The ghost of instability seems to like especially certain parts of the world, Libano is one of those ones for sure.
Lebanon is one of those countries which alternate years of relative calm, going from being a guiding light of interreligious coexistence and development – building up a fascinating multi-cultural attitude difficult to eradicate from the deepest soul of the country itself – to become an extremely hard country.
During the last 30 years, Libano faced a civil war (1975-1990), three Israeli invasions (a brief one in 1978, a longer one that lasted from 1982 up to 2000 and the last one in 2006). Fights against Israel have been numerous especially in the southern part of the country. There have been many reconciliations interchanged by moments of high tension, indeed it was in 2005 that Prime Minister Rafīq al-Ḥarīrī was murdered in a bomb attack. Only in the recent years there has been a different mood characterized by confidence and collaboration. Despite the war in the neighbouring Syria, the relaxed mood that it is possible to feel in the country made possible a rescue of tolerance towards different creeds and political parties.
I’ve heard speaking about Libano many times, but the first time that this country entered my life was in 2014 during a work trip in Palestine. The situation was instable, at that time there was the famous “Protective Edge” operation going in which many Palestinians, civilian, were wiped out in the Gaza Strip. The situation was unbearable and threats were coming from Gaza and from the northern border.
My worry for those inaccurate missiles was rising, also because the previous week a Quassan , out of control had just crashed near my house, fortunately without any explosion This event forced me to be constantly focused on the geographical map, trying to understand the distance between Bethlem, Gaza and the south of Libano. After a while the situation changed, the planes stopped to bomb Gaza, the parties involved could make their own statement of victory, so that I could focus again my attention on the Mediterranean coast with its waves.
So when I heard speaking about Libano again it was for a total different reason, a pleasant one.
Surfing new places is always exciting, when I realized that with a certain number of efforts, that mainly consisted into never ending check-points and consequently longer transfers, I could finally surf in Jaffa I was feeling head over heels.
Surfers are never satisfied although, so I ended up complaining about surfing always the same spots and the usual waves together with local surfers living in Jaffa.
“These beach-breaks are not pushing at all, we should head up to the north”
“North? Where exactly?”
“Haifa, Netanya, Libano”
It was the first time I heard about Libano as a possible surfer destination.
I discovered that in Libano there were great beach- breaks and a cool local people.
Unfortunately there were many problems, including having not many holidays, renting a car in Israel and driving it into a different country and the fear that a type of stamp on my passport would preclude the happy end of a long and difficult trip. In the end I decided not to go to the south of Libano. Three year have passed by, meanwhile I went back to Italy, but my desire to go and visit Libano meeting its local scene has not faded away. Suddenly a friend of mine mentioned to me Paul Abbas and his surfboards. He is a shaper in Jounieh a little village half an hour from Beirut, he is the only shaper living in Libano.
“He is the only shaper living in Libano, you should meet him and do an interview”.
“Why not?” I told to myself.
So here’s our interview with Pual Abbas of P.A. Surfboards
Let’s start with an introduction: we are a small Italian surf blog and we learned about your work and the Lebanese surf scene. Italy has a relatively young surf scene (though it is almost thirty years old) compared to the American’s; how long have people surfed in Lebanon? And how has this all started? I heard in the ‘70s – before the Civil War – there was a small community of surfers, is that right?
Yes its true, I heard stories about the surf in the 70s, didn’t believe it till I saw an old picture in a news paper of surfers and their boards on a beach near Beirut. Apparently there was a surf club and competitions too. I think one of those surfers in the picture is still in Lebanon and owns a restaurant in Byblos. And I met recently an other guy who used to surf here too in the 70s.
Is the surf scene restricted to Jiyeh City or are there other areas of the coast where people surf?
No there’s surfers in many places in Lebanon, one of the places with most local surfers is actually Batroun, and I think its there that the 2nd birth of the surf scene actually started. From what I heard it started in the 80s with windsurf then some guys started using their windsurfing boards for catching waves and kept progressing after that. Now people surf from Batroun in the north all the way south to Naccoura at the Palestinian border. But Jiyeh is the most popular spot now offering some of the most consistent spots with many people from different areas in Lebanon go there to surf on every swell. And not to forget the local surfers who are always friendly and welcoming to the visitors.
