A young woman from a small fishing village down South in Sri Lanka faces a tough decision: to be bound by her culture’s expectations or push the boundaries of her independence through surfing.
Along the South Coast of Sri Lanka, surfing is everywhere. Yet only foreigners and local men fill the lineups. Surfing is not seen as a sport for girls. This is a result of cultural and societal expectations that place women inside the household, particularly in rural areas. Young girls are expected to follow certain standards: be kind, look nice, and smile. Attend school, study, work. Get married, and start a family. Be a housewife, cook, and clean. Most importantly, stay at home and put family first.
The ocean is simply not seen as a place for women. Therefore, like most girls, Sanu grew up watching her brother surf, but never considered it as an option for herself. When Sanu turned 18, she began working in the kitchen at a surf camp alongside her brother, who worked as a surf instructor.
At the surf camp, Sanu was often invited to try surfing by foreigners, but her fear of the ocean and going against her community’s expectations made her decline the offer again and again. One day, Sanu was asked by her boss and mentor, Sophie, to join her at SeaSisters, a weekly swim and surf program established for Sri Lankan girls to help inspire and empower through surfing. Hesitant but curious, Sanu took the risk.
Sanu must decide if she wants to continue a typical life as a housewife, or risk carving her own path as a surfer. This is a story of finding one’s voice in a sea of expectations.
You cannot stop us
When debating what to name this film, we decided we wanted the
title to feel bigger than ourselves and this individual story. We
wanted a title that reflects a collective, not an individual. This way,
the title can serve as a mantra, a sort of title that a group of people
can get behind.
While writing the script, there was one line that stood out among
the rest: ‘We are like waves, you cannot stop us.’
WE ARE LIKE WAVES is our title because this encapsulates the very
essence of why we made this film. We want to inspire a movement
around the globe that women choose their own path. And there is
absolutely no stopping us.
More diverse women on waves
Tackling issues of culture, gender norms, family expectations, empowerment and personal development, this film aims to inspire and empower women from across the world to pursue their own paths.
WE ARE LIKE WAVES aims to create a platform for deeper discussions around culture, gender and family expectations in the context of surfing. Bringing together women from different cultures, WE ARE LIKE WAVES aims to connect women in sharing stories, experiences and resources to overcome the unique but similar barriers we face.
Time, Creativity, Passion
I ( Jordyn Romero) found the story through a podcast that featured one of the co-founders of Sea Sisters Sri Lanka, a nonprofit dedicated to teaching local women how to swim and surf. They are inspiring young women by building confidence and strength in the water.
After listening to the episode, I learned that in Sri Lanka there is a cultural mindset that surfing is not meant for girls. Fathers are afraid of what might happen to their daughters, worried that they will never marry, so women are taught to stay close to home and they never learn. The stories and social issues shared on the podcast just stuck with me. Telling Sanu’s story as an example of the type of struggles that women surfers feel everywhere. I immediately felt a swell in my chest: this story needs to be told. Film is my form of activism to support and inspire more diversity in the surfing world.
I reached out to Sea Sisters in an Instagram message. They too wanted to create a film to help better continue their efforts to shift local mindsets about female surfers. It was a perfect communion of time, creativity, and passion.
Two months later, the film was in full production on the South Coast of Sri Lanka.