To many of us surfing means the world. It means being connected to the world around us, to the ocean and its creatures, it means summer, sun, and good times on the beach, it means meeting like minded people and making some of the greatest friends, it means facing our fears and overcoming them, and most generally it means having the best time and most fun imaginable. To a hand full of girls and young women, however, surfing also means something else. For them it means female empowerment and the opportunity to overcome the barriers laid out around them by breaking with traditional values and starting to live a life of their own.
One of those girls is Ishita Malaviya who is often being refered to as India’s first female surfer. Ishita started to surf together with her boyfriend, when they got their first surfboard, which they shared for the first few years. As she and her mother explain in the video below, at first she was met with alot of criticism, not only by her parents, who wanted her to focus on her career as a journalist rather than get sidetracked by a sport, that on top of it all is considered unsuitable for women, because as her friends and professors pointed out, it made her skin become very dark. In India, Ishita explains, a girl is considered pretty when she has fair skin, so many girls are worried that they might not be able to find a husband if their skin is too dark. This did not stop Ishita from doing what she loves, however. She broke with the traditional expectations of a woman in India, which is to study, find a good job, get married, and have children, to pursue her own dream. And she even wants to be a role model and inspire other girls and young women to surf. Today Ishita runs a surf school and camp in the south of India, where she also teaches local girls how to surf.
While Ishita had to overcome mainly social conventions in order to become a surfer, a small group of girls in Bangladesh recently visited by National Geographic has to struggle not only with and against the restrictions brought upon them by a strictly conservative muslim society, but also against the ones of the extreme poverty they are growing up in. Most of them are not able to go to school and, instead, spend their days selling jewellery and other items to tourists in the town of Cox’s Bazar up until they get married and assume a doestic role. This changed when local surfer and lifeguard Rashed Alam and his American wife Vanessa Rude took them under their wing. By teaching them how to surf Rashed was able to partly free the girls of their duties and allow them to see perspectives for their lives beyond
the ones tradition offers them. He also trains them and hopes to give them jobs as lifeguards one day, while his wife Vanessa tutors them in English, thus providing them the possibility to work in the local tourism industry. These girls surfing has allowed to dream beyond the narrow walls the traditions of their world have built around them and it may even be the ground on which they will build a future of their own.