Tourist Tip #77 / Surf's Up

Israel is a great place for casual surfing, and the best waves of the year are just around the corner.

With Israel’s beach season waning, surfers across the country are waxing. They want their boards primed for the upcoming surf season, when the biggest and best waves start rolling in. If you happen to be in the Holy Land in the next six months, consider grabbing your own board and paddling out with the locals.

Compared to surf meccas like California, Australia and Indonesia, Israel offers relatively small, weak waves. In the summer, they range from too small to surf to about three feet high – perfect for inexperienced “groms” or laid-back veterans. But from November through April, three-to-four-foot waves are a much more common sight. Very rarely, winter storms even bring the kind of overhead swells that are better left to “rippers.”

Easy, newbie-friendly waves aren’t the only inviting feature of Israel’s Mediterranean Sea. The water temperature ranges from a balmy high of 84 degrees Fahrenheit in July and August to a tolerable low of 61 degrees in the January and February, according to WannaSurf, a popular global surfer’s guide. This means you can get away with not wearing a wetsuit most of the year. As an added bonus, seaweed and sharks are more or less non-existent here, making the jellyfish that swarm our waters in July the only serious organic hazard.

Surfable spots dot Israel’s 170-mile coastline from Nahariya in the north to Ashkelon in the south, but most are concentrated between Tel Aviv and Herzliya. The oldest and most famous spot is under the Hilton hotel in Tel Aviv. Conveniently, the waves break both left and right off the reef, meaning no matter which way you stand on your board or are more comfortable facing, chances are you’ll be happy as a clam. On big days, expert surfers head up to Bat Galim in Haifa, to surf the powerful beach break, which also goes both ways.

Since a California doctor named Dorian “Doc” Paskowitz brought surfing to Israel in the 1950s, Israelis have enthusiastically and unpretentiously embraced the sport.

Most surf spots have local shops, which offer equipment for purchase or rental, surf lessons and websites with live video feeds of the water so you can check on the size of the waves. English-language information on Israel’s numerous surf spots, including surf reports and forecasts, can be found at the Wannasurf, Magic Seaweed and Surfline websites, among others.

As is true in waters around the world, it’s usually best to hit the waves in the early morning or late evening, when winds tend to be low or offshore (smoothing out the waves rather than chopping them up). So shake off the jetlag and shred some Israeli “gnar buckets.”