Surfing is no new sport in Lebanon. In fact, according to Paul Abbas, who runs the first and only surfboard shaping business in Lebanon, the surf scene goes back to the 70s.
There was even a surf club and surfers would catch waves mainly at the Saint Simon beach in Jnah, Abbas told The961. However, the surf scene went dim when the Lebanese Civil War broke out.
No one really knows what happened to the surfers, but Abbas believes they may have left the country. What is certain, though, is that the surf scene picked back up in the late 80s and early 90s – slowly revived by windsurfers in the Batroun area.
“When I started surfing in 2011, there were definitely less than 50 surfers in Lebanon. Now there are 3 surf schools in Batroun, Jbeil, and Jiyeh and there are a lot of surfers,” he told us. There are even many foreigners surfing in Lebanon, he said.
In an interview with Surfer, Abbas explained how he created his first surfboard on the roof of his friend’s apartment.
Completely self-taught through personal research, watching YouTube, and other tutorials, he crafted his first board for personal use because there just wasn’t anyone else doing it.
Today, he has his own workshop and gets requests for boards and SUPs from surfers all around the region, including Lebanon, West Africa, Dubai, Egypt, and more. Starting off as a hobby, it has become his full-time job.
Around 5 years ago, he had the opportunity to shape boards at the West Coast Factory in the Ivory Coast. Working abroad catalyzed his career in Lebanon and gave him the validation locals were looking for.
“I think we have this idea in Lebanon that anything made [here] is not good enough or that it’s lower quality,” he laughed.
Surfing the crisis
Abbas noticed that there is a rise in people’s interest in surfing, despite the pandemic and the economic crisis in the country.
However, regardless of people’s increased interest, their purchasing power has decreased, prompting Abbas to lower his prices to make boards more affordable for Lebanese.
Comparing surfing to snowboarding and skiing, Abbas said that other than the surfboard and a wetsuit (if surfing in winter), the sport is usually free. Whereas it can be most costly to snowboard and ski in Lebanon.
But adding to the health and economic conditions, the surf community is directly impacted by sea pollution and the building of resorts and marinas.
“There are a lot of really good waves that no one surfs because they are polluted, especially the ones close to Beirut like Ramlet El Bayda,” he explained, adding that the marinas, resorts, and wave breakers have killed beaches that used to get good waves.
In 2019, the surf community even campaigned against a marina project that was being built in Batroun, one of the areas that gets the best waves. They were able to successfully stop it.
Luckily, you can still catch waves any time of the year across the country, from down south to the north of Lebanon, Abbas told us. But to him, winter is the prime surf season, bringing in the most enjoyable waves.
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