The State Of Israel, the world’s only Jewish country, located in the Middle East between the countries of Lebanon, Syria, Jordan, and Egypt officially proclaimed its independence on May 14, 1948. Israel, to this day, amounts to one of the most complicated and controversial historical puzzles on Earth. It also, unfortunately remains an active subject of debate and military and terrorist action, which has been punctuated by the recent all-out war between the Lebanon-based Hezbollah-a militant Muslim faction with the stated mission of the complete eradication of “the Zionist entity” (a.k.a. Jews in Israel)-and the Israeli army in retaliation for kidnapped Israeli soldiers.
Without getting too heavily into the incredibly convoluted and controversial topic of the ongoing hostilities between Muslim states in the area and the Jewish state that lies between them, the broad strokes you may or may have not been aware of are that most people in the world generally regard the area and its surrounding perimeter as “dangerous.” After constant media bombardment (no pun intended) of images of suicide bombings within its cities and the recent string of missile attacks upon those same grounds, it is fair to say your average skateboarder with even the slightest knowledge of world events might think it absolutely insane to plan and execute a skate tour within the Israeli state. Well, as things turn out, this is simply not the case.

Kenny Reed was one of the first U.S. skaters to shatter the “danger” myth and visit Israel in the early 00s. Local skater Arthur Rashkovan explains, “It all started when Kenny came here the first time just for a visit. We became good friends, and he just kept coming back after that and kept bringing more people. The second time he brought Cairo Foster and a bunch of other guys, then a third time he came out with photographer Frankie, Jack Sabback, Rich Adler, Jon Newport, and Mike Fox.”
As it became apparent that Israel was indeed a skate-tour-worthy-both spot-wise and non war-zone-wise-destination, Frankie and locals like Arthur and Boaz Aquino began planning a more wide-scale, pre-planned, long-term trip. Frankie explains, “I’d already done a skate trip to Israel about six months before for Slap. I fell in love with everything about the place. However, I felt like we didn’t get to spend enough time there the first time out. That’s how skate trips usually go, though-ten to twelve days, you get your shit done and then get the f-k out. I hate that. Once I got back from the first trip, I kind of devised a plan to go back. I wanted to stay for a longer amount of time. Then the idea of renting an apartment clicked, and it was on after that.”

At that point Frankie began the task of assembling a crew for his new tour. Getting back to the public’s perception of the entire Middle East being a war zone, Frankie set out with the tough task of convincing some fellow skaters otherwise. “I used the usual, ‘Oh it’s gonna be sick, I’m gonna have an apartment out there, tons of spots, you don’t really get kicked out … and no, you won’t get blown up.’ Selling it to some dudes was easier than others.”
Early on, a stroke of luck secured the apartment for the posse thanks to a chance conversation on a completely separate tour. “While I was on a Zoo York trip, I talked to Kenny Hughes about possibly splitting the apartment with me. Zoo was down to back Kenny’s half of the apartment, and I covered my half. Without Kenny going in on the place with me, it most likely would have been dead in the water.”
However, even with the financial situation sorted thanks to Kenny and Zoo, the job of finding the actual apartment was still no minor task according to Frankie: “It was a lot of work. E-mailing back and forth with people renting apartments over there, making phone calls at three o’clock in the morning because of the time difference, trying to find a spot. But eventually we got one booked.”

With the apament steadily locked for a near seven-week stay, Frankie carried on with his task as recruiter. “It wasn’t easy convincing companies to send their riders on an independent trip to places that every other skate company’s team hasn’t gone to yet; especially one with the stigma of Israel and the Middle East. I guess it’s easier to go to Barca for the 500th time, or Russia, since everyone else is going to Russia these days. I eventually got a crew together, a few people dropped out, a few got denied at the last minute. I’m not gonna name names, but there were people I asked who just straight up said ‘no way!’ like they were in fear for their lives. But we did come up with a crew.”
The crew, by the time the trigger was cocked back and ready to go, stood at Frankie on photo patrol, Josh Stewart of Static fame on videography duty, Ed Selego, Steve Nesser, Nate Broussard, and Kenny “Huge” Hughes-a solid squad by any tour standards. Locals Arthur Rashkovan, Boaz Aquino, Avi Luiza, Guy Pitchon, and Michael Cracker joined in as guides and skated alongside the crew throughout the entire stay. The Israel Tour was on.

