Bangla Surf Girls – ★★★★ 1/2 (Human Rights Watch Film Festival)

Bangla Surf Girls – ★★★★ 1/2 (Human Rights Watch Film Festival)

Elizabeth D. Costa’s Bangla Surf Girls shows us the struggle with being pressured into conforming to tradition despite your aspirations and the resilience in young women to push against the social tide. At times brutal with its honesty, this beautifully compelling documentary is fantastic.

Shobe, Aisha and Suma break away from the drudgery of their lives by joining a surf club in Cox’s Bazar, Bangladesh. The girls fight family pressure and social judgement for a few hours on the waves. Then, they gain confidence as their natural skill and prowess gain attention and praise. Soon they are poised to make history as Bangladesh’s first women surfers. The odds are stacked against them, but the girls refuse to give up. Balancing the freedom of the waves with the restrictive realities of their circumstances, we experience the thrill and struggle of coming of age in a developing country.

As Shobe walks through her village and into the nearby town, we immediately see the struggle that she has to go through; the looks and judgement are omnipresent to her simply because she is wearing a t-shirt and not the clothes that are expected of her. When she tries to purchase something from a stall, she is immediately ignored. Her hot-headedness and frustration at the continual attitude of others rise up within her as she ladens the seller with expletives.

However, there is a semblance of hope within the community as she informs a different market seller of what she does and why she is being filmed. He tells her the only way to make it anywhere is to keep going until you reach her goal and for her to go and make the area proud with her efforts. This reassurance hopefully buoys someone like Shoba, as it shows that not everyone has the attitude that wants her and the other girls from the club to conform to tradition. That they can, in fact, stand out and be who they dream of being and doing what they dream to do.

The club owners cement the struggles that the girls and even the boys have to go through, that there are obstacles from all different places. First, be it your family, in which we see a great deal of as the girls are forced with difficult decisions from their parents who either want them to go on and have a life better than what is in the village via education etc,. Or for them to take on the mother’s roles, earning money for the family. The next is in the community and with their own neighbours. People are quick to judge and belittle because the surfers are still surfing past the expected age (they are just 13). He and everyone are aware of the uphill battle that they have in their lives to continue their passion, but he will do whatever he can for them.

He goes on to say that it may be well to have blood relatives, but that doesn’t necessarily make them family. The family are those who you surround yourself with, who want to support and help you become the person you think you can be and not the person they want you to be. Bangla Surf Girls is filled with poetic moments like this, and as long as this attitude grows, there is hope for more people like our trio to emerge. The club’s owner loves the girls and everyone in the club and wants the absolute best for them, to get them to a point where they can decide for themselves where exactly their journey leads them next. You can’t help but be enthused by their attitude, which causes you to be frustrated that not everyone is so willing to accept them as the individuals they are.


However, what resonates is that despite all of the pain and struggles that the group goes through, their love for surfing never wavers. The thrill of the waves spellbinds them, and if there is another takeaway other than the apparent battle they have with their village’s culture. A simple anecdote of one of their first experiences causes a smile to come across you. So it is that when you find your passion the way they have, you should keep as strong a grip upon it as possible. They have been called to the sea and have seen what freedom it gives them in comparison to the land; why would they or anyone give that up easily?


Costa does some terrific work as a filmmaker here as she covers her subjects; there is a raw quality to Bangla Surf Girls that reverberate within you. While she is not always neutral in her filmmaking (and at times it is hard to blame her) and rarely shows the family who struggle with the girls’ choices in a positive light, you have to commend her for being able to get the material that she has.

She also never tries to hunt for a storyline and lets the film take on a natural progression. Unafraid to show us that not everything is necessarily going to be tied up in a neat bow for these girls. This confidence in her subjects and their journeys helps Bangla Surf Girls step out from the crowd; it is hard to overstate how good this film is. Watch it now.

★★★★ 1/2

Bangla Surf Girls will be playing at the Human Rights Watch Film Festival and is available to stream across the UK and Ireland between 17-25 March via

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