Ali Kassem had never seen the sea before he fled his home in Syria for Lebanon, but now he's a regular in the waves and, dreams of his own surf school. Dressed in a purple wet suit, the 17-year-old confidently coats his board with wax and smears sunscreen on his face before dashing into the sea. He disappears behind one wave and another, until his small figure is barely visible from the beach at all, as though he were headed for the horizon.
Kassem is from Aleppo city, though he says he remembers little from his childhood in Syria. His father has worked in Jiyeh for the past 25 years, and after Syria's conflict erupted in March 2011, he decided to bring his family to Lebanon as well. Kassem has two brothers and three sisters, but speaks little about his family and his life, before he became a refugee. A third brother died in the conflict, "killed in Aleppo at the beginning of the war", he says, without giving more details.
Kassem's entry into surfing came through Ali el-Amine, who became his mentor after meeting him in 2015. Kassem has stuck with the sport, convinced it can help him "build a better life". During the summer, he works at Amine's school, repairing boards, welcoming customers and helping during lessons. The job provides income that helps his family, along with his father's wages and support from the UN refugee agency.
"Right now I'm teaching my younger brother how to surf, and I'm going to teach my younger sister as well," he says.
But, while Kassem says he has become used to life in Lebanon, he still dreams of returning home. His ultimate goal is "to become the first professional surfer in Syria and open a surf school in Latakia when the war is over". The school project might still be far off, but Kassem already has a name for it: "It will be called Surf Syria," he says.
Updated Date: Jun 13, 2017 12:37 PM