God went surfing with the devil

What do young people do for fun in a region wracked with violence? Turns out, they surf. The photo show God Went Surfing with the Devil offers an unexpected look at life in Gaza and Israel.

Photos By Bryan Derballa

The show is the photographic precursor to an upcoming documentary with the same title, and Asheville is the first stop on its tour.

“These are young guys that could be fighting,” says Alexander Klein, director and visionary behind the documentary. “They could have guns in their hands, but they have surfboards. It’s nice to see the other side of the story.”

The show’s name is a quote from Jewish-Hawaiian surfing guru Dorian Paskowitz, the man who brought the first surfboard to Israel: “God will surf with the devil if the waves are good.”

The photos and the documentary came about when Klein, a Los Angeles resident, heard about a surfboard smuggling trip planned by an organization called Surfing 4 Peace.

Klein was looking for a documentary subject. The group was planning to smuggle 23 new surfboards into Gaza.

So Klein and a crew of three, director of photography Edward Chase Masterson, soundman/photographer Bryan Derballa and cameraman Danilo Parra, set off for the Middle East. Their mission: to share the stories of Israeli and Palestinian surfers.

“We went out there with very little equipment and no credentials and just worked as hard as we could,” says Derballa, a former Asheville resident now living in Brooklyn.

Klein and Derballa have been posting notes from their trip on the blog www.godwentsurfing.com. Sample entry: “Had coffee with a navy commando. Discussed war and peace, surfing and politics. The men here are affable and deadly. Tried tracking down Abdullah, the leader of the surf scene in Jaffa. No one seems to know his whereabouts. The last anyone heard he was in jail. Lots of phone calls, chasing leads, waiting around. A two-hundred shekel guitar was purchased to alleviate boredom.”

The crew started in Israel, a country that lacks first-rate surfing conditions. The Mediterranean is not exactly a surfer’s dream, as it turns out.

“The waves are rarely long enough to get a really long ride,” Derballa says. But that doesn’t stop the surfers from trying. They, as well as Palestinian surfers next door in occupied Gaza, share a deep love for the sea.

Klein and Masterson left Israel to film in tiny Gaza, which Klein describes as “pretty poverty-stricken and war-torn.”

Derballa and Parra weren’t able to enter Gaza because of visa issues.

While the Israelis have nice surfboards and equipment, the Palestinians don’t. They take the sails off old wind boards, substitute pieces of rope for leashes and their standard surfing attire is old blue jeans. Yet in spite of the shabby equipment, their determination to surf is unwavering. These men take any wave that comes along, oftentimes holding hands and riding it back as one large group.

When asked about the film’s message, Klein is nonchalant.

“We’re just sharing people’s stories,” he says.

It’s about viewing people and situations from a different angle—meeting these surfers and getting a taste of life on the other side of the globe.

“The surfers in Israel and the surfers in Gaza have never met,” he says. “But in theory, they could be riding the same wave together.”

As for the film, he plans to have edits completed in the next month, bringing it to festivals by next year. From there, Klein hopes that the documentary will get picked up by a distributor. “It’s in God’s hands, or ‘Inshallah,’ as the Arabs say.”

who: God Went Surfing With the Devil
what: Photography from the upcoming film documenting the lives of surfers in the Middle East
where: Push Gallery, 25 Patton Ave.$>
when: Opening reception on Friday, Aug. 22. 7 p.m. (Show on display through Tuesday, Sept. 30. www.godwentsurfing.com, www.pushtoyproject.com or 225-5509)


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