TIFF 2016: Gaza Surf Club Review


Directors Philip Gnadt and Mickey Yamine have ridden the big wave with this superb documentary about the efforts to create a surfing community in the Gaza Strip. The film focuses on 23 year old Ibrahim and 15 year old Sabah, and documents the challenges they face attempting to enjoy what little freedom they are privy to. 

Ibrahim considers surfing to be his true passion in life. He will miss work for ideal conditions on the beach, wanting to seize the day or night’s perfect waves. One of his goals is to build a clubhouse for what could be termed the “Gaza Surf Club” – a name his pen-pal Matthew, from California, gave him. Outsiders have an easier time travelling to and from the Gaza Strip than those born within its borders, and unfortunately for Ibrahim, he’s a local. Matthew came from the United States on a trip and the two instantly hit it off due to their passion for surfing. The film depicts Ibrahim’s attempts to visit Matthew, requiring him to apply for numerous visas and spend money he doesn’t have. Ibrahim wishes to visit Matthew in Hawaii, a mecca for surfing. If only he could get to Hawaii, Ibrahim could learn from the professionals and bring their expertise home to the club.

When the boys are celebrating on the town back in the Gaza Strip, a certain segment of the population is missing: the women. Enter Sabah, who dreams of becoming a celebrity surfer who can be a role model to women everywhere. The documentary favours telling Ibrahim’s story more, and I wish they had more information on Sabah’s quest, for she is certainly faced with her fair share of challenges. For example, figuring out whether or not she can (or should) wear her hijab surfing. Apparently – go figure – surfing is an indecent activity. However, thanks to a supportive father and family, she can rebel against the status quo.

It’s when the two worlds – Ibrahim’s and Sabah’s – collide that the film seems to whisper in your ear of an urgent and necessary change that needs to happen. 


Friday September 9, 6:15pm @ Scotiabank 9

Sunday September 11, 9:45pm @ Scotiabank 13


Saturday September 17, 3:45pm @ Scotiabank 1

Michael McNeely is a deaf-blind film critic and advocate for greater accessibility in our cinemas. Read more about his story here.