For 37 of my 48 years, I have been fascinated with balance.
I not a gymnast or dancer. I derive satisfaction from skateboarding. Ever since I jumped on a board back in 1975, I knew it was my thing and I never stopped. Once you experience just a little bit of the joy and harmony that skateboards bring, it can lead to other things.
I came up with the idea of taking longboards (large skateboards) and bringing them to Israel and the Palestinian Territories in the name of peace. What I didn’t realize was this idea would spawn a movement.
A worldwide movement.
Although I came up with the initial idea, it was a connection with a friend, Abraham Paskowitz, that got things rolling. Paskowitz is the sales manager of Carver Skateboards in California and I asked if he had any contacts in Israel. My hunch led him to Arthur Rashkovan who is one of Israel’s top surfers and heads Surfing 4 Peace. The premise made total sense to Rashkovan:
“We have made great gains in building ties between surfers across political and cultural borders in the past few years. Expanding our programming to include longboarding was a natural progression. We can include more people, and longboard when there are no waves.”
From here, I contacted Matt Olsen, director of Explore Corps, a peace-building organization and the three started to get things rolling in February of 2012. I hadn’t been to Israel since 1989. I knew that I wanted to come to Israel and be more than just a tourist. I knew that longboards could be a vehicle for fun, but I also had a gut feeling they could be tools of peace.
I just didn’t realize how deeply emotional this whole experience would be.
Longboards are fun and easy to learn. Not everyone lives near surf and learning to ride can be a challenge. Longboards are much easier to learn than regular street skateboards and you don’t need to live by the sea to feel the thrill of the ride.
Surfing 4 Peace works with the Peres Center for Peace, based in Jaffa. Tami Hay-Sagiv, Director of the Peres Center Sports Department and Sivan Hendel, projects manager worked hard to ensure the demos all came together.
The first demo was held at the Peres Center in Jaffa and took place on July 5th. The team assembled an hour before to unload the car and coordinate things. The demo featured a local martial arts club performing first. The kids were pretty excited to get on the boards, but they sat patiently watching the kung fu moves. Joining the club were about 15 Jaffa locals. It was extraordinary to see the children interact with their Tel Aviv neighbors. Normally, these kids would not run into each other, and yet here they were having a great time rolling around joyfully on longboards.
Yoni Ettinger, a pro longboarder for Earthwing Skateboards explained the basics of skateboarding and the kids followed his direction—most of the time! Once they felt somewhat balanced, they immediately started rolling faster:
“I have been teaching skateboarding for many years. But most times, I have taught people who have at least some experience. Watching these pure beginners learn quickly was wonderful. Seeing them so stoked was like a gift for me.”
As each minute passed, the kids grew more and more passionate about riding. Mickey Kook, of Surfing 4 Peace found the experience truly transformative. “It is so easy to get caught up in what the media chooses to show us—reality always has a way of surprising us, change and open our minds,” said Kook. “I can definitely tell you that many minds were opened.”
The kids in Jaffa skated for over two hours and were hounding the Peres staff as to when the next session would be. I knew after the Jaffa demo that we had achieved something magical. The question was what would things be like in an environment like East Jerusalem and the Palestinian territory of Jericho?
With their first session under their belts, the team felt energized, but cautious as their next event was to be held in Sderot. Before the demo got underway, care was taken to locate the closest bomb shelter. Sderot had been bombed a week before the team arrived. “Sderot was an absolutely incredible experience and truly emotional for everyone,” said Tami Hay-Sagiv. There was one young child from a fairly impoverished family who, as the demo finished up, would not let go of the board that Tami was holding. “I will never forget the look in his eyes.”
Sderot is the kind of place that you hear about in the news, but rarely visit. With over 40 children and their parents enjoying the pure energy of longboarding, there is no doubt that the Search/Spark/Stoke tour had brought some much needed smiles.
The following day—Thursday, July 12—began early, at least for surfers and skaters. The team assembled at eight a.m. and thanks to the generosity of the Peres Center, they were able to charter their own tour bus. With all permits and paperwork being handled by the Peres Center, the group took to contemplating the opportunity that lay before them.
Most Israelis just don’t go to East Jerusalem or Jericho. The tour picked up their local guide at the East Jerusalem border crossing and as the bus plunged into what was for many uncharted waters, but the gang just went with the flow.
“I was nervous about going to Palestinian territories” explained Yoni. “I figured I was going to look like an alien to these people. But what I quickly discovered was that we had a bond and that bond was longboarding.”
Upon entrance to the school, located in the Shuafat area of East Jerusalem, the team was greeted to the sights and sounds of a puppet show. About 45 minutes later, the skate session was underway.
While the boys took to the longboards as one would expect, it was truly exceptional to watch young Palestinian girls and women hop onto the longboards. It’s a scene you probably don’t see every day.
