Film Makes Waves
by Eitan Shiskoff, Executive Director, Tents of Mercy Network


Still from the film Promised Land, courtesy of Bryce Johnson

By Eitan Shishkoff

When I was a twelve year old boy growing up in Southern California, I fell in love with surfing and rode my first waves. The board I surfed on was a nine and a half foot piece of polyurethane foam covered with fiberglass. It was exactly twice as tall as I was. That year, 1962, the sport was beginning to take off. In fact Surfing Encyclopedia (www.surfline.com) calls 1960-1969 the "boom period" of surfing. John Severson, credited with inventing modern surfing's art, journalism and films, had published the first Surfer Magazine only two years earlier. I used to have that issue. Now I'm kicking myself that I let it slip through my fingers.

Director of Promised Land, Todd Morehead
Although my surfing career was short-lived, my enjoyment of watching people catch waves has never waned. And so that interest was stirred afresh when I met Todd Morehead several years ago at a Bible study near Huntington Beach. A member of the Walking on Water surf ministry, Todd had already visited Israel and told me he was planning to make a movie about surfing in the Promised Land.

Promised Land turned out to be the name of the film and it took Morehead three and a half years to make it. In the process he developed close friendships with a number of Israeli surfers, becoming especially close to surfboard shaper/manufacturer Hani and his wife Hila. The unique combination of passion for surfing and a love for Israel born of Todd's deep faith in Messiah Jesus renders the film a captivating cinematic portrait. I had the privilege of seeing the rough-cut version and became enthused about the film. Todd decided to hold the world premier showings here in Israel. I said, "Please give us a chance to show the film in our area." He needed no convincing.

So, we printed flyers and through Todd's local contacts spread the word that Promised Land, Israel's first bona fide surfing film, would be shown at our facility on January 5th. Truthfully, we didn't know what to expect. Earlier that week, at Ashdod and Herzliya theaters, hundreds had turned for the film's opening nights and received it enthusiastically. But our northern coastline is farther from the main Israeli surf action. There are occasionally surfable waves in the Haifa Bay and even more consistent surf off the point where Haifa juts into the Mediterranean Sea, but surfers have to be devoted to patiently pursue those rare days. The best surf happens after winter storms, requiring hearty surfers to don thick rubber wet suits to survive the chilly water. Would they also brave a strange address, certainly not a movie theater, located in the industrial district of Kiryat Yam?
Eitan and Todd

To our surprise and delight there were, by the time we turned out the lights and rolled the 75 minute film, some 60 surfers ready to view Promised Land on three screens simultaneously. The film includes a brief, but clear presentation of Israel's history and biblical claim to the land. Israeli surfers provide fetching interviews and we watch their dedication in catching waves. There is even a substantial appearance by one of surfing's legends, Tom Curren. The three-time world champion traveled to Israel to ride waves, meet surfers and give his modest but penetrating comments on the Middle East conflict and what he experienced among both Jewish and Arab surfers here.

Another treat in the film is the participation of my friend, Rabbi Barney Kasdan of Kehilat Ariel in San Diego, California. A veteran surfer, Barney travels with the team, surfing and providing a Messianic Jewish perspective on the land and covenant promises of God.

Eitan chatting with one of the guests
When the film's concluding sunset washed over the screen, the surfers applauded with gusto. They had seen "themselves" through the lens of a Bible-believing California surfer who is committed to blessing Israel. I think it caught them by surprise. The kids and the veterans both lined up to meet Todd, whose continuous smile graced the evening together with his wife, Renae. As we sat in my office before the showing, I had the privilege of meeting Hani and Hila, the young, unassuming benefactors of Israel's growing surf scene. Hani's Yafo surf shop is a Mecca for Israeli wave riders. They wanted to know about Ohalei Rachamim (Tents of Mercy) and about our faith in Yeshua. It gave me the opportunity to relate my own experience of discovering Yeshua as Messiah and Savior, and how He brought me back to my Jewish heritage.

There were several other valuable encounters with the local surfers who had never entered a Messianic facility before. Their questions were honest and non-condemning. The movie spoke volumes, leaving a deposit we are praying into. Several days after the showing I stopped at a local restaurant; a young man behind the counter said, "Hey, I know you." "From where?" I replied. "You're the guy who introduced the surf film the other night." "Yeah, that's me. Did you like it?" "It was cool" was his summation. I look forward to going back, both for the food and to connect further with the surfer who works there.

The Mediterranean is not far from our Tents of Mercy center. I often take prayer walks along the seashore. The water's expanse never ceases to draw me into worship, as I can fathom neither its depth nor its expanse. It is a beauty-filled and awe-inspiring element of our earth. It speaks directly of God's power. As it is written...

For He spoke and raised up a stormy wind, which lifted up the waves of the sea." (Psalm 107:25)

For I am the LORD your God, who stirs up the sea and its waves roar (the LORD of hosts is His name)." (Isaiah 51:15)

Whether believers or not, surfers are drawn to the power of the sea and the thrill of its waves. It is our calling to enter into the healthy pursuits of our people, to enjoy what they enjoy and to live as salt and light in this world. Please pray for the further distribution of the Promised Land film and its influence on the budding surfing community of Israel.

To contact Todd, schedule a showing of Promised Land or obtain a DVD, visit www.promisedlandthemovie.com
Still from the film Promised Land, courtesy of Bryce Johnson

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