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Film “Waves Apart” explores antisemitism in surfing

Josh Greene was so in love with surfing he talked his parents into having his bar mitzvah at a surf museum in San Clemente, where he grew up riding waves.

Years later, his parents nonchalantly mentioned what they dubbed the “Nazi surfboards” they had removed before his milestone celebration.

They were referring to early-era wooden boards that bore an etched-in symbol on the top that were known as the “swastika model.”  While museum founder Dick Metz says the symbol on those boards is slightly different than a swastika and was derived from a Native American sign for sky, water, mountains and land, Greene said he couldn’t help but wonder if there was an antisemitic side to surfing that needed to be explored.

Greene, 23, is getting ready to debut his film “Waves Apart” on Feb. 16 and Feb. 18 at the Santa Barbara International Film Festival, a documentary he created while in film school at USC.

The 25-minute short film has already earned accolades and is among 24 finalists for the Student Academy Awards, an international student film competition, and one of seven honored out of 1,796 submitted.

In his film, Greene revisits the surf museum to learn more about the “swastika model” history.

“It’s just mind boggling to me, to comprehend that the first mass-produced surfboard ever is known as the ‘swastika model,’” he said.

Metz said by 1937, two years before World War II broke out, the symbols were no longer used on the surfboards because their context had changed. “It’s always a talking point when people see them, right away they think of it as a German swastika,” Metz said.

Greene said the “whole arc of our film investigates this trend of anti-Jewish rhetoric and Nazi imagery throughout the decades.

Josh Greene, who grew up in San Clemente, explores the history of antisemitism in surf culture in a new film Waves Apart. (Screengrab images courtesy of Jack Lattin)
Josh Greene, who grew up in San Clemente, explores the history of antisemitism in surf culture in a new film Waves Apart. (Screengrab images courtesy of Jack Lattin)

“A lot of surfing is beautiful and something I love, but I don’t think we would be pushing the sport in a positive direction if we ignore areas we fell short,” he also said. “It was disappointing to learn these dark and really overly racist revelations about my heroes of the past.”

He found footage of surfers in San Diego wearing Nazi uniforms in beach parking lots waving swastika flags, seemingly as a joke but extremely hurtful, he said.

Greene met up with former pro longboarder Izzy Paskowitz, who today runs the nonprofit Surfers Healing, to talk about growing up Jewish in the surf community. The Paskowitz family created the mainland’s first surf camp on the sand at San Onofre and lived there in a small trailer.

Doc Paskowitz, the family patriarch and well-known in the surf world, one day saw a surfer paddle out with a swastika painted on his board, so he got a hammer and smashed it to pieces right on the beach, Izzy said.

Doc Paskowitz is also credited with bringing surfing to Israel in the ’50s and later in the ’90s took boards to Gaza through heavily military-guarded checkpoints as a symbol of peace.

Izzy Paskowitz said every Friday his father would hold Shabbat on the beach and sing prayers, but he couldn’t help but feel nervous about publicly expressing their faith on the beach.

“But you follow this great man’s lead,” he said. “I’m so grateful we did.”

Greene also met with former world champion Shaun Tomson, one of the best surfers in the ’70s, who in the film recalles an encounter in his younger years when he was called a derogatory term related to being Jewish. Tomson, who now lives in Santa Barbara, in response headbutted the guy and was never called the name again.

Paskowitz called Greene “incredibly brave” for exploring the untold side of surfing.

“I guess it’s something that’s not brought up a lot, antisemitism in surfing,” Paskowitz said. “When he approached me about it, being very proud of my background and my father’s part in creating surfing in Israel and being a proud Jew, it’s monumental.”

Greene said he sees a new wave of hate being experienced across the country today, and these stories of the past can serve as lessons for the next generation.

“I just think that surfing is a microcosm, just like any other sport, for the bigger issues you see,” he said.

“Waves Apart” will be screened at the Santa Barbara International Film Festival at 7:40 p.m. on  Feb. 16 and 11:40 a.m. on Feb. 18, with a Q&A with some of the surfers in the film. For more information, visit

Source: Orange County Register

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