Changing perceptions can only come when people are given opportunities to experience something different. I am quite sure these women never expected to be riding skateboards that morning, but I also think they probably were not expecting to meet up with Israeli’s and hold their hands for balance.
Ettinger said the East Jerusalem demo was the highlight of the trip. “I held the hands of a Palestinian women who needed me for balance. I could feel how happy she was and that in turn, made me very happy.”
As the demo wrapped up, the group prepared for a tour of Jerusalem via the Arab quarter. Anwar, the local contact for the Peres Center and translator, took the gang to one of the best shwarma places in all of Israel. The group bonded over delicious food and took in the beauty of Jerusalem. Yoni was unable to get his longboard through the security at the Western Wall, but quickly skated and met up with group for their journey to Jericho.
Before entering Jericho, the bus picked up a journalist and photographer from the Ma’ariv newspaper. Jericho was recently handed back to the Palestinian Authority. As the bus entered the city, the group got a clear view of the Oasis Casino. The casino was a popular tourist attraction but now lies dormant and desolate. It is next to a five star hotel, giving the visitor a rather odd juxtaposition.
Before the demo, the gang took a trip on the gondola that takes you to the top of Jericho. The view is spectacular, but there were few tourists that day. The boards and helmets were unloaded and a simultaneous translation began. The 25 kids took to longboarding quickly. They were fresh off a soccer practice and some removed their soccer cleats to get a better footing on the board. Over the course of an hour, a bond developed between Arabs, Israelis and those from North America. Even the Ma’ariv newspaper folks could be seen rolling around on a board.
When I first told people in Canada that I was planning to go to the Palestinian Territories, they honestly thought I was insane.
There was serious concern for my well-being. But I can assure everyone that with help from Surfing 4 Peace/Explore Corps and the support of the Peres Center for Peace, our trip was not only safe, but accomplished something truly significant.
We got people to think differently about themselves and the world around them. I see this as important first step in opening minds and creating a climate for change and eventually peace.
Hay-Sagiv of the Peres Center said it was amazing to see kids from the most shy to the most confident all rushing to the skateboards keen to start exploring and trying out different moves:
“Everyone felt included, both boys and girls, old and young, Hebrew speakers and Arabic speakers.” Hay-Sagiv said that Longboading for Peace made everyone feel young, rejuvenated and free from the heavy conflict that surrounds people here. “This was an inspiring experience for all of us! It made us all realize again how powerful sport is, especially when you utilize it in the service of peace.”
Post Script: British Columbia, Peru, Watts, San Diego, Houston and Beyond!
It’s now been eight months since the first demos in the Middle East. So many amazing things have happened since that time that it’s difficult to know where to begin.
A chance encounter with surfer/writer Grant Shilling launched Longboarding for Peace in British Columbia. The First Nations kids were stoked out of their minds by the arrival of 25 completes from Landyachtz. Helmets were provided by Triple 8 and Sector 9.
In Peru, Roadshark Longboards organized a competition and even more importantly arranged for 30 families to be fed for a week.
This is the what Longboarding for Peace stands for…one thing leads another and everyone benefits!
In Watts, an after school program to teach kids how to longboard is up and running. We have a shoe drive happening in San Diego and Longboarding for Peace in Houston is really hitting a nerve. Take a look at this email from Mikey Siebert:
“I am working with gangsterz. If you would like to look one up just google tango blast. It’s one of the gangs here in town. Of our 20+ kids, six are rival gang members who have put down their guns and joined together through longboarding. I have 10 new kids signed up for the next session. Two are bloods and 4 are crips, and 1 is a Latin king. They will be joining with the other ex gansterz to become longboarderz. Also we are going to start having the original kids that learned start to teach the new kids. So it gives them mentoring experience. So that they will be able to mentor to others about why gangs suck. I even had one kid bring his gun to the last session. I had him hide it during the session and got them all not to bring guns or drugs to Anymore of our classes. They look up to me, as i am also an ex gang member. I held rank in a gang called the gangster disciples. Due to that and my tattoos (brands) they understand I used to be one of them. They also see what I have achieved without the gang. And a few even told me they had real hope now.”
So, what started in a place not so well known for peace has now created a worldwide movement.
It’s all about stepping on and stepping up. Longboarding for Peace is here to bring about positive change. We don’t care how it happens, we just want to use the positive energy of longboarding to increase the amount of joy and happiness and decrease the amount of pain and suffering.
Michael Brooke: I am the publisher/editor of Concrete Wave Magazine. I have been skateboarding since 1975. In 1999, my book “The Concrete Wave—the history of skateboarding” was published. Over 43,000 copies were sold and it spawned a 52 part tv series shown in over 30 countries.
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Assistant Ed: Sara Crolick/Ed: Bryonie Wise