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Cox's Bazar is Bangladesh's top honeymoon and beach destination. The government has ambitious plans for the coastal region, and large resorts are being developed quickly.
The tradition of surfing in Bangladesh is linked to Cox's Bazar and dates to the mid-2000s. The American charity organization "Surfing The Nations" brought missionaries and surfboards to the country. Today, dozens of people surf here, including Sumi, Shobe Mejerez, and Johanara (pictured), three of the Surf Girls — and the beach now has a Lifesaving and Surfing Club.
The waters in this town of about 60,000 inhabitants are warm and safe: There are neither sharp rocks nor sharks that can attack the tourists and surfers. Here, Shobe Mejerez smiles on her board.
Bangladesh has the second-highest rate of child marriage in the world. In some rural areas, girls are married off as young as 9 years old because they are seen as a burden on their families. The widespread view is that men can earn a wage and women cannot.
"Surf is a very famous sport all over the world. It helps me soften my behavior and keep my life in balance. I meet new people and learn a lot from the rest of the surfing community. I never thought of doing this, but I have collected such wonderful experiences over these years, " says Sumi, 12. She is the only one of the eight surf girls who currently goes to school, and the only one who can fully read and write.
Johanara (left), 11, is one of the youngest in the group, but the eldest of six siblings in her family. "I love surfing and I love learning English. This will help me to save people in the future," she says. Her father is a painter and has an unpredictable income, so she has been helping to earn money for the family since a very young age. In the picture, she lies on her board with Aisha.
Suma (left), 14, is the strongest in the team. Her mentor says she can carry two boards at the same time and swim like a fish.
"After surfing, we rush to put makeup on. I love it. We look more beautiful, and it gives us a good feeling. I think it is very positive that people know more and more about the surf girls in Bangladesh. Hopefully there will be more girls like us one day," she says. Here, Suma poses with Johanara and Shobe Mejerez.