Stephanie Gilmore
Stephanie Gilmore is… everything. | Photo: Morgan Maassen

Candid: Let us be elegant or die!

Stephanie Gilmore, sprinkle some of your fairy dust on me, make me a better man! A love letter to the world champ… 

The debate as to the most beautiful (or ‘hottest’ – yuck!) women in the world always seems to throw the Victoria’s Secrets ‘angels’ into the fray. Gisele and the gang. Every time the annual runway show appears on the box I flee the scene in fright and hideth under my bed. The clutching fear that one of these modern day Amazonian’s might trample out of the screen and all over my fragile heart is too much.

If these Fembots are the depiction of feminine beauty circa 2014, then gender equality will never come to fruition. The real deal is something far subtler. A pretty face and great tits do not a beautiful woman make.

Enter Stephanie Gilmore.

Watching Stephanie surf reminds me of when I attended the ballet as a boy. I dug my pre-pubescent heels in outside The Royal Opera House with gusto but to no avail. However, seeing Alicia Markova dance the role of the Sugar Plum Fairy in The Nutcracker laid the foundations for my adoration of women. I was transfixed. The poise, the power, passion, and the elegance. The Tchaikovsky!

I felt something rumbling deep within. Not sex but desire. Fitzgerald wrote that:  “Men get to be a mixture of the charming mannerisms of the women they have known.” Thus the desire. Alicia, Stephanie, sprinkle some of your fairy dust on me, make me a better man!

Stephanie Gilmore is doing more for gender equality than any University-educated soap boxer could ever hope. She conjures a different faculty of male admiration. One completely void of sex. Almost.

Gilmore’s taken a testosterone-saturated field and beautified it infinitely. Men can be beautiful on a surfboard, sure, but it always seems partially contrived. The feminine flow that Steph achieves on an open right wall is pure dance and the epitome of feminine beauty.

Unlike every other female surfer Steph works with her genders physical capabilities, not against them. She understands that flow and well-distributed power and timing are her allies. Women will never be able to reach the progressive high-bar set by the men. Ever.

But why would they want to? They’ve got something that’s uniquely theirs to cherish: elegance and grace.

The fact that Stephanie’s reached cereal-box fame with no jealous boyfriend lurking in the shadows and no overbearing stepfather waiting at the gates just adds to her vehemence. Just a beautiful set of pearly whites and a highline-to-wrap-back combo that puts nine-tenths of male pros to shame.

Steph stands alone, and by gosh that’s attractive. Congratulations Steph Gilmore on your sixth world title, but more importantly, congratulations on being the most beautiful woman in the world.

#LikeAGirl: Is Criticising Women’s Surfing Sexist?

Shrouding women's surfing in some kind of protective film is the worst kind of paternalism…

A few months ago, I posed the following question on BeachGrit that was as simple as it was surprisingly provocative.

“How good is women’s surfing in 2014?” (Click here to read.)

I’d just watched the 26-year-old Stephanie Gilmore swipe her rails and take it to the rim like so very few before her at the Swatch Pro at Trestles, even scoring a perfect 10-point ride en route to the event win

This was as state-of-the-art, as generationally significant, as day two was at Snapper Rocks on the Gold Coast earlier in the year. Better than ninety-nine percent of any non-professional surfer, male, female, transgender, pre-op or even moderately confused. Even the most hateful of misogynists had to admit that, yeah, women’s surfing sure can be electric.

But how far has it come? How does it compare to the men, even the men of 25 years ago? Why is it viewed as an impossibility that that in the future, women can’t compete with men?

And is it sexist to criticise some of the more embarrassing lows, such as the inability to complete relatively simple backside tubes at Cloudbreak or Lakey Peterson winning the Swatch innovation award for a mini-frontside fin-ditch some 10-year-old boys can do in their sleep?

They’re valid questions. The girls aren’t the poor cousins of the men anymore, at least not in the current power structure. In the joint events, competition days are fairly split so both get their fill of good waves. The top women are millionaires. They travel with personal coaches and the best shapers in the world inhale their way to lung cancer to produce their hundreds of custom surfboards.

But, when I asked the question, the reaction from the commentariat was predictable: “Comparing the best surfer in the world (even if it’s 20 years ago) to women’s surfing today isn’t a great debate. Yes, they don’t rip as hard, but you’re just coming off as a sexist douche with a lame, invalid argument.”

