Gaza Surf Club: A Standout Documentary at SBIFF


The Residents of Gaza Find an Escape From Their Warzone Called Home Through the Power of Surfing

Gaza Surf Club screened twice at this years Santa Barbara International Film Festival. It is an inspiring film about residents who live off of the Gaza Strip, stranded by relentless Israeli assaults and a highly controlled seafront. The youth of Gaza use surfing as their only form of mental escape, as they are trapped in a warzone without much hope of ever leaving the country. They can only surf with their homemade surfboards and a limited amount of boards brought in from other countries. Directors Philip Gnadt and Mickey Yamine are able to show the terrifying conditions in Gaza while portraying the locals true passion for surfing.

The documentary primarily focused on two people. Ibrahim Arafat, a 23-year- old man who dreams of training in Hawaii and bringing surfboards back to the Gaza Strip. Ibrahim met an American surfer, Matthew Olsen, who decided to mentor Ibrahim and help him reach his Hawaiian dream. Matthew Olsen also helped connect the Gaza surfers to the international community through his own organization, Explore Corps, which inspired Ibrahim to intern with board makers in Hawaii. Another main character in the documentary is Sabah Ghanem. Sabah had given up her passion for surfing because her culture was against it. She had surfed since she was very young and was absolutely engulfed in the lifestyle, but when she reached womanhood at the age of fifteen-years-old, she was not allowed to surf anymore. Based on the Gaza culture, when you become a woman you are supposed to cover up. You are not allowed to participate in those kind of sports. This was a devastating time for her as her father raised her to be an incredible swimmer and surfer, which made it that much harder for her to give it up.

The surfers of Gaza Surf Club.

There is a consistent theme of hopelessness throughout Gaza Surf Club. Some of the most emotional scenes were powerful because you can see the despair when they talk about living in Gaza, knowing that it is almost impossible to leave the country. Not only that, but simply just living there is hard enough because there is very little left. Gaza, as it is, is a major war zone. The surfers feel like they have to accept that there is not much hope for them. Sabah’s scenes show her next to the ocean longing to surf again. These emotional scenes made the audience empathize with her.  She feels completely trapped by politics as well as religion. In another scene, Ibrahim talks about how many times he applies for a visa and is denied. He admits that he applied five times and continuously got rejected. He decides to accept that he will never be able to leave the country. Fortunately, Matt Olsen gives him hope once again that he can leave the country. After Ibrahim’s sixth application he finally gets approval to leave. Ibrahim was able to achieve his dream by travelling to Hawaii with Matt Olsen and work with boardmakers to learn the process of creating his truest passion: surfboards. 

Gaza Surf Club is a documentary that I would recommend to anyone. It is not like any other documentary I have seen before as the Gaza Strip isn’t talked about very often. The directors and writers of the film have never done anything like this before, which makes this a truly one of a kind documentary. It is very informative about the living conditions of the Gaza Strip that not many people are aware of, and is a part of the world that other nations should be more knowledgeable about. It also shows that they are in need of many supplies, even just simple objects such as surfboards, as it can be hard to get in their country. There needs to be a social change in Gaza, which is why this documentary is worth everyone’s time and will hopefully one day make a difference for the Gaza Strip culture.  


About Author


Jillian Fowler

Jillian Fowler is a communication and media major at Antioch University. She will be graduating this upcoming June and is excited to see what the future has in store for her. Jillian is originally from Boulder, Colorado and moved to Santa Barbara a little over six years ago. From the Rocky Mountains to the sandy beaches, she absolutely loves it all. Jillian works at the modern rock radio station called 92.9 KJEE. She started off as an intern and became fascinated of the world of radio; now becoming a Friday night radio DJ. Jillian has strong communication skills and is always striving to do her very best.

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