When Ran Gaash first started stand-up paddle surfing some five years ago, he was able to count on one hand the number of others standing on large surfboards and propelling themselves forward with a paddle in the Mediterranean Sea. Today there are hundreds of stand-up paddle surfing fans in Israel – locals and tourists alike.
Stand-up paddle surfing or boarding (known as SUP) is an offshoot of surfing. A SUP board is a big surfboard with an adapted paddle that meshes elements of surfing with kayaking. It is considered one of the fastest-growing sports in the world.
The local scene is mirroring the global one.
“The SUP scene is growing from year to year in Israel. If at the beginning each beach had five to 10 stand-up paddlers, today you can see between 100 and 200 SUP enthusiasts in the same water space,” Gaash tells ISRAEL21c.
Israel, it would seem, is a SUP paradise.
“Israel is an ideal place to SUP because we have access to the Red Sea, Sea of Galilee, Mediterranean Sea, Dead Sea and Jordan River,” says Dana Inbar, an instructor and co-owner of Supaway in Michmoret.
“Israel offers unique places for SUP fans,” Inbar, 48, who is married to Olympian windsurfer Amit Inbar, tells ISRAEL21c. “The Mediterranean Sea has great weather all year. The Dead Sea has extraordinary views that you can only see from out in the water and, as it is the lowest point on Earth, offers a truly unique paddling feeling and overall amazing experience. The Sea of Galilee is great for a twilight SUP tour on flat water. The Red Sea lets you SUP over coral reefs. And the Jordan River offers white-water SUP and takes people to places you can’t usually access from land.”
Being able to experience Israel a bit differently is one of Shir Orian’s main messages for why people should SUP. “When you go out to the water on a paddleboard, you can see a 360 degree view of Eilat. You can see the corals from above and that is really amazing,” says the manager/instructor at Eilat Island.
A sport for everyone
“What’s so nice about SUP is that it is a mixture of sports and for everyone,” says Orian, 24. “You can do it from age six to 80. Everyone can connect. It’s an easy activity.”
Indeed, SUP is considered one of the easiest outdoor recreational activities to try.
“SUP is something everyone can do. It is so popular because within an hour, you can already do it. After four lessons, you’re already independent,” says Inbar.
Inbar, Orian and others around Israel run daily workouts for the SUP community.
“It’s aerobic, anaerobic; it’s a sport that you don’t get tired of,” says Inbar. “Every day, I’m on the water with a smile. It’s more than just a sport with cardio and core toning. It is something in nature, fun, friendly, and sporty. It’s even meditative. And that’s why people love it and why it’s growing all the time.”
In addition to providing a full-body workout, SUP puts you in a relaxing environment on the water. As such, SUP has offshoots like SUP Pilates and SUP yoga.
“SUP yoga is an amazing combination of SUP and yoga,” says Orian, who leads SUP yoga classes in Eilat, weather permitting. “The water is a great place to do yoga — even better than in a studio. Out on the water, we can hear our breaths, enjoy the amazing nature around us and just let go.”
SUP in Israel
The water sport has a weird history, drawing from numerous cultures.
Some sources say that SUP originated in Africa, where it is common for locals to stand on their canoes when paddling. Others put the beginning of the sport in 1940s Hawaii, where surfers used extra-long boards to paddle through the waves.
Even Tel Aviv features in the history of present-day SUP. Israeli lifeguards would stand on a board-boat hybrid, known as a hasehkeh, and paddle up to swimmers in distress.
For the most part, however, today’s trend probably started in Hawaii in the 1990s. By the early 2000s, surfers were switching over to the new sport and there were even contests taking place.
Gaash, a surfer since age five, represents Israel unofficially at paddling contests around the world. He won first place in open races at the Pacific Paddle Games in 2015 and 2016.
“I have a sticker of the Israeli flag on my board and I’m very proud to say that I’m from Israel,” the 34-year-old tells ISRAEL21c.
Gaash helps organize local SUP events and contests and brings international SUP athletes to Israel annually. In 2016, he brought Australian pro SUP racer Trevor Tunnington to compete in the Zazik Race SUP Pro event in Tel Aviv.
Though Israel is not a main stopover for SUP activity or competitions just yet, the great year-round weather and water options could make Israel a SUP paradise.
“In December or January, there aren’t many places to go for SUP. But you can come to Eilat. We’re a very attractive destination for SUP,” says Gaash.
“Adding a water sport activity or attraction to your itinerary is a must in Israel,” says Inbar. “It’s a great solo or family attraction. And Israel has amazing weather and beautiful beaches to do it.”