Surfing isn’t football or basketball. There is no physical reason why there isn’t at least one woman out there who can be as good as any of the Top 34 men. I get the law of averages. There are way more men than women surfing and, yeah of course, the standard is higher.

But I always think of how girls like Carissa and Stephanie killed it in the menehunes and the juniors against the boys, before they were segregated and how it seemed to…not retard their surfing… but keep it from soaring into any never-before-explored stratosphere.

Can you imagine how good Stephanie and Carissa might be if they slugged it out for a year or two on the Qualifying Series? It isn’t a stretch to imagine Carissa’s occasional finner becoming an every-wave reality or Steph’s tentative forays into the air as reliable hammers.

There’s a hand-scrawled message on the wall of filmmaker Kai Neville’s wall. It reads: Seek criticism. Not praise. 

Shrouding women’s surfing in some kind of protective film is the worst kind of paternalism; it’s sexism at its most ill-defined and applied.

What does it imply? That women can’t be as good as men. Run like a girl? Throw like a girl? Fight like a girl?

Surf like a girl? 

At Honolua Bay in Maui, there were five women who etched lines as good as anything y’might see out of a men’s tour event. The rest jerked down the line in a monstrous approximation of the game of surf. Boards too curved, stance out, timing a full-second off the ball.

Why can’t we criticise without fear of censure? How else do limits get broken, ceilings shattered?

Seek criticism. Not praise. #LikeAGirl

Long read: No waves? No problem!

Oahu is paradise even when the surf goes weird. Pick up a bow and live the dream.

The only thing that sounds good at 3:30 in the morning is suicide. And I am up at 3:30, contemplating suicide, smoking a cigarette, drinking a cup of watery hotel coffee while standing on my small balcony. Waikīkī is dark and quiet below. The air is cool enough for a light layer, and so I put on a thin tweed hunting jacket with leather elbow patches and wander out into the dark quietness. It is time for pig hunting.

I find my rental car and drive north on the Pali Highway before turning east into the town of Kāne‘ohe. I have spent much time in Honolulu, on the North Shore, even searching for ice in ‘Ewa Beach, but I have never been to the east side. If the sun was up, I could see its beauty. Its striking geography. I park in front of a house at the end of a small, middle-class road, turn the lights off, and light another cigarette. Theoretically, this is Mike’s house. Mike will be taking me pig hunting. It is 4:15 in the morning. Still a suicidal hour.

Five minutes pass, and the house lights turn on. I can see a large double-decker dog kennel partially illuminated. The dogs begin to bark, and then I see Mike. He is a boulder of a man. Tall, pure muscle, shaved head, tattooed from neck to fist. He growls at the dogs to be quiet. He wears camouflaged pants and a black T-shirt with the words “Defend Hawaii” wrapped around an M-16. I approach and we shake hands. His grip crushes. His eyes are piercing blue and his voice, as he introduces himself, sounds like gravel. He wears a large knife in a leather case.

We chat about the dogs, which are not barking anymore, and I learn that they are special. Turns out, pig-hunting dogs are not normal, everyday dogs. They are bred from hound, pitbull, birddog and Rhodesian ridgeback stock. They are bred to be tireless, to find the pigs, chase them down, and be fearless in the face of attack. Mike gets his dogs from JC, a pig-hunting legend, who will be joining us today.

We chat about fighting. Mike’s garage is a shrine to the masculine. There are mats rolled up in a corner, punching bags, rusted weights, fingerless MMA boxing gloves, stacks of camouflage gear, and his truck. His truck, which is classically Hawaiian, raised, and caked with just the right amount of red mud. We climb in and drive to a nearby gas station, waiting for JC. It is so damned early. A hunting hour. I have never thought much of hunting one way or the other. I grew up on the Oregon coast, in a small redneck town, and everyone I knew hunted. They duck hunted and elk hunted. I went along for the ride once or twice, and I didn’t feel sorry for the animals, even the deer with eyes full of love, but also wasn’t thrilled. A lot of walking in the woods. Little action. Like fishing on land.