Minor drama began nearly immediately after the airplane touched down on Israeli tarmac. The customs in Israel are understandably enough-with the scourge of suicide bombings we see nightly outside that country on our respective news channels-very thorough and tough. According to Arthur, “Our security is super tight. They take no risks, and sometimes it’s a bit uncomfortable.” And uncomfortable it was, most notably for Steve Nesser, who is of Lebanese descent, which prompted local Israeli officials to spend hours questioning his motives for visiting. According to Nesser, “Basically, Israel and Lebanon don’t get along (understatement), and I had just gone to Lebanon, so I had the stamp in my passport. They were not too happy with my story and didn’t believe we were going to Israel to ride skateboards. Ed made it through and was waiting for two hours with my luggage on the other side of customs. Then, like the good homey he is, he eventually talked his way back into the interrogation area where I was and stayed with me for three more hours until we got in. It got pretty ridiculous. They made us show them pictures and interviews of us on the Internet to prove we actually rode skateboards for a living and I wasn’t there to strap a bomb to myself in some crowded market. In retrospect, it was pretty funny.”

Many of the skaters who were new to the area immediately wondered what kind of terrain would be available. They were quickly reassured by one of the local guides, Arthur: “Skating in Israel is no gamble spotwise. We have tons of spots, and you hardly ever get kicked out.”
Frankie, from his previous trips, knew this would be true as well: “I knew there were spots there. But the guys who came out this time had no idea what they were getting into. I’d like to think they were pleasantly surprised. What I didn’t know was how good Haifa (Israel’s third largest city on the Israeli/Lebanese border) is. It was my first time there, and it took some convincing from my friend Boaz.”
The crew’s overall personal-security worries quickly subsided as they realized most of the threats fed to them through the U.S. media were a little more than hyped up. According to Frankie, “The first day we got there, we went straight to some spot to skate. I think we took a bus to get to the train station to go to Haifa. That was the first time I had taken a bus, along with everyone else. Up to that point, I had always taken cabs around and casually avoided the buses. But Boaz rode the bus everywhere, so we just followed suit. We were on our way to the bus stop and Josh says to me, ‘You know, my parents were super scared for me. They made me promise not to eat at an outdoor cafe and not to take the bus, because those were like the main targets for suicide bombers. And what did I do on my first day? Eat at an outdoor cafe and take a bus.’” Quickly, the crew learned that Israel, although it certainly has its concerns, was not the war zone many had anticipated.

As the days rolled by, Frankie, Josh, Ed, Kenny, Nesser, Nate, and the crew learned more and more about the local scene as they also discovered the masses of unseen spots and local reactions to skateboarding. According to locals Arthur and Boaz, “At some places in Israel, skateboarding is viewed as a childish game. So nobody cares if you’re skating some beautiful marble monument. Other times we’re basically treated like psychos or something. But in the center area, people are totally welcoming to skateboarders, no problems, for sure. They’re just curious, you know?”
Frankie elaborates, “There were some places that I couldn’t believe they let us skate, like Golda Park, this ledge spot in Tel Aviv, or that we got to skate the King David Tower in the Old City in Jerusalem. It was crazy.”
As far as the local skaters, Selego explains, “It’s just like anywhere else, you know? You got your mix of hesh, tech, Rasta kids … all types.” The local industry also seems to have grown its own sort of grassroots industry, although the U.S. brands are still the biggest sellers. Arthur explains, “A few friends of mine just started Zion Skateboards. Boaz is pro for us. The local surf industry is really well developed. We’ve got all the international brands, but locally, we’re also running a surf/skate/snow magazine named Adrenaline. The local skate industry hasn’t matured as much as the surf side yet, though, so we’re still very dependent on international goods.” According to Nesser, local pro Boaz was often the biggest star amongst the crew, even though Kenny Hughes usually came through as the most recognizable U.S. pro the locals knew. Arthur adds, “Kenny was always very cool and open with all the kids and the other guys, just a fun loving dude.”

