Making Waves and Chasing Dreams in Morocco

In one of the world's top surfing destinations, Muslim girls are trading hijabs for wetsuits.

 

The kingdom of Morocco has approximately 1,835 km of coastline, boasting both Mediterranean and Atlantic beaches and some spectacularly beautiful shores. Over the past few decades, from the early hippie days of the 1960s, travellers have come to Morocco’s shores from all over the world not to tan or ride camels, but to surf. As the North African kingdom of 33 million is a traditional Muslim country, surfing was understood to be off-limits to local girls, for fear it would reveal their bodies and threaten their modesty. But recently, Moroccan girls are breaking away from this convention and taking the waves for themselves.

Seventeen-year-old Oumaima Erhali is one of them. From Morocco’s capital city of Rabat, Oumaima lives with her parents and sister and observes religious practices like prayer and dressing traditionally during Islamic holidays. But when it’s not a holiday like Ramadan or Eid al Adha, Oumaima likes to wear sporty t-shirts and a backwards cap, her hair in a ponytail and her face constantly in a grin. “I like hanging out with my friends, a mixture of boys and girls, maybe go to the beach or to a music festival,” Oumaima tells AJ+, who produced this awesome short documentary  spotlighting her talent.

Her family is a traditional one, and comprised of very strong women. “There are more opportunities for women than there were when I was younger,” says Oumaima’s mother, who wears a djellaba and hijab, or Muslim dress and headscarf. “Now, things have changed. The first female coast guard,” she says with a proud smile, “was Zineb,” pointing to her oldest daughter, who is helping her prepare food.

Zineb took up her brother’s job in the Moroccan coast guard after he died of a sunstroke in 2008. He had loved to surf and would always take his sisters to the beach. Now, it was up to the girls to carry on his passions, both in his work and life. So Oumaima took to the waves and taught herself to surf. “Surfing is like going for therapy,” she tells the camera. “I love how you fly in the air, like Spiderman. And whenever I go surfing I remember my brother.”

Oumaima’s surfing is breaking stereotypes and norms—and is often looked down upon by the wider community. “After a woman gets married her husband doesn’t like her going to the beach, he doesn’t let her surf as she might show her body. I don’t really like the idea because Islam isn’t like that.” For Oumaima, Islam and her love for surfing are perfectly in harmony. “Being a Muslim comes from the heart. I like surfing because it makes me happy.”

Oumaima wants to continue surfing until she can get to the level of the pros, and become “even better than they are… because everyone can learn.” She dreams of going abroad and opening a surfing club one day. “Even Tom Cruise will come to my surf club!” she laughs.

“I don’t have enough resources,” Oumaima’s father, who likes the fact that she is surfing, admits. “But if I did,” he says, with a smile that reveals both humility and pride, “I would help her and encourage her more.”

AJ+ has created this amazing video about Oumaima as part of a four-episode documentary project on human stories within the framework of sports. The series aims to spotlight ambitious, unique and courageous young people pursuing their athletic dreams in countries around the world. Check out Grain Media for more inspiring stories about young people like Oumaima who are defying the odds, taking charge of their passions, and chasing what they love.

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