I go into the gas station and get a Spam musubi and it tastes like paradise. So salty and satisfying. Then JC arrives. He is older, solidly built, Hawaiian, and says he has been hunting pigs for 40 years. His voice is deep and warm, like a television news broadcaster. Mike has been hunting with him for the last three years. Their rapport is easy and friendly. They talk about hunting, the hopes and possibilities of the day, and a few wild parties that they have experienced together in the past. The bed of his truck is caged and full of his dogs. They seem eager. We make small talk before climbing back into our respective trucks and driving to the coast.

The sun is still not yet up, but I can see silhouettes of stark beauty. Towering rocks breaking the ocean’s surface close to shore, green cliffs off to the left. We pull to the side of the road, near a cliff, and there is a third hunter waiting by a gate. His name is Brian and he is the Hollywood Hunter because he has the permits to hunt the land where we are right now. Kualoa Ranch. He is younger than Mike and JC but also more avid. He hunts every single day and often alone, which is rare. Pigs are dangerous. He has his own dogs and sports rubber boots with spiked soles, camouflage pants, and a backwards Defend Hawaii baseball hat. On the drive Mike tells me that Brian has a Hawaiian ID that says, “Do not detain this individual.” I ask Brian if I can see it and he shows me. It says he is a resident of the Polynesian Kingdom of Atooi and that he is not to be detained, per the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples pursuant to the Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations, 1961. Amazing. And then we all drive onto the ranch.

Brian’s permit is gold, even more gold than his ID. He is the sole “eradicator” of the property and is the only one allowed to hunt legally. He runs across poachers from time to time and hustles them out of the area with an angry sneer. It is a 4,000-acre working cattle ranch, movie shoot location, and one of the most beautiful corners of O‘ahu. The sun has finally risen and I can see its beauty through honeyed air. The cliffs look like God’s personal handiwork. He did not commission this art. He made it himself. The grass is fresh and green. Cows graze, sleepily, as we park near a stream.

Brian lets his dogs out and JC does too. Mike did not bring his because they are not cattle-trained, meaning they might confuse a calf for a pig and hunt beef instead of pork. The dogs are each fitted with GPS collars, their names put into a handheld locator, and they are turned loose. These dogs are expensive and the art of the hunt. Losing one is critical. Beyond monitoring them with GPS, each hunter carries needle and thread in case the dogs are gored and need a quick on-field repair. The dogs run around, excitedly. They are not suicidal but rather homicidal, and they run up a dirt road toward the ridgeline. We follow.

It is very quiet and surreal. We walk past Journey to the Center of the Earth’s set, which is still standing. It is a high stone arch that looks Persian or maybe Babylonian. We pass signs that show where Jurassic Park was filmed and where 50 First Dates was filmed. 50 First Dates. What a total bust. We walk for a mile before stopping in the elbow of a ridge and watching the dogs flit around on the GPS screen. They have already reached the top of the cliff and are moving, quickly, this way and that. They are trying to pick up the scent and flush out a pig. JC knows that the pigs like to sleep higher on the ridge and that they might still be sleeping. He knows the corners they like to choose. He is a pig behaviorist. Brian has moved off, down another path, to listen for the telltale signs of a chase. We are all quiet. The pigs are smart and listen for humans. I am no longer tired but on edge, trying my hardest to hear a dog’s bark or a pig’s grunt.

The dogs circle the ridge for 30 minutes and maybe chase one or two pigs but can’t keep the trail. JC believes the pigs are hunting food on another ridge to the left and so we all walk ten minutes to the left. The sun is higher now, and the land gets more beautiful, more vivid with each passing minute. The dogs shoot off into the brush again and Brian follows them.

Suddenly, we hear the brush move and a low grunt, but all I can see is Brian. Then the dogs go crazy and fly up the cliff. They have something. I run after Brian and we climb and climb and climb. The earth is wet and the soil is loose. Some of it is turned over. This is where pigs have been rooting for food. I grab for vines and bushes as we climb. I am not wearing camouflage pants but rather black skinny jeans. I am not wearing spiked-sole rubber boots but, rather, red Vans. Aside from my tweed jacket this is not an appropriate hunting kit. I almost slide down the cliff too many times to count.

The higher we climb, the hotter it gets and the more mosquitoes gather and bite like the nasty devils they are. Brian can see that the dogs have stopped moving, which means they either have the pig trapped or they have it killed. A victory, either way. And we finally arrive at their location. They sit with happy faces around a young, dead boar. Brian says the dogs gave it a flat tire, which is what they are trained to do. A “flat tire” means they have chewed the tendons under his front two legs, so that he could not run anymore. And then he died of a heart attack. If he had not died, Brian would have stabbed him with a large hunting knife under one of his arms. These men hunt with knives. They don’t use guns or bows or arrows.

