The Surfing Rabbi
By Mimi Rohr/ Gamma
A Surfing Rabbi?! How can a man be both? “The two worlds are very similar,” says Rabbi Nachum Shifren. “They both take discipline and dedication.”

“Surfing is an out of body experience not part of this world at all and that’s why I like it,” continued Rabbi Shifren, a Chasidic Jewish Rabbi.

The Chasidic sect is one of the more of conservative factions of Judaism. Men wear dark suits, white shirts suits topped with black hats and long beards, which are never to be trimmed.

Rabbi Shifren grew up with the Southern California surf culture at his doorstep. By the time he was a high school graduate he was an avid surfer. He was more dedicated to surfing than his religion, nearly missing his own Bar Mitzvah to catch the waves at the famed Malibu Beach.

Through his youth, Rabbi Shifren has surfed great waves in Hawaii, Mexico and even Israel. In his youth, Rabbi Shifren shared the waves with some of the surfing superstars such as Terry Fitzgerald, Nat Young and Eddie Aikaku. Today, the Rabbi says “I may be old, but I’m good.” He is 54 years old.

He has been a lifeguard on the beaches of Los Angeles, a soldier in the Israeli Army and schoolteacher for under privileged urban youth in his native Los Angeles. He resided in Germany, were married to a German woman, the mother of two of his six children.

In his early 40’s, Rabbi Shifren returned to rabbinical school in Israel in search of knowledge. The introspective Rabbi said, “I got sick of people telling me what religion was. I wanted to take the journey myself.”

“Surfers are very independent, free-thinking people,” said Rabbi Shifren. In a world rife with materialism, “I’m going against the flow by going with God.”

So the surfer boy became the Surfing Rabbi, and an industry. Through his persona as the Surfing Rabbi, Rabbi Shifren has not only brought the two worlds he loves together but has molded himself into a marketable commodity.

Combining his spiritual learning with his teaching experience at a Los Angeles’ high school in a poverty stricken part of town, Rabbi Shifren has published a book, “Surfing Rabbi, A Kabalistic Quest for the Soul”, and is currently working on an documentary film project “Surfing to Live.”

His goal is to teach youth the lessons of life through surfing. According to Rabbi Shifren, Los Angeles’ urban youth drop out of high school at an alarming rate of 50%. “Nothing is being done to help these kids. It’s shocking. I want to work with these kids. It means a lot to me.”

“My trip as a surfer for the last 40 years has been all about hard work. To get to the end of the rainbow you have to bite the bullet.” (Meaning it takes hard work to achieve your goals.) This is the message Rabbi Shifren seeks to impart on today’s youth.

“Being a surfer makes me hip. I have to use everything in my arsenal… It puts me in a position to use their ideology to motivate them,” said Rabbi Shifren.

“My gig could have never worked 30-40 years ago. People weren’t killing each other over tennis shoes and bicycles.”

”When you step off land and into the water, you are out of this world. You get into a new space in your mind…. Surfing is the ‘par excellence’ religious experience.”

Mimi Rohr © 2005
The Surfing Rabbi  website is at