A bad day in the surf normally means a nasty wipeout, a broken board, an argument with a thug, an injury (like a cut or a broken bone) or a selfish drop-in. In all your worst nightmares could you imagine a bad day in the surf involving blokes with automatic weapons turning up, just when the waves are good, to drag you away or worse? In this addition to the WAVES OF PAIN series a fanatical Israeli surfer describes a really bad day at the beach.
It’s funny. Most people think of the Middle East as being perpetually hot. It’s not. Winters can be cold. We even get lots of snow in the mountains. Well, the ski resorts in here Israel aren’t brilliant but the mountains in Lebanon, up north, are huge, and covered with snow! Unfortunately, for Israeli surfers, our summer waves are often small, wind-blown and crappy. Winters, on the other hand, may be cold, but that is when the waves get bigger, cleaner and sometimes really fucking good!
I have a story about a typical Israeli winter’s day at the beach that shows how typical Israeli beach days are quite unlike beach days in other parts of the world. This day was a cold and bright day but with good waves. Very good waves. This was a day that I intended to be one of the first into the water and one of the last out despite the twelve-degree air temperature. It didn’t turn out quite that way.
“We dont get that many great surfing days in Israel”
In my line of work, I am posted a million miles away from the beach for stretches of sixteen days at a time. Every sixteen days I get five days of leave from my job and that means I travel to my hometown and hover by the beach for the whole five days. We don’t get that many great surfing days in Israel and, if you love surfing as much as I do, you don’t let any opportunities to surf great waves slip away.
I digress. Back to the story. In recent days the surf at my home beach had been pumping and I was buggered if I was going to miss a moment of it. I swear, some days recently I had surfed for twelve… maybe fourteen hours per day. My level of stoke was sky high (this had been the first time in years I had had the chance to surf great waves, day after day) in contrast to my last twelve months which had been shithouse in the extreme. Continuous surf stoke had lifted my mood to joy in contrast to recent bleak depression and anxiety.
On this cold and wintery desert morning there was never any question about what I was going to do. I knew the surf would be good again, so I was going to spend the entire day surfing. I only live a ten-minute walk from the beach, so, being winter, I pulled on my long-john wetsuit at home, put a thick hoody sweater-top over the top of the wetty, grabbed my stick, and jogged to the beach.
“The surf rats all come out from the woodwork”
The waves were every bit as good as I had hoped they would be. Other than the cold the only other problem was that there were about fifty surfers already scrapping for waves on the best sand bank. When the surf is good in Israel, getting waves is a bit like trying to surf at The Pass (in Byron Bay) during a cyclone swell. The surf rats all come out of the woodwork. You must fight and hussle for every wave. Fortunately for me, I am an aggressive bugger and one of the high-profile locals in the pecking order at this break so while all the hassling is a pain in the arse, I always get my share.
I ripped off my hoody and tossed it under the stairs that lead to the beach, sprinted down the sand and into the icy cold water. After two and a half hours of ripping the crap out of the super fun waves my teeth were chattering and I felt like the cold was seeping into my bones so I figured it was time to grab something to eat, warm up a bit, then prepare myself for another incredible surfing session in the middle of the day. Things couldn’t have been better, really. After the shittiest six months of my life (work problems had been causing severe physical and stress-related illnesses) I was having the time of my life and the surf gods were serving up the best waves I had ever experienced here in Israel! I was feeling happy and relaxed for what felt like the first time since Noah came down from the Ark.
My bliss was about to evaporate in an extreme and unexpected way. No. It wasn’t a shark. It wasn’t a bomb set landing on my head. It wasn’t a broken surfboard. It wasn’t a stinging jellyfish. It wasn’t a 6’ 9” local thug dropping in on me who I would have to fight to preserve my honour. It wasn’t any of those typical bad things that can happen to you at the beach to piss you off. Just as I was about to paddle in, I noticed an army jeep pull up on the road next to the beach. Out of the jeep hopped two soldiers carrying automatic weapons. The two soldiers immediately started staring out into the surf, checking out the surfers, obviously looking for someone. My great day just got really really crap… because I knew that those blokes were looking for me.
How did I know that they were looking for me? Well, the thing is, I was the only surfer in the water who was a soldier in the Israeli army and had weeks earlier done a runner from my base in the West Bank. For the first time ever, I was glad that there were fifty or sixty other surf rats crowded around the one bank. From several hundred meters away, the soldiers had no hope of picking me out of the mob.
I had a choice to make. Was I going to allow myself to be arrested here at the beach and bundled off to prison, freezing cold, in a wet suit or should I do another runner, try to sneak home where I could have a shower, get on some warm clothes and force the military police to come and find me there. Easy choice. The army had been making my life miserable for months, despite my dedicated service, so I was buggered if I was going to make life easy for them today. But how was I going to get away? The moment I walked up the beach they would either spot me… or spot my distinctive surfboard that was emblazed with a famous military slogan. I was stuffed!
A cunning plan!
I explained the problem to one of my mates in the water and he came up with a cunning plan. He suggested I paddle a few hundred meters down the beach and out and around a rocky breakwater where I could leave the water without being seen. Then I could sneak up the beach, swap surfboards and hoody tops with him and try to sneak past the soldiers “in disguise.”
Even though this all happened years ago I can still remember every moment like it was yesterday. I especially remember how I purposefully (but with my head down) strode right past and under the noses of the two soldiers who were still scanning the surfers in the water then sprinted up the stairs and away from the beach. If those guys had known that my heart had been beating at around 190 beats per minute as I walked past them, they might have thought to look at me just a little bit closer than they did.
How I avoided arrest back at home is another story better left for another time. Suffice it to say that I turned myself in to the military police a few weeks later (after many more militarily unsanctioned surfing sessions), spent several days in jail then was released by a magistrate after being found not-guilty of desertion by the court courtesy of evidence I was able to provide of the mistreatment and abuse I had been receiving at the hands of my commanding officer (my thoughtful and supportive mother had been smart enough to turn on the recording device on her phone to catch my CO unleashing a torrent of abuse at me as I lay in a hospital bed some months before). Most women who serve in the Israeli military work in supportive roles and serve the minimum two years. I, unusually, signed up for a full three years of service in a combat unit where I passed my basic training and commander school training with highest military honours. Luckily for me, the magistrate who handled my case, found it disgraceful that a soldier with a distinguished record of service could be treated so poorly by a commanding officer whose responsibility was to support his team. I was even paid compensation for the days I spent locked up in the military prison! I have had lots of bad days in the surf. I have been beaten up in Sri Lanka. I have broken my nose in the Philippines… twice. I have gotten into fights all over the world – because I am a woman who refuses to be bullied. I have had broken surfboards, broken bones, broken leg-ropes and even broken relationships because of surfing. In truth, none of these things come even closing to putting a dampener on the joy that I have experienced through my surfing life. Having a couple of blokes armed to the teeth with automatic weapons turning up at my beach to drag me off to prison, however, stands out as a pretty dodgy day.