Brian squeezes the urine from the boar first, explaining that boars use their urine to throw the dogs off. Crafty as they are, pigs will urinate in a circle causing the dogs to follow the urine circle instead of the pig. He then draws his knife and cuts the boar’s balls off and hangs them from a branch. The mosquitoes are thick, but I am captivated. The pigs are always gutted before being hauled down the hill. The guts create quick rot and are also needlessly heavy. Brian moves his blade up to the boar’s throat, then slides the blade along the boar’s torso using quick, gentle strokes. The guts spill forth without prompting, like they wanted to escape. They are a deep, dark red and look exactly like guts. They make a vacuum sound when they are pulled out, and they too are hung on a branch. If left on the ground a dog may roll in them later and fill the earth with a horrid stench. Finally, the front right leg is tied to the back right leg, the front left leg tied to the back left leg, and the boar becomes a sort of backpack. Brian picks him up but I insist on carrying him down the hill. “The first boar I killed hooked me,” Brian says, “and now you are hooked.” His eyes are proud.

I hoist the load and feel his warm blood mixing with my warm sweat. My companion does not smell bad. He smells like Hawaiian bush and a stuffed animal. It is a nice smell. And I slip and slide all the way down the ridge feeling like a champion. Mike and JC wait at the bottom and Mike says, “Ho, look at this. Skinny jeans, Vans and a V-neck, and he is carrying the pig.” I feel like a stylish champion.

We walk back to the trucks talking about different pig hunting strategies and the one that got away. Apparently when we heard the brush move and the low grunt it had been a very large boar. But he was smart and tricked the dogs into following the tracks of the smaller one that we captured. JC looks at it and says, “Some days you get nothing at all, some days you get too many. I guess that is why it is called hunting and not catching.”

We drive to another valley, hoping for bigger boars, ones with tusks. The one we caught was too young to start developing them, but the tusks are the trophies. Each hunter keeps the meat. Nothing goes to waste and the meat is smoked, given to friends, barbequed, turned into dog food. But the tusks are the glory. We hike, listen, watch the dogs on GPS, find nothing but signs of rooting pigs, and after three hours part ways. And, Brian was right, I am hooked. I am no longer suicidal. Like the dogs, I am homicidal. Pig hunting is the new sport of kings, or at least stylish champions.

empty wave at Mackenzies Bay
This ain't exactly an everyday occurrence but when the wave in front of Taj's new house is activated by some kinda offshore storm-favourable tide-and-wind combo, he (and maybe you!) can enjoy a brief harmony with the tube. | Photo: Jay Harrison

Gimme: Taj Burrow’s $2.3 million pied-à-terre

There's a left in Sydney that ain't Narrabeen and it… folds. TB's apartment overlooks it… 

A little while back the tour’s second oldest surfer, Taj Burrow, 36, bought himself a slice of Sydney’s most exclusive beach suburb. A top-floor, three-bedroom duplex circa 1950s that overlooks the area’s best wave.

Mackenzies Bay. Y’heard of it?

Oh it’s so special. Multi-multi-million dollar houses and million-dollar-plus apartments created by the city’s best architects (Hello Alex Popov! Kelvin Ho!) hang over either a coastal footpath (Kenneth St) or a narrow road (Gaerloch Avenue) that winds around to the neighbouring beach, Tamarama, where surfers ride either an imperfect left off the northern headland at low-tide and a squishy little rip bowl right near the shore at high tide. Fun enough.

But, Mackenzies, Maccas, K-Bay, when it’s on, which ain’t real often let’s be real, is an honest-to-god square tube. It’s one of the few places left in Australia with a regular pack of bodyboarders. Waves’ll hit a slab of sand in the north corner and hack whoever is on it into the southern headland a little under 50 metres away or send ’em over the falls, a reality for many.

Taj knows real estate. He’s been buying hunks his whole career. He knows it as a wonderful store of value. His Mackenzies Bay three-bedder, with garage, last traded at $493,000 in 1988 and $185,000 in 1986. The investment banker owner, David Sutherland, had tried to offload it in 2010 for two-and-a-half mill but didn’t get any bites.