Beyond the extraordinary skating, the crew of mainly first-timers also discovered some of the amazing local foods available-most notably the Eastern Mediterranean staples like Sabich, which is a pita bread filled with hummus, baba ganush, and some of the local spices. Frankie also claims he got addicted to the usual schwarma wraps, falafels, and schnitzel, which is breaded chicken with sesame seeds on it and according to the locals are “the best in the universe.” The crew was also psyched on the assorted traditional Israeli breakfast dishes-which, be warned, include too much food if you’re about to go skate-as well as the local coffee every morning.
In addition to sampling the plethora of local foods, the Israel Tour crew also managed to squeeze in such important tourist activities as swimming in the Dead Sea, which is both the lowest point on Earth at 1,371 feet below sea level and the deepest lake in the world at 1,083 feet deep. It is also one of the saltiest bodies of water on Earth (hence, the “dead” part because nothing can live in it) and is about eight times saltier than the average ocean-meaning you can pretty much lie on it without sinking. The crew also got to ride camels-something any self-respecting traveler needs to do once in his/her life-and Kenny Hughes even got tubular and went surfing with Arthur, Boaz, and some other heads at the local shoreline break.

As the weeks rolled by and what appeared to be a successful skate tour began to emerge, all involved professed a deep affection for what Israel has to offer. Nights were spent out partying in Tel Aviv, which Arthur steadfastly refers to as “safer than L.A.,” skating went down in the holy city of Jerusalem, and locals and visitors alike bonded to form friendships that have carried through up to the point of this being written. Frankie’s bet on a long-term tour coming though not only on the skate front but as a means to shatter some of the more negative stereotypes about the region proved to be a winning one, and the only anecdote left to unveil is the small nightmare that awaited Quickly, the crew learned that Israel, although it certainly has its concerns, was not the war zone many had anticipated.

As the days rolled by, Frankie, Josh, Ed, Kenny, Nesser, Nate, and the crew learned more and more about the local scene as they also discovered the masses of unseen spots and local reactions to skateboarding. According to locals Arthur and Boaz, “At some places in Israel, skateboarding is viewed as a childish game. So nobody cares if you’re skating some beautiful marble monument. Other times we’re basically treated like psychos or something. But in the center area, people are totally welcoming to skateboarders, no problems, for sure. They’re just curious, you know?”
Frankie elaborates, “There were some places that I couldn’t believe they let us skate, like Golda Park, this ledge spot in Tel Aviv, or that we got to skate the King David Tower in the Old City in Jerusalem. It was crazy.”
As far as the local skaters, Selego explains, “It’s just like anywhere else, you know? You got your mix of hesh, tech, Rasta kids … all types.” The local industry also seems to have grown its own sort of grassroots industry, although the U.S. brands are still the biggest sellers. Arthur explains, “A few friends of mine just started Zion Skateboards. Boaz is pro for us. The local surf industry is really well developed. We’ve got all the international brands, but locally, we’re also running a surf/skate/snow magazine named Adrenaline. The local skate industry hasn’t matured as much as the surf side yet, though, so we’re still very dependent on international goods.” According to Nesser, local pro Boaz was often the biggest star amongst the crew, even though Kenny Hughes usually came through as the most recognizable U.S. pro the locals knew. Arthur adds, “Kenny was always very cool and open with all the kids and the other guys, just a fun loving dude.”

