We Are Like Waves is an intimate look into how surfing changes Sanu’s life, documenting the struggles and breakthroughs of becoming one of the first female Sri Lankan surfers.
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.
THE ORGIN STORY
The story was found 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.
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; and create a platform for deeper discussions around culture, gender and family expectations in the context of surfing. By bringing together women from different cultures, the film connects women in sharing stories, experiences and resources to overcome the unique but similar barriers we face.
SeaSisters is a local organization that teaches Sri Lankan girls and women how to swim and surf. They create a safe space for girls and women to enjoy the ocean, using sports as a tool for women’s empowerment. SeaSisters is where Sanu began her surfing journey. SeaSisters was founded in 2018 by Amanda Prifti and Martina Burtscher, who are also the co-producers of We Are Like Waves. They wanted to share SeaSisters’ and Sanu’s story in an authentic and collaborative way - that’s why they teamed up with director Jordyn Romero and producer Leah de Leon. The film was initiated in partnership with SeaSisters, with the intent to inspire more diverse girls and women to get into surfing and follow their own path.
Learn more about their work at www.seasisterslk.com.