Often, when fishermen or locals are not used to see surfers, first it seems to them just boys throwing themselves to the sea, even in the winter, with odd resin boards, and this make them go upset. What was the response of people when you started surfing?
I think they thought were crazy. Especially in winter. Many people here don’t realize that there is good surfing waves in Lebanon, so when they see us moving around with surfboards we get weird looks and sometimes people come to watch as you said these kids throwing themselves in the cold winter sea specially during stormy days. I guess it’s a freak show for them, I don’t know. But really no negative reactions.
When did you realize there was a need for a local shaper and why?
It never was like that for me, shaping came out pure necessity. When I wanted to start surfing around 2003 there was no surf shops in Lebanon and who ever had a board he brought it with him from abroad, and finding a used board for sale was almost impossible. So when I actually made my first board I had never surfed before. So made myself on the roof of a friend’s house a 6’6 fish and took it surfing for the first time and as I imagined the feeling of gliding on the water was magic and I was hooked. After that I made myself a longboard and an SUP. Then I felt that I need to be building more boards, so I started offering my friends to make them boards for free, after that people started asking me to build them boards and that’s how it started.
Was it hard to start shaping seriously? I mean… to get the material and everything else? In Italy for the first shaper it was really an odyssey…
Yes of course, it took me about 6 month to finish my first board, from searching and finding the right materials to doing testes on the resins I could find here to actually shaping it and trying it out the first time. I had to make some of the tools needed and made my own fins and leash plug. So that board was 100% handmade. For the next few boards got some accessories from people coming to Lebanon, and Of course now its easier from the shapers in the 90s, now you can find anything you need online and have it delivered to your dour. So after that started getting these accessories even the materials from abroad. So yes it was hard but fun, I enjoyed that process and I still use some of the tools I made till now.
To the detriment of the dramatic events the country has faced over the years, Lebanon boasts a secular history of constructive tolerance and coexistence of different cultures and religions; are you also experiencing this important aspect of your culture in the surfing community?
Yes, there is many surfers from different areas, religious and politic background who surf together in total harmony (except for so occasional droppingins and surf accidents ) but these have so other reason than surfers being surfers 😛
Actually in the water even when the political situation is a bit tense in the country no one talk of anything happening in the country. Its like people come to surf together to forget what’s going on in the country. And recently there is a young Syrian refugee who started surfing with us in Jiiyeh, and that guy was welcomed in kindness and generosity from the local crew at first then from all the visiting surfers.
Often surf culture goes side by side with a music culture, or other ways of bother and counterculture expression. Is that true in Lebanon too, do you have free hangout spaces where is possible to share different views and entertainments?
I think surfing has became very popular these days around the world that there’s so many type of surfers, from counterculture surfer to the mainstream and everything in between. And you can find all of these types here in the lineups too. But outside the water yes some surfers will become the musicians the skateboards the snowboards the graffiti artist, and many have their favorite hanging out places where they can express and share their interests with fellow surfers and friends.
In the west the middle east has a bad reputation, just like a hot spot cut through wars, tragedies, dictatorships and so on. But Lebanon has a different reputation, a place of tolerance and integration despite of the problems often brought by neighborhood. Is that the reality and how do youngs deal with it?
Yes it is true, compared to our neighboring country we live in peace here, but we did get effected by the trouble around us. We had some car bombings a couple of years back and there was recently some clashes on the border between the army and militants from the Syrian war and not to forget the ever exciting tension in the south with Israel. And all these problems did effect the social and political situation here and added to the tensions that always existed, but these tensions never went too far to become problems on the ground, I think because with our recent history of civil war people we have learned that there is nothing to be gained from it, only tragedies and disasters, I think a big number of people specially youth kept realizing that they refused to b pulled back into extremism and kept living the normal coexisting life Lebanon in now known for in the middle east and hope it stays like that.