Nearly two-and-a-half million shekels doesn’t buy a man luxury in this part of town. Y’get a view, a few bedrooms and an old bathroom. But what else do y’need?


Taj scooped it up four years later for 200 gees less. Smart buy? Of course.

This pied-à-terre currently rents for $1500 a week.

Surfing in Israel
Israel got waves? It do and it ain't just at a pinch. It's also the most insanely rad, bravest and loveliest country in the world. An experiment without precedent built on the rocks of the desert and on the sands of the moody Mediterranean. Let it bloom! Come swim! | Photo: Nisim Aton

Candid: Israel is the raddest surf trip on earth!

Waves (sometimes), gals (every day), bravery (three existential wars) and a desert in bloom. What's not to love!

“The Jews bring the world poverty, trouble and disaster. They are monsters and the basis for all evil in the world ….Arabs, rise as one man and fight for your sacred rights. Kill the Jews wherever you find them. God is with you.”
The Grand Mufti of Jerusalem, from Radio Berlin, March 1, 1944.

“Oh, you who murdered Allah’s pious prophets Oh, you who were brought up on spilling blood

You have been condemned to humiliation and hardship.

Oh Sons of Zion, oh most evil among creations

Oh barbaric monkeys, wretched pigs…”

Six-year-old Palestinian girl recites poem on Palestinian television, 2013.

It ain’t easy being a Jew. Don’t believe me? Come and step into the hallways of the dirtiest and most tortured of histories. A lost people and two thousand orbits jammed with degradation and bestial treatment.

I’m not going to throw you down the yawn-fest of the Egyptians, the Romans, the first-borns being slain by Pharaohs, seas parting, baby Mo in the bull rushes and we’re not even going to swing by the Crusades (when Christians took their swords to every Jew in Europe) or the Spanish Inquisition, as rad as it was, with its garrotting and Jews being burnt alive.

Yeah, it helps with our story, it helps with your understanding of the Jewish diaspora and why these smart, industrious and brave people had to set-up shop in every crummy Eastern European and Middle Eastern craphole over the last two thousand years, enriching each county with its music, arts, crafts, trade and native intelligence, all the while suffering the worst privations, the pogroms, the excessive taxation, the restrictions, the boycotts, the lies, the scapegoating.

Out of these horrors developed Hassidim (those orthodox Jews with their side-locks and wild frenzied praying), the mysticism of the Cabala (a fav of Madonna!) and, more importantly for our story, the Zionists, the foot-soldiers of a movement that decided, enough was enough, the Jews gotta get some land of their own. And where else but the Holy Land? Wasn’t it where they came from?

Discrimination, racism? Yeah, the Jews know it better than anyone.

But I want to make it easy.

So how about we just step back three generations, recent enough to be when your grand or great-granddaddy was stepping around as a kid. Let’s begin with the Nazi invasion of Poland, home to three-and-half mill Jews. One in every 10 Polacks a Jew. Not that you’d figure it, given the Jews’ history with their home country. Jews paid more tax. Suffered trade restrictions. Were routinely massacred. And so the Jews clung together, were guided by their Rabbis who attempted to decipher their problems through the Torah (the Old Testament for us goyim) and the Talmud (a scholarly interpretation of the Torah and the rules Jews should follow.

And then the Nazis came. The greatest war machine in history in their gorgeous, slim-fitting uniforms designed by Hugo Boss (yes!) and all trussed up inside magnificent Panzer Tanks and screaming dive bombers and with the infantry goose-stepping over the Polish army in a week, the newest piece of the rapidly expanding Third Reich after the crushing of Czechoslovakia.

And what was the west going to do? America wasn’t interested and the Brits had a handful of planes and the shittiest little army. They figured they could let Hitler cut a few slices off here and there, create his lebensraum (living space) and the world wouldn’t be driven into another pointless war. Who wanted to be the prime minster who committed another generation of young men to be butchered in Europe?

And it ain’t a secret how the Nazis felt about the Jews. Oh, you know about the Holocaust? Of course you do. You’ve seen the movies, you know the number, six-and-a-half-mill shot and gassed.

