For a brief moment in 2016, the borders to Cuban were reopened to American citizens. Many took the opportunity to travel to the previously embargoed country; some to visit family and friends, some to explore a new culture, and others with a deeper sense of purpose and discovery. For the film crew and writers of The Cuba Unknown, it was an opportunity to share the lesser-known stories of the tropical island. This is the tale of how The Cuba Unknown came to be.
In every culture there exists the rebels, the seekers, and the movers and shakers. In Cuba, the underground cause which encapsulates many of the youth culture centers around surfing: a pastime that is still technically illegal in Cuba, and definitely frowned upon by the national government. Contradictory to the law, many young Cubans are avid fans of surfing, and have found their own loopholes to avoid government punishment.
Surfing was first introduced to Cubans in the 90s. Many had seen the sport through old movies and pop-culture references, and they too realized they could learn the sport (after all, they are surrounded entirely by perfect ocean waves). There’s a do-it-yourself attitude that comes along with it, as there are little to no ‘surf shops’, instructors, or basically any necessary equipment available that one needs to pursue surfing. So, over time the culture has adapted and managed to find their own ways to build and maintain surf boards, bodysuits, and other oceanside vitals.
When The Cuba Unknown crew arrived for filming in 2016, they immediately knew they were about to uncover something big. The team of documentary filmmakers spent about five months learning about the Cuban surf scene, talking with locals, and getting to know this very unknown country with the hope of revealing “a lesser-known side of Cuba, beyond the old cars and decaying buildings.”
Through their art, photography, and stories, they capture the spirit of the true underground in an authentic and inspirational portrayal. It speaks of the passion of the Cuban people in respect to surfing, and for life. “While there we discovered a much larger story and some really incredible characters,” Tyler Dunham, one of the authors of the forthcoming book, told Huck Magazine recently.
As it stands today, the project is currently a featured Kickstarter campaign, and Tyler has launched a petition on change.org. The hope is to inspire a generation of Cuban surfers to stand up for what the believe in, and to speak out in the face of injustice. And believe us, illegal surfing is absolutely injustice.