In Gaza, where it is illegal under Sharia law for women even to ride bicycles, four young girls are boldly learning to surf. With the help of the American non-profit organization, Explore Corps, they are riding the waves and gaining a measure of freedom, confidence and independence.
This past summer, Rawan Abo Ghanem, 12, and her sister Kholoud, 10, together with their cousins Shorouq, 12, and Sabah, 10, mastered the basics of surfing under the tutelage of Matthew Olsen, executive director of Explore Corps. The organization, which brings together educators, expeditionary leaders, international development and political consultants to promote outdoor education programs, was founded in 2007. According to Olsen, the non-profit runs primarily on volunteer power, and its tiny budget is covered by private donors from the United States and Europe.
Explore Corps, together with the Surfing 4 Peace initiative started by Jewish surfing legend Dorian “Doc” Paskowitz, Israeli surfing industry professional Arthur Rashkovan, Doc’s son David Paskowitz and surfing champion Kelly Slater, has been supporting and equipping the fledgling Gaza Surf Club. It was only last August, post-Flotilla incident, that most of the surfing equipment was allowed into Gaza by the Israeli authorities.
Knowing Navah Paskowitz-Walther today as a San Fernando Valley stay-at-home mom who is active in her synagogue and children’s Jewish day school, it is hard to believe that, as a child, she lived a peripatetic existence in a 24-foot camper. Growing up as the only girl in a Jewish family of nine children, she surfed every day, never went to school, and bowed to her father Dorian “Doc” Paskowitz’s heavy-handed and idiosyncratic approach to parenting. Her story sounds like something in a movie, which it actually has been and will again be. The highly unconventional Paskowitzes, the largest and best-known family in surfing, are the subject of the 2007 documentary, “Surfwise,” — reviewed here in the Forward — and a feature film about them is currently in pre-production.
While the focus of these films is on all the Paskowitzes, Navah’s story deserves special attention — not only because she is the sole daughter, but also because of the particularly Jewish role she has played and continues to play in the family.