By the time the Nazis were finished in Poland, with its death camps and walled-off ghetto where children fell dead in the streets from starvation and cold and where thousand were regularly marched out to the city’s cemetery, lined up, shot, covered in lime and buried just in time for the next group to roll up; where brave Jews, the forerunners of the New Zionists, young, muscular, vigorous, fought the might of the Third Reich with a handful of guns and home-made bombs. Who fled to the sewers underneath the city and who committed mass suicide rather than surrender to the SS. Want a movie version? Download The Pianist (2002).

When the war ended 90 per cent of Poland’s Jews were dead. The rest? Where were they gonna live? Europe didn’t want ’em nor what was left of the rest of European Jewry. And despite Britain promising ’em that hunk of rock and sand in the eastern Mediterranean, The British Mandate of Palestine, could become the Jewish homeland, the Brits changed their mind ’cause they didn’t want the Arabs to shut off oil supply or slam the gate on the Suez canal. The Brits even used their military to limit Jewish immigration to Palestine, escorting their ships to distant internment  camps in places like Cyprus and Mauritius.

Most of these wretched souls had just survived the worst horrors in history, mass-extermination on an industrial scale by the most efficient people on earth, and they found ’emselves back behind barbed wire, this time in the hands of the good guys.

But some made it. And by this time, the Zionists had bought a fair chunk of the land in Palestine, always at over-inflated prices from their Arab landowners (of course!), and starting building their famous kibbutzes, farms run as collectives but surrounded by towers and barbed wire. The Jews weren’t dumb. The Arabs might’ve sold the land but they weren’t guaranteeing their safety.

After the Holocaust, after everything, Jews weren’t going anywhere. They would turn this godforsaken, shitty, Biblical land, that had sat fallow for thousands of years, into the most culturally advanced democracy the world had ever seen. The people would work the farms in the name of Jewish unity. Every boy would leave school at 18 and go straight into the army for three years of compulsory service; the girls would go in for two. It didn’t matter where you were from. If you are Jewish, Israel welcomes you. Come, come.

Three years after the war ended, having been cut a piece of the Palestinian Mandate for a Jewish homeland by the UN, the newly minted state of Israel began a nearly two-year existential war against surrounding Arab countries. That, after a year of civil war, between Arab and Jew.

And the Jews fought for every kibbutz, every road, every town and every city. Even when Jerusalem was besieged, the newly-minted Israeli forces would take terrible casualties, bringing supplies in through the long, mountainous road that linked Tel Aviv with Jerusalem. Go there and you can still see the wrecked trucks on the side of the highway.

In 1967 Arab figured they’d have another swing at the Jews. But the Israelis, who had informers at every tier of Arab government, pre-empted ’em and wiped out their enemies in six days. Six years later, the Arabs had another shot. This time it was closer, but the Jews won.

So where’s that leave us today? And how about the Palestinians? Don’t they have just as much of a right to live in peace and prosperity like the Jews? Of course. But peace is a two-way street, honey. What do you do when there’s such a visceral hatred of Jews? When kids happily recite hateful songs about the “wretched monkeys and barbaric pigs.”?

The Israelis split from Gaza and what happened? The bombs started to rain. Remove the check points, demolish the mighty west bank wall, that’ll tap out at 700 clicks when it’s finished, and what’ll happen? Suicide bombs, random shootings and massacres. Even Islamic Jihad sheepishly admits that skittling Jews had gotten way harder since the wall was built. Talk about taking away all the fun.

Whatever happens, the Jews aren’t going anywhere. Never again will they be led to indiscriminate slaughter. Never again. Never again.


The Middle East is  not known for its fabulousness. Afghanistan ain’t what you’d call… progressive. No one’s reading about Jong’s “zippless fuck” or the Female Eunech out there. Gals in school? Driving? Working? It ain’t gonna happen. Saudi Arabia. Yemen. Wherevs. If you’re a gal or you’re a guy kinky for dick in the Middle East, it’s hell on earth.

But here in the city of Tel Aviv, girls and boys can flash eyes at each other in public and swim together in revealing swimsuits and not fear a vengeful brother or father. It’s a city where gay men can openly lasso tongues and not cower under the threat of jail or violence.

You’ve gotta admire somewhere that’s surrounded by countries whose sole reason for getting up in the morning is the desire to see it destroyed with as much fire and histrionics as possible. It happens to be International Holocaust Remembrance Day, the day in 1945 when the biggest of the death camps, Auschwitz, was liberated by Soviet troops. A handful of survivors out of the six million Jews killed by the German Final Solution.

