Freedom is a much-prized commodity in Gaza, Palestine. For a small but increasing number of its residents, the sea offers an escape from a war-torn world.
Movement isn’t free for Palestinians living in the Gaza Strip. Restrictions are such that the area is referred to by some locals as ‘the biggest open-air prison on Earth’. The Israeli blockade and a clampdown on exit permits have led to a mass of densely populated refugee camps that are home to a people in limbo. A small but dedicated number of boys, men and even girls find temporary escape through surfing. Photographer and sometime-surfer Andrew McConnell travelled to Gaza City to document them.
“When I heard about the Gaza surfers I knew I had to go and meet them,” he says. “Surfing in Gaza sounds surprising at first – you don’t imagine it existing – but it actually makes perfect sense. Where is that sort of freedom more needed than in Gaza?
“When I went in December 2009, I stayed with a family in a little town in the north. There were strange noises at night: tanks moving, air strikes. I heard missiles being fired from nearby into Israel – then there was the inevitable retaliation. Palestinians in the Gaza Strip are suffering. To them, in a place with no parks or gardens, no forests, no open spaces, no respite from the concrete, the sea has become hugely important.
“Palestinians in the Gaza Strip started surfing in the mid-1980s. Mohammed Abu Jayab (previous page), a fisherman and carpenter, is one of the pioneers of the scene. He built his own board out of wood, after seeing people on TV riding waves. It was a really heavy, rock-solid thing (lucky for him he has a new one now), but he stuck with it for a long time. In a region where life is marked by conflict and struggle, surfing is one of the only means of escape, and so it became something very important.
See the full pictorial in April's issue of The Red Bulletin.