Ever since the extremist group Hamas tool rule of the area in 2006, the Gaza Strip — a costal enclave situated between Israel and Egypt and nearly closed off from the rest of the world — has been in a near-constant state of chaos. Amidst the warfare, though, some teenagers have found an escape through an unlikely pastime: surfing. The new documentary Gaza Surf Club highlights how the simplest human right, freedom, is a luxury for these teens and others living in Gaza, who attempt to enjoy water sports while living in a region where power isn't always accessible and airstrikes are frequently the backdrop. The film is a powerful look at how Gaza teens deal with their limited resources, and how they cope with a world where something as simple as access to materials to build a surfboard is often not a reality.
Gaze Surf Club, which can be streamed on Sundance Now, follows Ibrahim and his seven friends, all of whom use their limited resources to piece together a few surfboards to tackle the waves. Their inspiration to surf comes from the European and Hawaiian surf scenes, both by way of media. Ibrahim, along with his community of rogue surfers, dream of visiting Hawaii but are faced with the harsh reality that not only do their resources or safety standards not measure up, but leaving their country is seen as an impossible task.
Even more, in Gaza, the teens must contend with laws that forbid them to surf in the first place. For young girls, the sport is viewed by society as acceptable, but once girls are considered adults, it's deemed shameful and disgraceful, due to religion. Yet despite these restrictions, the doc shows how many teens in Gaza will do anything to surf, including using doors or any pieces of wood they can get their hands on instead of boards, just for opportunity to experience what surfing feels like. Although talented, these kids don't have access to the machinery, training, and other things that Americans tend to take for granted. Whether its the basic freedom for women to wear what they want to the beach to the surplus of surf gear and other embellishments that make surfing more personalized, Gaza teens don't have these resources.
For many of us, it's easy to get lost in our own privilege and lose ourselves in consumer culture. Gaza Surf Club, though, shows how people without many opportunities don't take what they can do for granted. For the Gaza kids out on the waves, the worry of being in the thick of a war seems to dissipate, at least for a little while; they use surfing as a method of escape. Gaza Surf Club honors their passion and their drive, and it will challenge your own thoughts about the things we often take for granted in America.