The game of matkot is like Marmite. You either love it or hate it.
Considered Israel’s unofficial national sport, it’s a game in which two or more players hit a small ball back and forth using paddles. The game is a combination of paddleball, ping pong and squash. It gets its name from the paddle called a matka. Pluralised, it’s matkot.
In a country brimming with assertiveness, matkot comes with an interesting twist: It is a completely non-competitive beach game.
Fans of the game take to the country’s beaches throughout the year but especially in summertime. There’s no shortage of players – beginners to professionals – whacking a black rubber ball along the seashore.
Any time of day or night, beachgoers can hear the tic-tac-tic of the ball being hit.
Even the travel section of The New York Times recently dedicated a page to the matkot phenomenon in Tel Aviv.But not everyone is pro-matkot. Like the fermented yeast spread, matkot evokes a polarized “love/hate” reaction.
The game can be dangerous to other beachgoers. Errant balls often hit innocent sunbathers.
And this prompted two local filmmakers from Tel Aviv to create a satirical short documentary on “the noisiest ball game in the world.”
“The beach could’ve been a fun place. But actually there is no beach, just matkot,” they bemoan in their film.
But like any good Israeli invention, this sport has crossed borders. Israeli travelers have already introduced the game to other beach cultures and people in Australia, Thailand and Brazil are fine-tuning their swings.
With the London Games upon us, it’s too late to add matkot to the sports lineup. But a group of veteran matkot players at Gordon beach in Tel Aviv told ISRAEL21c that though they hold international contests, they won’t be satisfied until matkot is an official Olympic sport.
Rio de Janeiro, are you listening?
(Photography of “Matkot at sunset” by Shutterstock.com)