Review: “Gaza Surf Club”

gaza_surf2Where does one find hope in a place that seems hopeless? For Palestinians in the Gaza Strip, hope appears thin and elusive. Surrounded by walls and fences, unable to come and go as they please, and under constant threat of war with Israel, some Palestinians have turned to the Mediterranean Sea for relief.

“Gaza Surf Club” shines a light on a small group of surfers in Gaza who are making the best of what they have to find peace among the waves.

One such surfer is Ibrahim. At 23, Ibrahim is passionate about surfing and takes any chance he can get to be among the waves along the Gaza coastline. Finding time between his work at a hospital, Ibrahim also aspires to build a surf club in Gaza where youths can learn about surfing and find purpose and support in a battered land.

In order to make this dream come true, Ibrahim must travel to Hawaii where he can meet with his friend and fellow surfer, Matthew, and learn the art of making surfboards, which he can then take back with him to Gaza. Getting a visa to travel is very difficult and expensive though.

Directors Philip Gnadt and Mickey Yamine also put the spotlight on Abu Jayab, 42, who mentors young men with a desire to learn how to surf. Surfing is very dear to Jayab. In fact, he values his surfboards above all else as surfboards are a rare commodity in Gaza. Jayab gives voice to the hopelessness he feels being trapped in Gaza, but finds some small yet powerful freedom in the water.

sabah2Another surfer is Sabah, 15, one of the few girls in Gaza who catch waves. Sabah’s father is encouraging of her passion for swimming and surfing even though in Palestinian culture surfing is viewed as shameful for a woman. Although it’s acceptable for young girls, once these girls grow up and get married, surfing is off-limits. Sabah dreams of being famous among Palestinians one day, like the actors in Egypt, and she expresses an independent spirit right down to her green nail polish and her refusal to wear a headscarf while swimming.

“Gaza Surf Club” shows audiences an incredibly beautiful, while heartbreaking, picture of Gaza. The spirit of the surf and the hope that lies along the Mediterranean horizon is paralleled with the destruction of Gaza City, the bombed-out buildings and rubble strewn all around. The cinematography is striking, with stunning shots of the ocean and coastline. One scene capturing a thunderstorm at night over the ocean was breathtaking. And the soundtrack was phenomenal. If I could buy the soundtrack to this documentary, I would. The blend of traditional and modern Arab music matched the scenes so perfectly.

While I can’t relate to living in a place like the Gaza Strip, a place torn apart by war, I can in some small way relate to the freedom and relief found in surfing and swimming among the waves. The ocean is truly a blessing.

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