We’ve been following Nasima Atker and her life as Bangladesh’s only female surfer through Jaimal Yogis and The Most Fearless documentary for a while now. The crew recently launched a Kickstarter to help them finish the film and travel back to Bangladesh to cover an important surf competition. If you’re not familiar, Nasima’s story is quite incredible, and her deep love of surfing is something that you’ll likely connect with. Here producer Molly Celaschi shares a bit about Nasima and her connection to the sport, as well as details about how the film came about, and what Bangladesh’s surf scene is really like.
To learn more about the film and make a donation, visit the Kickstarter page here: http://www.kickstarter.com/projects/455048251/the-most-fearless.
How did the documentary come about?
I read an article about Surfing in Bangladesh that appeared in AFAR magazine in 2011. The article introduced the world to surfing in Bangladesh. The article mentioned that when surfing first started there in Cox’s Bazar the youth surf club was easily half girls and half boys, but two years later the authorities deemed surfing inappropriate for girls and women. All the girls dropped out, leaving Nasima as the only girl committed to surfing. I knew that Nasima had to be an incredible individual and that her story would be an incredible one. And then out of the blue I contacted the author Jaimal Yogis.
As it turned out, Jaimal lives at Ocean Beach in San Francisco and my studio was in Sausalito – not five miles apart. We met and things just seemed to line up; my last film was called “In the Shadow of Buddha” and a recent book of his was “Saltwater Buddha” and we both believed in and were committed to telling Nasima’s story to a global audience. As Jaimal was himself is a phenomenal surfer and had spent time researching the article in Cox’s Bazar, he facilitated all of the introductions and ever since he has been an integral part of the crew.
Why was Nasima drawn to surfing and why does it represent freedom to her?
There is a short clip in our Kickstarter video where Nasima talks about seeing Jafar Alam at the age of 7 – Bangladesh’s first surfer – “flying across the water” and how she wanted to learn. After one try on the board, Nasima wanted to go every day. And she got good, fast. Nasima will tell you that “when I surf, I am happy,” and when you stop to think of the experience of her life, this is a very powerful statement.
It is my sense that while she is surfing, she is so focused and present and that all of life’s troubles slip away – if at least for that moment. And that surfing for her is something that is all hers – not inherited from family, bestowed on her by a man, or given – she has worked hard and she is the best woman out there in the Bay of Bengal surfing.
What is the surf culture like in Bangladesh? Are men heavily involved, or is it rare for them to be surfing as well?
I can only imagine that surf culture there now may be reminiscent of what surfing may have been like when people first started surfing the coast of California. To watch these guys – and yes, nearly all the surfers are still guys – they are out there laughing, dropping in on each other, literally crashing into each other and coming up smiling. In the water, they have yet to adopt a set of strict ‘rules’ that each surfer must adhere to, there is not a sense of aggravated competitiveness – rather there is an unabashed joy of surfing that seems to transcend everything else. It is a global youth culture who surf in Bangladesh and often when they are not surfing they are skateboarding and posting updates to their friends.
Because surfing, and all recreational enjoyment of the ocean, is new to Bangladesh, there are generations of adults and kids who have no experience in the water. Drownings happen at an incredible rate of 18,000 per year in the country which prompted RNLI (out of the UK) to send staff to train lifeguards. The surfers, and Nasima, as the first and only woman, have stepped up and are now trained lifeguards and are keeping the beach safe.
It is still relatively rare for anyone to be surfing in Bangladesh. In a country of about 155 million there are probably still less than 50 regular surfers at the beach. Presently, there are no surf shops, places to buy boards or wax, but the surfers there have just finished building the first surfboard out of jute, which is indigenous to Bangladesh.
Because Bangladesh has the longest continuous sandy beach in the world, beautiful surfing there and off the coast at San Marten (a coral island with a reef break appropriately named ‘shifty eyes’) it is bound to eventually catch on worldwide.