Surfer Barak Cohen isn't bothered that nobody comes to visit the beaches of the Katif bloc anymore. "I don't want anyone to come here," says the 13-year-old, who started surfing four years ago, just as the intifada erupted. "I don't want another 200 surfers in the water with me. I want space. With other surfers around, you can hardly catch a wave. I hope it stays like this."
Cohen isn't just another surf bum, he is the biggest talent to have ever hit the waves here. When the big city surfers from Tel Aviv and Bat Yam came down to referee at the Katif championship two months ago, they had never seen anything like him.
Cohen took the title hands down and with his name on every talent scout's books and a place on the national team, he is already preparing for the world championship in Tahiti. On the way, he plans to spend the spring in Sri Lanka, where surfers say that if you can survive the seas there, you can survive anywhere.
Chief Katif lifeguard Yossi Ayalon says he is the one who discovered Cohen. "From the start, he was the most serious kid in the bloc. On the first day of the season, when the water is still cold, he would be the only one out surfing. Once he's in the water you can't get him out. He takes chances on big waves that other surfers stay away from. I was the one who taught him how to catch a wave and then all of a sudden I saw him take to the water like no one I've ever seen."
Cohen says that nothing compares to surfing. "It's adrenalin," says the precocious talent. "It flows in your body. You can't feel it anywhere else. I don't care whether it's winter or summer, the only thing that matters is that there are waves."
In principle, Barak is registered at the Sha'ar Hanegev vocational school in Sderot. When he isn't at school or in the water, he is at his parent's home in Dugit playing virtual surf games on his computer or watching extreme sports on TV.
"I'm a fisherman," says Barak's father Roni, "and when I had the kids I thought they would be fisherman, too, but they came out surfers. I've got everything to give to them - boats, equipment - but they don't want it. They want to be at sea for sport. No doubt about it, Barak is really smart with the surfboard. I wish he was as smart at school. If he listens to me he will make his living as a fisherman. A fisherman doesn't depend on anybody and he can always surf when the waves are high. But if what Barak wants is to surf then we'll give him all the resources he needs to succeed. I just think fishing is better."
Barak's mother doesn't share her husband's passion for fishing. "I can't see Barak's future in fishing. There's no future in it. Surfing is another story, however. They say Barak has potential because he's young and can be developed. In the last year and a half he has burst on to the scene and everyone has caught on to how good he is. The good thing about Barak is that he has guts. I want him to succeed. If he can make a living from what he loves that's great."
When Barak hears the word money, his eyes light up. "My dream is to succeed and to compete at the world championship. At big surf contests there is a lot of money. Sometimes prizes are as big as $200,000. Look at Kelly Slater, the world champion. Nobody can take him. You know how he lives. He's made millions. I hope I can be like him."