Kamara, known as KK, is the only female surfer at Bureh Beach, south of Freetown. In fact, she’s the only female surfer in Sierra Leone.
Nineteen years old, Kadiatu Kamara was born into civil war and lived through the Ebola epidemic that ravaged her nation. But her story is not one of tragedy. Instead it’s a love affair with the waves, kept afloat by a polyurethane board and no small measure of determination.
A young woman in a man’s world, she’s found herself part of Bureh Beach Surf Club, a group countering sloppy misconceptions about this corner of West Africa. And on a surfboard, she’s become a star in her own right.
Kadiatu Kamara is the subject of “A million Waves”, an upcoming documentary short directed and shot by British filmmakers Daniel Ali and Louis Leeson. They spent time at Bureh Beach Surf Club in May after learning about KK from a couple of traveling surfers. Embedding themselves into the community, they settled on telling her story.
She started surfing about two years ago. Her father had died about two years ago, around the same time Ebola broke out in her country.
When Ebola broke out schools closed down, there was a high uptake in teen pregnancies, because people were staying home and there wasn’t anything to do. Escaping into the Atlantic for a few hours at a time provided welcome respite.
Surfing always makes Kadiatu Kamara happy, it always makes her forget about her problems at home. At home KK is a student, but also supports her family. Without her father’s income, she makes hats and tote bags to sell to the few tourists that make it to Bureh. Surfing is a past time reserved for the early mornings and evenings, when domestic duties and studies are completed.
The Bureh Beach Surf Club was started in 2012 by Irishman Shane O’Connor, an NGO employee who has since gone on to work at UNICEF. With donations and sponsorship he brought surfboards and materials to the village of 300 and began teaching locals to master the waves.
O’Connor handed the club over to a newly-blooded generation of surfers, and today the 19 local members are teaching kids as young as five to negotiate the break, a rarity in this part of West Africa.
The club has its international heroes, and surfers will watch videos of their idols on their mobile phones and attempt to emulate their skills.
Before 2014 there were plans to bring international surfers to Bureh Beach for a competition, only for it to be scuppered by the Ebola outbreak.
The impact has been profound however, and Bureh Beach is only now reclaiming its status as a burgeoning tourism location.
Four years since its inception, KK remains Bureh Beach Surf Club’s only female member. She gave different reasons like some of the girls can’t swim, or some of them are scared of swimming or the sea.”
“Guys are the ones allowed to go out and have a bit of fun,” the filmmaker argues. “There’s probably a lot of other girls that would like to do it, but they’re a bit shy.”
KK won’t be dissuaded however, and is using her platform to encourage others to jump on a board.
“Surfing is good for us ladies,” says the 19-year-old. “The message I have from them is I want them to join me.”