Matkot – Israel’s Ballgame on the Beach

Israel is known for its stunning beaches, from the long stretch of the beautiful golden beaches of Tel Aviv in the west to the Red Sea’s shimmering turquoise waters at the shores of Eilat in the south. And no visit to the Dead Sea is complete without slathering yourself in mineral-rich mud and floating in the dense, salty waters.

Should you choose Israel as your next beach destination, it pays to know in advance how the Israelis do when they hit the beaches, aside from the usual four S’s  –  swimming, surfing, snorkeling, and sunbathing. Do they follow some sort of beach culture or habit? 

For sure, these beach-loving Israelis do. How about learning a unique Israeli beach sport called matkot? Honing your skills in this sport will surely make blending in on an Israeli beach a little easier – and more fun!

Matkot is a paddleball game that is similar to beach tennis or squash. It is actually a popular sport in the country; in fact, most Israelis consider it a national beach sport. Its popularity extends beyond Israeli shores as it can also be found on beaches from New York to Bermuda. Although matkot is a uniquely Israeli sport, you can find similar paddleball variations in other countries like Spain and Brazil. It’s also called “frescoball.”

History and origins – While nobody is certain about the real origins of matkot, some believe that Turkish immigrants brought the first paddles to today’s Israel, probably during the Ottoman Empire. 

The sport has been played since Israel was then Mandatory Palestine during the 1920s. The late Israeli artist Nahum Gutman (1898 – 1980) painted children playing matkot in 1932, being one of the earliest recorded evidence of the game.

A ritual and a national symbol – Israel is blessed with lots of gorgeous beaches and in all beaches, people play matkot. It’s what every Israeli can call a national symbol.

Although playing matkot is a ritual practiced along Israeli coastlines, they’re nowhere played more frequently than on the beaches of Tel Aviv. So, if you’re looking to play some matkot, Tel Aviv is the place.

What you need to play matkot are two broad paddles and a rubber ball. The paddles, or racquets, are traditionally made of wood, but today’s matkot paddles are often reinforced with plastic for extra durability. Carbon fiber is also sometimes used. The ball, on the other hand, is the same ball used in squash. However, beginners and intermediate players may sometimes use a ball similar to a squash ball in terms of size but lighter and bouncier.

Some people, who play matkot as a serious sport rather than as a pastime, may wear special gloves.

The goal of matkot is to hit the rubber ball with those paddles as many times as possible without dropping it. Like in many racquet-and-ball games, matkot players on the opposing sites should hit the ball back and forth using their paddles. The word “matkot” is the plural form of “matka,” referring to the racquet.

It’s easy to play matkot, right? And another great thing about it is that there are no hard rules to follow. There is also no scoring system, although it may be up to the players themselves to devise their own scoring system. Matkot has no clear objective other than to keep the ball in the air and maintain a volley as long as possible. In matkot, there are no winners and losers. It’s a fun way for friends and the whole family to flex their muscles, sweat it out, and enjoy their time together.