Magicseaweed's Lebanon forecast is now live. At the request of surfers in the region, a selection of slabs, peaks and pointbreaks are now part of the system, making sense of the notoriously fickle moods of the Mediterranean.
Saturated with refugees and religious tension, at first glance Lebanon is a hazy, even hostile dot on the wave riding map, but this negative perception is far from the truth. The Lebanese coastline is riddled with promising setups for the more adventurous of wave hounds, and when the Med turns off, the Mount Lebanon mountain range (and ski resorts) are a mere punt away. Beirut local and founder of Surf Lebanon, Ali Elamine, gave us some insights into the area's burgeoning surf scene.
"Surfing started in Lebanon in the late 50s and into the early 60s with mainly French educated guys, but when the civil war started in the 70s everyone left and the sport died for a while," Ali Elamine, founder of Surf Lebanon
"Surfing started in Lebanon in the late 50s and into the early 60s with mainly French educated guys, but when the civil war started in the 70s everyone left and the sport died for a while," says Elamine, who hails originally from Huntington beach. "After the war the people who fled the country started coming back to visit family and friends. I met some of the first surfers who started surfing here, some of whom were surfing during the Israeli occupation of the south."
In terms of waves, the region is surprisingly consistent, with a plethora of high-quality spots along the 139 mile coastline; a shock to those whose surfing radars rarely stray from the larger blue patches.
"The reefs, such as Mustafa's A-Frame, are the most consistent and reliable," Elamine told us. "We have a wave called Chekka which is world class when it works. It’s a sand bottom righthand pointbreak where the waves bounce off a jetty, then funnel down the line. Only works a hand full of times a year and it would have to be maxing out at other spots for it to come to life. Also, there is “Yours”, which looks like Ours from Sydney, but not as bad. The only hazard is the close proximity to the rocks and wall." Ali went on to say that he named the spot Yours as an invitation for others to surf it with him, illustrating the scanty nature of the wave riding population.
As with any growing surf scene, Lebanon has its legendary figures, perhaps the best known being Mustafa El Hajj, whose name graces the most consistent quality spot in the country.
We have students calling us for the next swell all the time and new people wanting to try it. I think people want something different here in Lebanon and surfing what they are after, or just water sports in general. Water brings that calmness and makes people more humble." Ali Elamine
"Mustafa lives about 200 metres from his spot, and was the first person to introduce it to other surfers out here," says Elamine. "He has a sight problem and can only see about 5 to 10 percent of what a normal person can see, but he's very well tuned into water and waves. He is a pretty good surfer considering he can’t see much. He started when his cousin flew in from Australia and left his board behind, which was around 97. He was only 12, and taught himself how to surf. Soon he started meeting other surfers and introduced them Mustafa’s A frames. They all fell in love with the wave."
Elamine estimates there are around 70 regular surfers around the Beirut area, along with the occasional welcome visitor.
"I'm slowly introducing people to a bunch of different spots, while trying to embed the surf rules for when it gets crowded down the line. I came out here and started pushing this sport on every avenue that was opened up to me. People listen when you have something to teach them about improving themselves and they started seeing waves differently. We are doing things the right way and teaching beginners the right things. Learn the basics, practise and go from there."
Much of modern day Beirut is evocative of an affluent Western city, with an beguiling amalgamation of French and Islamic architecture. However, interspersed throughout the plush restaurants and millionaire marinas, the scars of a bloody 15 year civil war are all to apparent. With a ceasefire called in 1990, and peace brokered with Israel following years of intense border conflict, life has gradually been returning to normal. However, an influx of over 700 thousand refugees from Syria, and resurgence of Hezbollah as a political entity, has seen tension between religious communities rising once again.
"Yeah you can sense it in the air. A few more security points and what not," says Elamine. "but as for surfing taking a hit, that’s far from the truth. We have students calling us for the next swell all the time and new people wanting to try it. I think people want something different here in Lebanon, and surfing is what they are after, or just water sports in general. Water brings that calmness and makes people more humble."