Words by Jade Bremner | Photos by Bryan Denton
If it wasn’t for the view of dilapidated buildings, some lined with bullet holes, others with gaping cavities caused by bombs, I could easily be at any surf spot in the Mediterranean.
The sun beams down on me as I paddle to the point through the warm, clear sea; surfers welcome me to their break. There are whoops and cheers as each surfer, male and female, catches a wave. It’s one of the friendliest line-ups I’ve ever seen. But I’m not in Spain or France, I’m 20 minutes south of Beirut, in the small town of Jiyeh.
Just four hours from the UK, Lebanon’s reputation has been tarnished by its tumultuous past, but tourists (especially adventurous surfers) shouldn’t strike it off the travel list just yet. With government travel advice clearing Beirut for visits, this fast-paced, chaotic city is without a doubt my favourite place in the Middle East. Packed with striking old colonial buildings that sit side by side with mosques and Baroque architecture, there’s a decent art movement, funky cafes, lively clubs and now a blossoming, friendly surfing scene.
“There are whoops and cheers as each surfer, male and female, catches a wave. It’s one of the friendliest line-ups I’ve ever seen.”
I meet local surfer Karim Flouti on Jiyeh’s 7km stretch of sandy coastline. He discovered surfing in his home nation 10 years ago by accident. “I’ve been lucky enough to travel, I grew up in the Canaries, and also spent some time in California,” he says. “I didn’t know there was surf in Lebanon, so for me it was a surprise. I would come every summer, and I would get bored because there was no activity for me.”
But everything changed when Karim found a hidden beach with empty sets rolling in. He knew he had to find a board. No one was importing equipment to Lebanon, so he got creative and used one from a Quiksilver shop display window. “The people in the shop said, ‘You surf? Here, we’ll sponsor you, take the board’,” laughs Karim. “The board was like cardboard, but it was better than nothing.”