Surfing for Peace: How One Man Has Made a Difference

Posted on October 12, 2011 by


“Surfboard diplomacy” is not a term we often find amidst the sound bytes and jargon used to deliver the Middle East news. For Dorian “Doc” Paskowitz, however, it’s a term that guides his vision of the Middle East. The self-proclaimed, “first Jewish surfer”, has taken a unique approach in trying to  ease the political tensions between the people in Israel and Gaza, and in doing so he has shown the world that one man and his board can change lives and the way two warring nations relate to each other.

In 1946, Paskowitz graduated from Stanford Medical School, but after practicing for less than a decade, he decided that the life of a physician was not for him. This realization coincided with a trip to Israel, during which he fell in love with the country. After volunteering in the IDF during the Suez Canal Crisis, he returned to the US to concentrate on his true passion – surfing.

With a lifetime of surfing achievements behind him and an undying desire to see a change in the region, Paskowitz decided to turn his talent toward activism, specifically addressing the political friction between Israel and the Gaza Strip.

“People who surf together can live together,” he asserts, and his work has been dedicated to turning these words into a reality. On a trip to Israel in 2004, Paskowitz met with Arthur Rashkovan, an Israeli surf and skate industry executive and the former Director of the Israeli Surfing Association, to reach out to local Arab-Israeli surfers. The result was the creation of the first Arab-Israeli surf competition, out of which the organization ‘Surfing for Peace’ was born.

The organization was formally founded in 2007, after Paskowitz was inspired by a Los Angeles Times article that illustrated the struggle of two Palestinian surfers who were forced to share a single surfboard. Paskowitz made it his mission to provide surfboards to those in the Gaza Strip whose surfing opportunities are limited by the political clutter of the conflict.

With the help of his son David, also a professional surfer, Rashkovan, Surfing World Champion Kelly Slater, and several Israeli surf companies, Paskowitz gathered surfboards to deliver to the small-yet-enthused surfing community in Gaza. Due to the restrictions on the border between Israel and the Gaza Strip, this task was not as simple as he had initially imagined, as almost no nonessential supplies are permitted to enter Gaza. But with the aid of OneVoice, an Israeli-Palestinian conflict resolution organization, coordination with the Israeli military, and unrivaled determination, fifteen surfboards made made their way safely into the hands of the young Palestinian surfers waiting just over the border, including the two boys about whom Paskowitz had originally read in the Los Angeles Times article.

Now almost ninety year old man, Paskowitz looks back on a lifetime of accomplishments fueled by his undying passion for surfing. These include a book he authored, entitled Surfing and Health, a nonprofit organization called “Surfers Healing”,  which provides autistic children with the opportunity to experience the water, as well as Surfing for Peace, which continues to bring together those affected by conflict in the Middle East.

Today, the organization hosts a number of cooperative campaigns to promote cross-cultural dialogue based on understanding acquired through the shared surfing experiences. These experiences are continually provided by surfing clinics for Israeli and Palestinian children, benefit concerts, and a campaign to develop an interfaith surfing coalition that includes the entire surfing community of the Middle East.

“God will surf with the devil if the waves are good. When a surfer sees another surfer with a board, he can’t help but say something that brings them together,” says Paskowitz, illustrating the person-to-person bonding inherent in the surfing experience.

The passion that Paskowitz exudes is demonstrated by his active dedication to work that truly realizes the changes that he envisions for the region. As an individual, he represents innovation and determination – an apolitical means of addressing a very political issue. His methods demonstrate the ability to form connections based on understanding and similarity that transcend the borders into which we were born. Despite their upbringing, families, and beliefs, the Palestinian and Israeli children that surf alongside one another exemplify the awareness that we are all human, a notion that Dorian “Doc” Paskowitz has embodied for nearly a century.

Gaza Surf Club