But, again and again, year after year, wars, bombs, intifadas, suicide hits, massacres, murders, reprisals, invasion and propaganda. The people feel it. And it hairs ’em out. There’s the ongoing tension that more rockets are going to be launched from Lebanon or Gaza or maybe somewhere inside Israel. Tension that Iran is going to get the bomb. Tension that Syria’s and Lebanon’s dirty wars will drip across the border.

Of all the places in the world to fall into on such an auspicious day is Tel Aviv, the nation’s second-largest city. What a jewel in the desert it is. Palm trees line the six-lane highways. The city is marked in the modernist style of architecture, public buildings and apartment blocks designed by Jews, who’d studied at the famous Bauhaus school of architecture, fleeing Nazi Germany. White sand beaches stretch almost all the way to the border of Lebanon. Drive an hour inland and you hit Jerusalem and its ring of holy sights. And all this under that sublime Med climate of hot summers and mild winters. Even in January, I sweat as I write in a cafe soaked by the sun.

Life is somewhat perfect, you’d think. The people go to soccer games, they watch Big Brother, they argue and they shovel impressive amounts of hummus and bread into their gourds. But the more the world turns, the less some things change. Hamas announced on Holocaust Remembrance Day that it would never accept the two-state solution or “give up one inch of the land of Palestine.”

On a two-page spread of daily news in the Jerusalem Post the nine stories are: US Senate may fracture over Iran sanctions. Tehran won’t dismantle any of its nuclear program; Hamas cell captured; Ministry official assassinated; Israeli PM says peace can only come when Palestininians recognise a Jewish state; US is detaching itself from being the world’s policeman; Ex-CIA head says US would use force to to stop Iran.

In the comment section, the lead piece is, “Exposing the myth of the Arab bystander to the Holocaust.”

Can you imagine what it’s like to’ve created a model society amid dictatorships, military juntas and artificially created kingdoms  and yet every single day you wonder if it’ll be your last? And that because of the poisonous relationship the west has with Middle Eastern oil you fear a return to 1948 when the British discreetly took the side of Israel’s genocidal enemies.

I asked the wife of a guy I met if she was going to have kids. Standard small talk. “With this tension? Last year we were running into bomb shelters. Do I want to bring a child into this?”

When I asked a young surfer if he felt tension between Jews and Arabs he said of course he did, but “it’s our destiny to be chased. It’s our destiny to be hunted.”

The surfer said whenever he travelled he was treated differently once it became known he was an Israeli. He even tested the theory on two Canadians while on vacation in Thailand. They asked his nationality and he said he was Australian. An Australian! A beer was poured down his throat and he was embraced like a brother.

When the surfer admitted that he was actually Israeli the mood soured and he was chased out of the bar with taunts of “We wish the Germans had succeeded.”

“We have a very stressful existence. You feel it all the time,” he says.

Meanwhile, Iran inches closer to the bomb and we flippantly talk about fairness and a level-playing field; about the plight of a people used as pawns by the thugs of Hamas.

One of the filmers I’m driving around the country with admits that he thought Israel would be a repressive, backward and somewhat terrifying country.

“I mean, because of everything they’ve done to the Arabs,” he said.

And yet he found a desert in bloom, the friendliest bars he’d ever been to and streets safe to stagger around drunk in at three am; men who could snap your neck in a second politely moving away in crowded nightclubs, the sea of smiling people parting like Mo’s Red Sea two millennia previous. Pretty army gals in fitted khaki uniforms and freckled faces with machine guns swinging off their backs. Smoking in restaurants (social!) and tables dressed in bowl after bowl of hummus and baba ghanoush and giant skewers of lamb and chicken and cow (but defs no hog). The blue and white flag. The star of David.


I took a little gang of surf pals with me to Iz. A surf trip for the mag I started (Stab) and that ran in issue number 75. The mag’s site actually ran this story but pulled it when it attracted a little heat. Anti-semitism. It’s everywhere, baby.

