Israel rides a wave

Israel rides a wave

There may not always be strong waves on Israel’s Mediterranean shore, and sometimes there are no waves at all. But that hasn’t stopped ‘0-year-old Mor Meluka from becoming the first Israeli surfer to compete in the trials for the upcoming ‘006 Billabong ASP World Junior Championships in Australia, the most prestigious junior surfing event in the world.

"The first time I surfed was when I was six years old. I loved it then and can safely say that I believe I’ll be surfing for the rest of my life, or as long as I can," said Meluka, who grew up in the southern coastal city of Ashdod, where the Mediterranean Sea was a natural part of the leisure time activity. The surfer began entering local competitions at age 1′ and was the Israeli junior champion for three years running, beginning at age 16.

"All my family surfed, [including] my older brother and sister, and my father, who taught me," he said.

According to Hadar Marelly, the head of the Israel Surfing Association, the surfing subculture is thriving despite the wave-challenged Israeli coastline.

"We’re celebrating our ‘0th anniversary this year, and we have around 400 registered members," said Marelly, who estimates that there are 100,000 weekend surfers.

The ISA sends Israeli teams twice a year to European competitions, where Marelly says they "do OK." He blames it not on the surfers’ ability but rather on the lackluster wave performance. "There are two problems with being a surfer in Israel — there’s no wave consistency and when there are waves, they’re usually not so big," he explained.

Another challenge Meluka faced while honing his surfing skills was completing his education and serving in the Israeli Army.

"I’ve been able to combine my education and surfing — I know that they’re both important," he said. As for the army, Meluka, who was recently demobilized, says that special allowances were made for him for training and competitions throughout his army service.

The Billabong ASP World Junior Championship is seen as a stepping-stone to the world professional tour. The event, now in its eighth year, attracts qualifiers from eight world regions, including Australasia, North America, South America, Hawaii, Asia, South Africa, Europe, and a specially sanctioned ASP International region. The $6′,000 prize purse qualifies the ASP World Junior Championships as the world’s most lucrative junior surfing event.

Meluka thrives on attending international competitions, and he says his heart swells with pride when other surfers or spectators realize he’s from Israel.

"When I go to competitions, I get very interesting reactions from the other surfers. They don’t understand where we surf in Israel," he said. "I always feel like an emissary from Israel — showing the surfers and the spectators that we do other things in Israel besides fighting in the army. It’s important to show the world that things like that are going on here."

David Brinn is editorial director of ISRAEL’1c.

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