Could surfing lead to peace in Middle East?

'God will surf with the devil if the waves are good.'

AUTHOR GRANT SHILLING of Cumberland is seen with Dorian (Doc) Paskowitz

AUTHOR GRANT SHILLING of Cumberland is seen with Dorian (Doc) Paskowitz

‘God will surf with the devil if the waves are good.’

The phrase was coined by Dorian (Doc) Paskowitz, the Father of Israeli Surfing and a source of inspiration behind Surfing With The Devil, In Search of Waves and Peace in the Middle East, a second book penned by Cumberland author Grant Shilling.

The recently-released e-book is the culmination of a journey that began in February of 2009 when the writer/artist/surfer hand-delivered a bunch of wetsuits to the Gaza Surf Club. While delighted with the gifts, the Arab, Israeli and Palestinian club members thought Shilling was crazy to surf in 18-degree water in shorts during their winter.

“It was quite a trip to be surfing in the Middle East. Nobody pictures it as a surfing destination,” said Shilling, a street outreach worker at the Dawn to Dawn: Action on Homelessness Society.

Shilling has an interest in acknowledging things before they start happening, such as the emerging surf culture in the Middle East.

The sport has its limitations in Gaza, where he notes a shortage of equipment due to the restrictions that are placed on people’s freedom. But despite the political chaos, life goes on in this corner of the world.

“People want all the same things that we have,” Shilling said. “They’re kind of enslaved by their own masters and by their so-called enemies. But when you start playing together and having fun together you kind of demystify the enemy … It’s less about being a political act and just trying to make one friend at a time.”

While he realizes surfing is not the answer to problems in the Middle East, Shilling recognizes that it can build bridges and create what Paskowitz calls ‘moments of peacefulness.’

“My motto on the trip to the Mid-East was fun beats fundamentalism,” said Shilling, whose trip grew out of a “sense of complete despair” over what’s happening in the region.

“And the only way forward is peace. The greatest percentage of Israelis and Gazans and Palestinians, they want the same things. They want peace, they want to raise their families.

“What people forget here is that they’re both Semites; they’re both very similar people. They’re passionate, they’re hot-headed. You can’t visibly tell a lot of them apart…My Israeli cousins call the Arabs ‘our cousins.’ There’s such a potential for understanding there.”

A year after his trip to Gaza, Shilling ventured to Egypt to meet the surfing Bedouins near Alexandria. Red tape prevented him from bringing Israeli surfer and skateboard champion Arthur Rashkovan, whom he had hoped would create a bond between Israelis and Egyptians.

Like the Gazans, the latter were thrilled with their new equipment and contact with the outside world.

Shilling undertook a third trip in 2011 to Huntington Beach, Calif., during the 10th anniversary of 9/11, to speak to surfers about using the sport as a grassroots peacemaker — a concept he ponders in the book.

While in the birthplace of surfing in U.S., he met a host of characters including a Syrian-American Muslim woman who surfs in a ‘burqini,’ a man known as the Surfing Rabbi, and of course Paskowitz, who is still surfing in his 90s. Doc is credited with introducing the sport to Israel in 1956 when he brought six boards to the country.

“When he went there, the Suez crisis broke out and there was a war going on,” Shilling said.

Ignoring the objections of authorities, Doc rode his first wave at Tel Aviv. He then gave his first lesson to an Arab lifeguard — and ever since has been trying to bring Arabs and Israelis together through surfing.

“I would say the devil in this is the unknown,” Shilling said in reference to the book title. “Once you get to know that person, that kind of idea disappears.

“It’s idealistic, but where’s the political process got us for the past 60 years? Maybe we should try something else. For surfing you could substitute music, you could substitute art, you could substitute soccer — anything that’s a common ground, a common passion where you get supposedly adversarial people together over a similar passion. You can accomplish a lot.”

The book can be found at www.surfingwiththedevil.com.

Shilling’s first book, The Cedar Surf, provides an informal history of surfing in B.C. It was briefly a B.C. best seller.

Both books are available at amazon.ca.

reporter@comoxvalleyrecord.com