Beyond the extraordinary skating, the crew of mainly first-timers also discovered some of the amazing local foods available-most notably the Eastern Mediterranean staples like Sabich, which is a pita bread filled with hummus, baba ganush, and some of the local spices. Frankie also claims he got addicted to the usual schwarma wraps, falafels, and schnitzel, which is breaded chicken with sesame seeds on it and according to the locals are “the best in the universe.” The crew was also psyched on the assorted traditional Israeli breakfast dishes-which, be warned, include too much food if you’re about to go skate-as well as the local coffee every morning.
In addition to sampling the plethora of local foods, the Israel Tour crew also managed to squeeze in such important tourist activities as swimming in the Dead Sea, which is both the lowest point on Earth at 1,371 feet below sea level and the deepest lake in the world at 1,083 feet deep. It is also one of the saltiest bodies of water on Earth (hence, the “dead” part because nothing can live in it) and is about eight times saltier than the average ocean-meaning you can pretty much lie on it without sinking. The crew also got to ride camels-something any self-respecting traveler needs to do once in his/her life-and Kenny Hughes even got tubular and went surfing with Arthur, Boaz, and some other heads at the local shoreline break.

As the weeks rolled by and what appeared to be a successful skate tour began to emerge, all involved professed a deep affection for what Israel has to offer. Nights were spent out partying in Tel Aviv, which Arthur steadfastly refers to as “safer than L.A.,” skating went down in the holy city of Jerusalem, and locals and visitors alike bonded to form friendships that have carried through up to the point of this being written. Frankie’s bet on a long-term tour coming though not only on the skate front but as a means to shatter some of the more negative stereotypes about the region proved to be a winning one, and the only anecdote left to unveil is the small nightmare that awaited our fellow photographer at customs on the way out. Much like Steve Nesser’s ordeal on the way in, the customs agents and uniformed, machine-gun-carrying police officers on the exit side of Israel still found it an unbelievable story that Americans would travel halfway across the world simply to shoot photos of skateboarding.
In Frankie’s own words, “I really did get a lot of sh-t this time leaving. They started going through my equipment, a supervisor came over in a huff, demanding my passport. She was 100-percent sure she had caught me doing something sketchy. So they go through all my stuff and decide to take my rechargeable flash battery, and another smaller flash into some back room to have some other guys examine them. I ended up having to go back there, get frisked, then for a third time get asked why I am in their country. I guess they figured if I was lying, bringing me into the back room surrounded by a bunch of dudes yelling at each other would scare the shit out of me-which it kind of did. Anyway, I got past that, then had to go sit again in another back room while a group of security guards in an adjoining room tested my flashes. I saw them go off a couple times-it was kind of funny, actually. After all that shit, everyone was cool to me.” So, in the end, all escaped unscathed and returned home with fond memories of a place they once had only seen in news clips. All except Kenny, who loved it so much he stayed on a whole extra week with the locals. “I think he might have converted,” says Frankie. Shalom.

ted our fellow photographer at customs on the way out. Much like Steve Nesser’s ordeal on the way in, the customs agents and uniformed, machine-gun-carrying police officers on the exit side of Israel still found it an unbelievable story that Americans would travel halfway across the world simply to shoot photos of skateboarding.
In Frankie’s own words, “I really did get a lot of sh-t this time leaving. They started going through my equipment, a supervisor came over in a huff, demanding my passport. She was 100-percent sure she had caught me doing something sketchy. So they go through all my stuff and decide to take my rechargeable flash battery, and another smaller flash into some back room to have some other guys examine them. I ended up having to go back there, get frisked, then for a third time get asked why I am in their country. I guess they figured if I was lying, bringing me into the back room surrounded by a bunch of dudes yelling at each other would scare the shit out of me-which it kind of did. Anyway, I got past that, then had to go sit again in another back room while a group of security guards in an adjoining room tested my flashes. I saw them go off a couple times-it was kind of funny, actually. After all that shit, everyone was cool to me.” So, in the end, all escaped unscathed and returned home with fond memories of a place they once had only seen in news clips. All except Kenny, who loved it so much he stayed on a whole extra week with the locals. “I think he might have converted,” says Frankie. Shalom.