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"Havana Libre" is a documentary that tells the story of "clandestine surfers" in Cuba. Photo: Havana Libre.
'Havana Libre' is a documentary that tells the story of "clandestine surfers" of Cuba. Photo: 'Havana Libre'.

Surfing prohibited in Cuba

Surfing a wave involves going through a gray and murky legal area on the island. A documentary explores this reality almost unknown to the rest of the world.

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Surfing and other water activities have been banned for decades in Cuba, and are viewed by the authorities with great suspicion. This is how the website of the documentary Havana Libre explains the situation in the island. The new film tells the story of two Cuban surfers who make their surfboards from scratch while tenaciously fighting for the culture of the sport on the island. They are Frank Gonzales Guerra and Yaya Guerrero. 

“The first one is one of the most established surfers and, for many, the best surfer on the island. While the second is a community leader and surfer who has made it her mission to ensure that the next generation can surf freely. When surfing is announced as the official sport of the Tokyo Olympics, they see an opportunity to bring their sport out of the shadows and on to the world stage. What follows is a story of underground surfers who build their own boards from scratch, dodging the authorities as they travel the island in search of the perfect wave. The film chronicles their fight in the face of political oppression, confronting borders and outdated ideologies along the way,” reads the synopsis. 

The documentary reviews the emotional, moral and political dilemma that both must endure when they are invited to participate in international events abroad. It implies being forced to undertake an illegal trip, taking risks and being separated from their families.

Frank and Yaya met the director of Havana Libre, Corey McLean, during his trip to the island in 2016.

“When we took our first production trip, we embedded ourselves for three months with Frank and Yaya to shoot a short film about surfboard shaping. We had read a 2013 New York Times article discussing the topic, and thought of it as a way to spend time in a country that we always wanted to explore," McLean said in a statement. 

The director, who is also a musician and artist, said that thanks to these surfers, he and his team were able to capture a social, economic and political vision of the island and its people, which was impossible to read in the newspapers.

The director realized that the production would open eyes worldwide to understand the human reality that is lived, felt and breathed in Cuba. What was originally going to be a short film, ended up becoming the first feature film for McLean, who previously directed short films and has presented them at the Mountain Film Festival, and at the Camden International Film Festival.

Havana Libre was filmed over three years. It is produced by 1091 Pictures, in association with the World Surf League and the Surfrider Foundation. The film recently premiered at the Santa Barbara Film Festival and is going to screen in other festivals throughout the United States. It will premiere on VOD this Tuesday, March 22.

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