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Gazans hit the beach, surfboards in hand

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Courtesy of Matthew Olsen/Explore Corps

(Read caption) Rawan Abo Ghamen surfs off the shore of Gaza City.

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• A local, slice-of-life story from a Monitor correspondent.

Think of Gaza and what springs to mind is usually militants and bitter conflict. Yet Gaza also has a vibrant beach culture, including a growing surfing community that is thriving with the help of the organizations Explore Corps and Surfing 4 Peace.

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When Surfing 4 Peace was founded in 2007 by Jewish-American surfer legend Dorian “Doc” Paskowitz, it drew the attention of both global media and international surfers. California surfer Matthew Olsen had just founded the youth organization Explore Corps and saw an opportunity to join forces with others trying to reach out to Palestinian surfers. He launched the Gaza Surf Club as a way, he says, “to unify the surfers in Gaza and provide a foundation for sharing resources ... with the international surfing community.”

Gaza’s surfing community has since grown from two to 25. Most members are male and in their 20s, but the two youngest are 14-year-old female cousins, Rawan Abo Ghamen and Shoruq Abo Ghamen. The girls are excitedly waiting to receive boards and specially designed “Islamic swimsuits.” The custom swimwear has been designed by a team of fashion designers at New York’s Parsons The New School for Design. In Gaza, women over the age of 13 are expected to be fully dressed when at the beach, including covering their heads, even when swimming.

“Women surfers are mostly unheard-of and will not necessarily be well received by the local population, unless they wear the accepted loose-fitting clothing,” explains Mr. Olsen. “In truth, most girls living in Gaza can’t even swim.”