Anyway, it’s interesting, important even, to note that all of ’em wanted to swing to Israel for the experience of… being there. The home of the three great religions. The hottest spot on earth, politically, culturally. And they were going to come even if it meant a Sydney-LA-New York- Tel Aviv (Craig Anderson) or Sydney-Bangkok-with-overnight layover-Istanbul-Tel Aviv (the rest) odyssey. Creed McTaggart and Dion Agius flew the national carrier El Al and were torn apart prior to boarding. Dion’s Cairo and Dubai stamps in his passport and the pair’s artful, but dishevelled, appearance, were clues that maybe they weren’t just Christian pilgrims headed for the holy land. They were taken down two flights of stairs at Bangkok airport and pushed into a basement room. Interrogation!

“How do you make money?”

“By surfing.”

“How much”

“Well, I make (censored) and Creed makes (censored).”

“You live like this?”

“Well, yeah.

“And you come to Israel… for waves? But you live in Australia? We have no waves! Why do you go to Egypt? Why do you go to Dubai?”

When Dion and Creed got on the jet, clear of any suspicion they were carting dynamite, they marvelled at it’s zig-zagging flight path on the back-of-the-seat TV screen. Left, right, up and down, a curious and illogical route to Israel. But, yes! El Al can’t fly over Islamic countries like Pakistan, Iran, Iraq, Yemen and Saudi Arabia. They’re Jews!

Thirty-six hours of planes, lounges and airport hotels. And, yeah, we waited for swell. This is the Med, after all, and even if it at its most eastern point and therefore open to enough fetch to deliver eight-foot waves you make sure there’s going to be waves unless you wanna play bat and ball on Hilton Beach.

And you land at Ben Gurion airport, a stunning, hyper-modern creation made with Jerusalem stone and you drive along highways as perfect as anything in Singapore and you see the Tel Aviv university and the Opera house and the green fields and the rad mix of Brutalist concrete and art deco architecture.

And you go to surf and the surfers freak when Craig Anderson and Josh Kerr, mostly, but also with reflected heat on Creed and Dion, surf their waves.

“I love your style Craig Anderson! Today is a special day!

“Josh Kerr! Josh Kerr surfs my waves!”

And amid screams of “Op! Op! Op! Op! and drop-ins and the happiest of chaos, we surf. We surf in raging onshores and in dead glass. Six-to-eight-foot burgers, four-foot wedges and in between beachbreaks that behave like the dreamiest D-Bah.

And at the Wailing Wall in Jerusalem, the holiest sight in all of Judaism, while Hassidim make their frenzied prayers and a boy takes his bar mitzvah, a voice rings out, “Craig Anderson, you’re my favourite surfer! I love Slow Dance!”

At the Jaffa gate, the ancient entry to the Old City, while we zip around on segways that’ve been thoughtfully provided by a very nice man called Ron from Corona beer, a group of gals sing out, “Craig Anderson we love you!”

We take pastries, dates and beer on the beach after floating in the radically salty Dead Sea where our wet hair drips into our eyes and causes the most excruciating pain. We drive and we drive but there are no roadhouses or billboards just cherry blossoms and fields of green with water pumps painted in lavender and past that Israeli prickly fruit of the cactus, the Sabras, also the name of Jews born in Israel, and all under the loveliest of winter sun.

“I like the Jewish steez,” says Creed.

When I leave, the prettiest teen customs gal, one of many serious Sabras working security, looks at me as she searches me and says, “I believe someone may have tried to get you to carry a bomb on board the plane.”

Oh, honey, I love your honesty, but if you only knew! Tel Aviv, Israel, you steal my heart!

Special thanks: I wanna thank my former Bondi-living pal Yossi Zamir for carting me and the boys the length and breadth of Israel, from Tel Aviv to Haifa to Jerusalem and everywhere else. Every whim, every need, every technical glitch, he’d attend to with calm air you’d expect from a former IDF warrior. Mickey, Tel, you were rad, Hilla for the cute Topsea hats, the manager of the beachfront hotel where we stayed (Leonardo Bazel Hotel) for cutting us a deal (did I mention that Tel Aviv is crazy expensive?), Oren Maor from Landver Cafe and Roza Bar for all the grinds, the booze, the red carpet experience, Omer Shenar, Nimrod Glazner, Alon Evron, Rhythm Israel, Quiksilver, Rusty, Carver, Trash Surf Shop, Billabong (these real nice co’s bought our gang tickets) and the men behind the labels, Haiin Sakal, Dotan Markovich, Micky Cook,Tzaki Housw, Yoav Bilu,Tal Falach, Boaz Tamir, Eshay Asher.