Man and woman play matkot on the beach Man and woman play matkot on the beach A man and woman play matkot on a busy beach in Israel. The popular paddle game is often referred to as Israel's national sport. (Photo: Erez Kaganovitz)

Matkot popular on beaches of Israel and beyond

Paddleball game has widespread appeal as a 'sport of togetherness.'

A sort of combination of squash and beach volleyball, matkot is an old game that's drawing new fans. Played for decades on the sunny shores along the Mediterranean Sea, the sport can now be found on beaches from Bermuda to New York.

"Matkot is a game with no rules, no winners and no losers," according to the website GoMatkot.com. "It’s a fun way for the whole family to exercise and to enjoy time together."

Using a broad wooden paddle or racket called a matka – for which the game is named – players volley a small, hard, squash-like ball back and forth in an effort to keep it from hitting the sand. Sometimes called paddleball or frescoball, matkot almost seems like an anti-sport in that there is no point system and no clear objective other than to maintain a volley as long as possible.

Men playing matkot on the beachMen play matkot on a beach. (Photo: Erez Kaganovitz)

But according to the “godfather” or “king” of matkot in Israel, Morris Tzadok, who started playing as a child more than 50 years ago, it's all about unity.

“Matkot is not a competitive sport, it's a sport of togetherness,” Tzadok said in a video interview during Israel's national matkot tournament in August 2010, on Tel Aviv's Gordon Beach. “I love this sport. It changed my way of life.”

Matkot enthusiast Dina Issacson, a South African native who has lived in Israel since she was 4, said the game is a “very Israeli thing to do.”

“In Israel, if you go to the beach during the summer, you'll find some individuals who like to play Frisbee or backgammon, or who like to sit in the sun and smoke hookahs,” Isaacson said. “Not everybody is into those games or likes to smoke. But almost every single type of person can play matkot.”

Woman on the beach playing matkotWoman on the beach playing matkot. (Photo: Erez Kaganovitz) 

Isaacson acknowledged there's somewhat of a talent gap among players, based largely on the type of matka a person has. More expensive paddles generally indicate a person has a higher matkot skill level because, as in so many sports, better players generally own more expensive equipment. 

“There's different levels of players,” she said. “Some people even wear special gloves. They play not for fun, but for sport."

Amnon Nisim, aka Amnon Matkot, is the founder of the only matkot museum in the world, located in Tel Aviv.

"In the old days we didn't have the fancy matkot you see today. We only had two plates of wood and a sponge ball to play with," he said.

Ammon Nisim shows off his matkot paddles at the Matkot Museum.Ammon Nisim shows off his matkot paddles at the Matkot Museum. (Photo: Erez Kaganovitz)

In his apartment-turned-museum, you can see 300 different matkot paddles from all around the world – made from wood, marabel glass and even seashells.

"I decided to create the museum because I love this game so much," he said. "It's a non-competitive sport where you celebrate togetherness. Because of that, you always finish the game with a big smile on your face. It's a game that connects people in so many ways."

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