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(photo credit: AP)
An 86-year-old Jewish surfing legend from Hawaii is bringing good vibrations to the Gaza Strip.
Dorian Paskowitz, a retired doctor with 75 years of surfing experience, brought surfboards to Gaza's small surfing community on Tuesday, a gesture he hoped would get Israelis and Palestinians catching the same peace wave.
"God will surf with the devil, if the waves are good," Paskowitz said. "When a surfer sees another surfer with a board, he can't help but say something that brings them together."
Tanned, grinning and shirtless, Paskowitz emerged at the Erez crossing between Israel and Gaza after handing over 15 boards to a few Palestinian surfers waiting on the other side. He said he was spurred into action after reading a newspaper article about two Gazans who couldn't enjoy the waves because they had only one board between them.
"I said to myself - my God, these guys really love surfing, but it says they have no boards. So I said to my son, come, we'll go to Israel and get them some boards," Paskowitz told AP Television News.
He described his mission as a "mitzvah," Hebrew for a "good deed."
Arthur Rashkovan, a 28-year-old surfer from Tel Aviv, said Paskowitz's project was part of a larger effort called "Surfing for Peace," aimed at bringing Middle East surfers closer together. He said eight-time world surfing champion Kelly Slater, who is of Syrian descent, is expected to arrive in Israel in October to take part in the drive.
"We want Palestinians to enjoy the surfing experience. We believe it brings people together," Rashkovan said. "The idea is for people to forget about the violence and follow the journey to peace on the waves."
Paskowitz said that during his visit he wanted to "do something spectacular, like getting all the surfers and paddling around into the waters of Gaza," but those plans were scuttled because of security concerns.
On the day of his visit, five Palestinians were killed by Israeli forces combating militants in Gaza. Three of the dead were Islamic Jihad gunmen and two were children, 10 and 12 years old.
"It's very tense there now," Paskowitz said.
Paskowitz, whom Rashkovan called a "guru," refers to himself simply as "an old surfer." He is venerated by Israeli surfing devotees as the man who brought the sport to the Jewish state five decades ago.
Paskowitz first arrived in Israel in 1956, during that year's Israel-Egypt war, and tried to join the Israeli military but was turned down. So he surfed off the coast of Tel Aviv instead, he recounted, and was mobbed by Israelis charmed by the strange sight of a man riding the waves standing upright on a board.
"From feeling so lost that Israel didn't want me as a paratrooper or a commando, I went out and surfed my board, and this time I was a hero," he said.
A father of nine, Paskowitz served in the U.S. Navy during World War II, practiced family medicine for more than half a century and has published books on surfing and health. He said he's surfed for 75 years in locations all over the world.
"I'm 86 years old, I can't stand up very well, I have a piece of titanium in my hip, but I still love it," he said.
He ranked the waves off the coast of Israel and Gaza with the world's best.
"It's really quite remarkable how good they are for modern surfing," he said.