Syrian teen finds refuge in Lebanon’s surfing community

World Today

Lebanon. Syrian surfer finds refuge in the wavesSixteen-year-old Ali Kassem from Aleppo and his Lebanese-American mentor Ali El Amine hold their surfboards on the beach in Jiyeh, an ancient coastal town 28km south of Beirut. (UNHCR/HUSSEIN BAYDOUN)

Ali Kassem, a 16-year-old refugee, had never seen the ocean until the Syrian war displaced him to Lebanon. He escaped the landlocked city of Aleppo in 2011, and settled with his family in the Lebanese coastal town of Jiyeh.

That’s when the ocean became Kassem’s refuge. He would spend hours watching surfers and emulating their techniques.

Two years ago, a group of Lebanese surfers spotted him attempting to ride the waves fearlessly. Ali El Amine, who runs Surf Lebanon, became Kassem’s mentor.

Kassem only taught himself to swim a few years ago. Now, he’s part of Lebanon’s up-and-coming surfing community: