There may not always be strong waves on Israel’s Mediterranean shore, and sometimes there are no waves at all. But that hasn’t stopped 20-year-old Mor Meluka from becoming the first Israeli surfer to compete in the trials for the upcoming 2006 Billabong ASP World Junior Championships in Australia, the most prestigious junior surfing event in the world.
“The first time I surfed was when I was six years old. I loved it then and can safely say that I believe I’ll be surfing for the rest of my life, or as long as I can,” Meluka told ISRAEL21c on the eve of his departure for Australia for the trials which takes place on December 31, a week ahead of the competition.
Meluka grew up in the southern coastal city of Ashdod, where the Mediterranean Sea was a natural part of the leisure time activity.
“All my family surfed – my older brother and sister, and my father, who taught me,” he said.
Meluka began entering local competitions at age 12 and was the Israeli junior champion for three years running beginning at age 16.
According to Hadar Marelly, the head of the Israel Surfing Association, the surfing subculture is thriving despite the wave-challenged Israeli coastline.
“We’re celebrating our 20th anniversary this year, and we have around 400 registered members,” Marelly told ISRAEL21c. However he estimated that there are upwards of 100,000 weekend surfers in the country dotting the dozens of beaches lining the coast.
The ISA sends Israeli teams twice a year to European competitions where Marelly says they “do OK.” He blames it not on the surfers’ ability, but rather on the lackluster wave performance.
“There are two problems with being a surfer in Israel – there’s no wave consistency and when there are waves, they’re usually not so big,” he explained.
Meluka also bemoans the ‘surf’s down’ uncooperativeness of the Mediterranean, but takes advantage of every good day he can.
“I try to practice as often as I can, but it depends on the surf. The last two months have been especially flat, so I need to go to Europe to train,” he said.
Another challenge Meluka faced while honing his surfing skills was completing his education and serving in the Israeli Army.
“I’ve been able to combine my education and surfing – I know that they’re both important. I’ve been focusing the last three months on studying for my psychometric entrance exams for university, but I manage to juggle training in there as well.
As for the army, Meluka, who was recently demobilized, says that special allowances were made for him for training and competitions throughout his army service.
“The IDF recognized me as part of their athletic program and was very cooperative about giving me time off to compete. I did some good things in the army and I think I contributed something, but I do better things as a surfer,” he said.
Meluka is hoping to do even better things in Australia, where, according to the Globalsurfers website, The Billabong ASP World Junior Championship is seen as a stepping-stone to the world professional tour. The event, now in its eighth year, is held at the North Narrabeen beach in Sydney, attracting qualifiers from eight world regions including Australasia, North America, South America, Hawaii, Asia, South Africa, Europe and a specially sanctioned ASP International region.
“The top 50 junior surfers from around the world are invited, and this is first time that an Israeli surfer has been included. I got a wild card entrance due to my performance last summer on the European junior surfing circuit, where I finished 22nd,” Meluka said.
Meluka will face a tough field of 14 other trials hopefuls from Australia as well as Japan, Bali and Tahiti in the trials event on December 31st. The winner and runner up will be granted a slot in the main event and a shot at a world’s most sought after junior surfing title. The $62,000 prize purse qualifies the ASP World Junior Championships as the world’s most lucrative junior surfing event.
“You can compete in junior events until the age of 21. This will be my last tournament, and after that, I join the big boys. It will be much more difficult – they’re pretty much the best in the world,” said Meluka.
ASP president Wayne Bartholomew told Globalsurfers that the addition of the Israeli surfers represents the growth of surfing in remote world locations.
“In seeking a truly international mix in what is a global event, ASP wants to ensure that kids in far flung countries that perhaps don’t have direct access to regional qualifiers get a shot at qualifying for a World Championship via the VZ Trials,” said Bartholomew. “We have teenagers coming in from Israel, Indonesia, the UK and Tahiti. This reflects both emerging talent and emerging nations and will certainly add to the dynamics of this great event.”
Meluka thrives on attending international competitions, and he says his heart swells with pride when other surfers or spectators realize he’s from Israel.
“When I go to competitions, I get very interesting reactions from the other surfers. They don’t understand where we surf in Israel,” he said.
“I always feel like an emissary from Israel – showing the surfers and the spectators that we do other things in Israel besides fighting in the army. It’s important to show the world that things like that are going on here.