Back in the 1990s, surfing was unheard of in Cox's Bazar, a fishing port in Bangladesh, home to the world's longest beach. That was until a foreigner visited the beach with a surfboard, and Jafar Alam, a local bought it. A self-taught surfer, Alam became a legend in his town. He also started teaching kids who would work on the beach all day.

One of them was young Nasima Akter, who sold seashell jewellery to support her family of five siblings and parents. At 18, she became Bangladesh's first female surfer, winning the national surfing championship four times consecutively, until she stopped riding the waves. Last year, she decided to make a comeback.

Watch her journey in Beyond The Waves — Bangladeshi Surf Girls, a 28-minute Bengali documentary that will be showcased for the first time in Mumbai as part of NCPA Reality Check screening.

The film is co-directed by Dhaka-based filmmaker Arifur Rahman and Bijon, the country's first film graduate from UCLA. They have previously worked together on the film, Kingdom of Clay Subjects.

Filmmakers Arifur Rahman and Bijon
Filmmakers Arifur Rahman and Bijon

Finding Nasima
Rahman met Nasima a few years ago, during a vacation to Cox's Bazar. By then, she had given up surfing. "Her parents had accepted her passion for surfing as long as she sold jewellery but she faced intrusion from the locals. They don't approve of women wearing tight clothes while surfing. Then, she got married into a conservative family who believed that a decent girl shouldn't surf. Her husband was also jealous of other male surfers she grew up with," shares Rahman, who found her after a long search. "Unfortunately, her in-laws didn't allow me to meet her. So, I decided to delve deeper, and that was the genesis of the documentary," says Rahman, who recollects chatting with her from the other side of her building wall.

Nasima with her son
Nasima with her son

Comeback queen
Nasima's fearless personality intrigued the filmmaker. "She was always hoping to return to surfing. Then she was kicked out of the house that she built selling her surfboard. I started shooting from there. I followed her for over a year before she returned to her husband. I was able to record different events of her life as she took up surfing again after a gap of two years," he elaborates. The documentary includes interviews with her childhood surfing friends, parents and surfing event organisers.

He sums up, "Nasima made the sport famous. Right now, there are about 15 girl surfers. For them, surfing is a way of expression, it's a movement."