According to Biblical stories, Sea of Galilee is where Jesus Christ walked on water to rescue his disciples who were caught on a boat in the middle of a storm. The Focus Surfboard crew tried to replicatie the feat, but with sup boards, of course. Photo: Focus Surfboards.
The Yardenit is the place in the Jordan River where John the Baptist allegedly baptized Jesus. Focus Surfboards team member witnesses a Christian baptism on site, an interesting twist with someone standing on the water.
Dead Sea, the lowest Salt Water Body of Water in the World. You can actually see the salt build up at the edge of the mound, which gathers as a result of the high salinity levels. Photo: Focus Surfoards.
HAIFA, Israel – Israel, the holy land. A region deemed sacred by three of the world’s largest monotheistic faiths, brimming with diversity and full of historical and cultural significance. Israel also boasts of an incredibly unique topography and varying bodies of water. To the north lies the Sea of Galilee, the lowest fresh water lake on earth, from which flows the Jordan River. If you follow the Jordan River you will end up at the Dead Sea, the lowest saltwater lake on earth with such a high salt content that one is able to float effortlessly. The southernmost point of Israel is home to the Red Sea, the premier home to coral reefs and scuba diving. Israel is bordered by the Mediterranean Sea on its West side. For us, this was a trip back home to visit our families and friends except that this time we had a goal: to ride our Focus Surfboards SUPs in Israel from North to South.
1. Sea of Galilee or Kineret Lake
Our trip started in the Sea of Galilee, also known as the Kineret Lake. Located in the city of Tiberius under the Golan Heights, the Kineret is refuge for many locals and tourists who come to dip in the cool fresh mountain waters and relax in the sun. Seeing us on the SUP boards was a brand new experience for them. The children kept asking us about the SUP boards and if we could give them a ride… we ended up spending 30 minutes taxiing kids from point to point. They simply refused to get off the boards!
2. The Yardenit
The Jordan River begins to run southbound just below of the Kineret. Located near that waterway is a very unique and holy place called “The Yardenit.” It is here that John the Baptist baptized Jesus. This is undoubtedly a holy place for Christians and Catholics throughout the world and an amazing place to paddle. The Yardenit is about 30ft wide and is laced with tall trees on both banks, creating a shadowy cover from the heat. The water is green and cool with a very slow current.
We paddled against the current enjoying the serene waters and met people camping on the banks. Local kids were swinging on a tree swing straight into the water. The baptismal site is located upstream and once we got there we saw an actual Baptism taking place. This was a new and exciting experience for us, being Jewish we had never witnessed this ritual and were fortunate with our timing. The day ended with a fish dinner in Tiberius, sitting on the lakeside and reflecting on our amazing day.
3. Mediterranean Sea
Our next stop was a demo day for people to explore Stand Up Paddling in the Mediterranean Sea. The SUP scene in Israel is still in its infant stages. There are a few surfboard brands around but most people have no clue about SUP.
We held our demo day at Neve-Yam beach in the city of Atlit, with water temperatures at 88F and much higher air temperatures. The sea is a recreational escape for most Israelis in the summer. We had about 50 people attending the demo day and all were amazed at the SUP boards. Some surfers rode the waves for the first time on a SUP board and did so pretty well. With BBQ and drinks, the demo day lasted until sundown. We left burned from the sun but happy in our hearts. The smiles on peoples’ faces when they tried and rode the SUP boards were so rewarding that made everything worthwhile.
4. Dead Sea
The next and most challenging part of the trip was the drive and ride into the Dead Sea. It is a 5 hour drive from Haifa, our home town in the North, and with temperatures reaching 115F and no shade it wasn’t going to be easy. The Dead Sea, as the name suggests, has no life in or around it. The salt level is too high for life to exist. We had to count on the local hotels and lifeguards for some shade and a place to rest. Quickly people gathered around us asking questions about our boards, the carbon paddles and pretty much everything SUP.
The lifeguards typically use a SUP “equivalent” called HASAKE, a very large and bulky deck style vessel. It uses an aluminum paddle about 10 feet long with double blades. Once they grabbed hold of the carbon paddles they were amazed by the strength and lightness of the modern standup paddle boards. We had a two hour session with several SUP’s and a HASAKE and one thing became quickly noticeable: the exceptional floatation due to unusually high salinity levels. Most of us will never get to experience that abnormal flotation anywhere else in the world. The Dead Sea delivered a great day in the blistering hot sun.
5. City of Eliat
Next was the tourist city of Eilat. The city is on the banks of the Red Sea near Jordan and Egypt, a world renowned vacation spot especially for scuba diving and wind surfing. The city and its large hotels have a canal system running thru its large harbor area. We paddled the canals during sunset hours; the red sky was coming down on the Desert Mountains with a peaceful wind. During the canal paddle, a police officer asked us what we were doing; it must have been a sight to see us standing on water next to yachts and fishing boats.
In summary, we spent 14 days paddling up and down the coast and on the rivers of Israel, experiencing spots that are rare and exclusive to this part of the world. Being on sacred land (and for that matter, water) to three major religions was a new and exhilarating experience for us. If we learned one thing from the trip it is that people will always welcome you and treat you with respect if you do the same.
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