The Surfing Rabbi

01 Jun 2000, Posted by Steven Kotler in

The Surfing Rabbi calls it a gladiator pit, this famous roil of surfers, and their California playground. A right breaking point where the waves just roll in machine perfect in their curve, in their shape, in their lore. People come from all over to surf here and how blessed lucky is the Surfing Rabbi—it’s his home break. Where he surfs everyday, where he surfs everyday especially in October. Because October means swell: head-high, tight, sharp, powerful. People come here then for the California sunshine and the legendary Malibu waves. God bless Malibu: the home break of the Surfing Rabbi.

October means big storms churning in deep ocean and the crash of bigger waves reaches down the long arm of California, reaches Malibu, where the water’s warm and the sun shines and the locals don’t mind company. So there you are—not twenty-five miles from LA—where you can paddle out on your own or take a few lessons with the Surfing Rabbi. Where you can mend your soul and still make it back to Hollywood for happy hour.

The Surfing Rabbi—Nachum Shifren—author of Surfing Rabbi: A Kabbalistic Quest for Soul—with his long beard and long board, doesn’t take anyone seriously who doesn’t surf. His wife doesn’t surf. Don’t ask. But out there in the water, out there in Malibu, he takes everyone seriously and they take him seriously. They know all about his Kabalistic relationship to Yaweh—his knowledge of our essential relationship with our creator and his universe and, of course, his ocean. They know his big wave past and his big wave future (Devin—I mean both the fact that he’ll still paddle out in big waves and that riding spirituality is the biggest wave of all). They know that he lived in the islands—yes, those islands—and surfed Pipeline and Outer Sunset. They know he lived up and down the Mexico coast, surfing secret spots the whole time and that he lived in Israel, that he surfed the Holy Land. But they mostly know he came back to California, to Malibu, to his home break with its picture perfect October swell.

The Surfing Rabbi can hang-ten. No joke. Walk right up to the edge of the board and arch his back and let that long beard brave the wind and dangle both feet right over the nose. It’s a form of prayer to him. His whole life is a form of prayer. When he rides at Malibu he leaves his yarmulke and Torah in a cloth bag under the second lifeguard stations. Right behind the volleyball court. He’s got to have the Torah with him. Sometimes he surfs all day and on into the night and then he has to paddle in to say his evening prayers on the beach. He reads his parsha right beside the volleyball court, where the beach curves slightly, where he can see both the ocean and the land. He does so with fifty other surfers watching him from the water, famous surfers and grommets (grommets is a surfing term for beginner surfers), anyone at all. He doesn’t care. He says that anyone who wants to can come here and surf, says the ocean’s free, says that it’s God’s gift to the world, says that surfers understand prayer—whatever the form.

The Surfing Rabbi doesn’t proselytize in the water. Doesn’t deliver Sermons, but he doesn’t have to. He doesn’t worry too much about surfers. He says that if you want to know God then learn to surf. He says if you want to know God then come to Malibu, even if he calls it the gladiator pit because there are fifty guys in the water all fighting for one wave, fighting to take off deep, to stay beside the curl. Sometimes three or four surfers riding the same wave at the same time. Everyone wants to hang-ten before that California sun goes down, everyone wants a wave all to themselves. Everyone wants to know God a little better. One wave. The perfect Malibu wave. Perfect October swell. Now that would really be a miracle.

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