‘Yama’ is a new movie that follows Australian surfer and activist Lucy Small as she travels to Ghana to meet with a group of pioneering female surfers and skaters. Once a stronghold of the transatlantic slave trade, and with a history of Atlantic aquatic surf culture long before colonial invasion, it is a story of reclamation and joy.
Named after the wooden boats that the local Fantes people have used for centuries to access Ghana’s coastline, ‘Yama’ was shot by the UK filmmaker and photographer Maddie Meddings, who traveled with Lucy to the capital of Accra, before hitting the wave-rich coastline. Here they found passionate communities driving the fresh Ghanaian modern surf scene and making real change.
‘Yama’ will premiere in the UK at C-space Newquay from 7:00-11:30 pm on the 1st of April. The screening will include a discussion panel and a percussion and acoustic set from Afriquoi, one of the bands featured in the film.
Wavelength caught up with Maddie to discuss the film, her involvement, and how the experience changed her approach to surfing and filmmaking.
WL: Where did the idea for Yama come from?
Maddie: It was Lucy’s idea. After her speech went viral a couple of years back, Luce established herself as an activist for gender equality in sport. Project Blank asked her to make a series of films based on gender equality in surfing. Lucy, who had been following Surf Ghana’s story decided to choose Ghana as her first project. I came on board further down the line and dove straight in. I’d been wanting to focus my work more on storytelling and documentary-style filmmaking and this story felt too important to pass up.
How did you get into filming?
I grew up in North Devon and started surfing when I was a teenager. My best mate is Lucy Campbell and we headed to Mexico at the ripe age of 18 for our gap year. We spent six months hopping between chicken buses and hitchhiking down the coast of Mexico and Central America. I think this trip ignited the spark for surf travel. I started shooting soon after and it was a few years later during my winter season that being a filmmaker focused on the outdoors and action sports really solidified.
What were your perceptions of Ghana before you went and how did they change?
One of the central themes of ‘Yama’ is the idea that the western portrayal of Africa, and Ghana more specifically, has historically been a negative one, and we saw the frustration that that caused a lot of the people we worked with in Ghana. I built an idea of the country before visiting through books, conversation, and podcasts but what was missing was the vibrance. Music is playing all the time and it becomes the backdrop for everything you do there. There’s an amazing art, music, and fashion scene over there – especially in Accra and I think it’s often this side of the culture that gets missed.
How did the girls over there get into surfing and what impact does it have on them?
This is all down to Justice, the founder of the Obibini Girls Surf Club. He’s doing such great things over there and he cares so deeply for the girls’ futures, needs, and their relationship with the water. He taught them to swim initially and then once they’d learned (and excelled, he said they can outswim him now) he got them into surfing. It was a real process, there was a lot of convincing of parents, church members, and people in the town, but eventually, they reached an agreement and now the girls are in there every day, rain or shine.
What did you take away from Ghana?
One of the most palpable thoughts was a shift in perspective when it comes to barriers to entry. Growing up I experienced barriers in the form of busy parents who couldn’t ferry me around and the daily frustrations of surfing Westward Ho! But surfing with the girls just completely shifted that idea for me. A lot of women in Ghana, especially in coastal towns, still hold a very traditional role when it comes to cooking and cleaning for the men in the household. Free time is limited for them and getting in the water just isn’t viable a lot of the time. Not only that, but things that we take for granted; getting boards, wax, leashes, swimwear, and even visas are so much more difficult to come by.
What are your plans for the film?
We’ve our premiere here in Cornwall on 1st of April and Lucy’s in Sydney on the 28th of March. We’re also in the process of submitting to our chosen film festivals in Oz, the US, Europe, and the UK. We’d love to head back to Ghana and have a premiere at the skate park too.