Portfolio: Alessandro Gandolfi's images of teenage girls who ride the waves along Gaza's 25 miles of Mediterranean coastline


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The Independent Culture

Among the growing band of surfers who ride the waves along Gaza's 25 miles of Mediterranean coastline, you'll find a rather curious sight: a small group of teenage girls on boards.

Defying disapproving looks and the whispering of more conservative Gazans, the girls regularly head down to the beach to escape the drudgery of daily life under the blockade imposed by Israel and Egypt since 2007.

Three years ago, Italian photojournalist Alessandro Gandolfi captured the girls, who were taught to surf by male relatives who work as fishermen and lifeguards. In 2010, in Gaza for work, he came across the girls, including 14-year-old Sharouq Abu Ghanem, pictured above.

"Hamas don't think well of this way of being and playing sports," says Gandolfi. "It's a very Western style of sport and only a few girls are allowed to surf."

Because the girls have to cover up, and are too poor to buy anything more suitable, they make do by wearing jeans and long shirts in the water. But sadly the girls are not able to surf forever. Society dictates that they give up their hobby around the time they turn 16. Sharouq is now 17 and already married and pregnant.

When Gandolfi returned to Gaza recently, she told him about her unhappiness at no longer being able to take her board out. Still, the photos provide an alternative image to those usually associated with the impoverished area.

"I hope viewers understand that the Gaza Strip is not just a bad and dangerous place where only radical Islamists live, but also a place where normal people try to make a normal life, try to be happy, and enjoy themselves," says Gandolfi. "It's not easy for them because of the situation, but they give it a try."