brother who found an old surfboard, and I decided to try it too. I went with him to the beach and immediately fell in love with surfing. After I started practicing, people around me told me I had a really good surfing style and I became interested in surfing competitions to try my luck.
Did your friends and family think you were crazy to think you could be a pro surfer from Israel?
Friends and family believed that I could compete and become a professional because of my surfing capabilities. I received a lot of compliments back then up until today that I am one of the greatest surfers in Israel who can really succeed in competitions abroad.
What’s the surf scene like in Israel? How does it compare to other places you’ve been?
The surfing scene in Israel is really big and growing all the time! A lot of surfers—young and old—love surfing and the ocean in general. The Israeli surfing organization is headed by Yossi Zamir, a good surfer himself, which builds and contributes to the scene without stopping and makes it very enjoyable. The scene here continues to grow and develop, and definitely adapts to other surfing scenes I’ve seen.
How were the waves for the contest?
On the first day of the competition the waves were not so easy- strong winds and the sea was rough, but the second day and the final day, the waves were good and perfect for the contest.
What does this contest mean for Israeli surfing?
This is a very great honor and very important to Israeli surfing. It’s the first time that the QS competition came to Israel and we hope that this is not the last time and hopefully will happen every year.
Did the international competitors have a good time in your country? Do you think they found it different than they expected it to be?
The pro competitors really enjoyed themselves and realized that the scene in Israel is much greater and fun than they thought it would be. They were surprised by the waves in Israel, and the Israeli audience lifted their mood and cheered them with a lot of love and respect.
Who are the best surfers in Israel? How did they do against international competition?
In my opinion, the best surfers in Israel are me, Adi Gluska, Yoni Klein and Moshe Peretz. They showed a good level.
What are the challenges of being an Israeli surfer? Is difficult for you to go to Islamic countries like Indonesia?
It’s very difficult to be an Israeli surfer because we don’t have a lot of waves during the year and because of that it’s difficult for Israeli surfers to train properly. Israeli’s best waves happen during the winter. There are places in the world that we do not have access to like Indonesia because we are Jews, but we try always to enjoy the surf as it is and put the national interest aside.
Dr Dorian Paskowitz, who was the father of surfing in Israel, believed the sport could be a vehicle for peace and understanding. Do you and other Israeli surfers carry on his legacy?
We of course take care to his legacy always. When we are traveling around the world we take care to respect the locals and we always try to make good vibes no matter what is our nationality! Dr Dorian Paskowitz always believed in the Israeli surfing scene, and he always believed that a big competition like the WSL can be in Israel. We couldn’t be more happy that it happened. Although it happened after his death, I’m sure he is watching us from above is and proud. I want to say thanks to my sponsors, Bradley boards and Rhythm for the support and help.