CHEK Upside: New film details surfing pioneer’s Sombrio Beach upbringing

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'Sombrio Surf' is among the many film's available for viewing in the upcoming virtual Victoria Film Festival which runs February 5-14.

Ever since she moved to Victoria five years ago, filmmaker Tara-Lee Novak has fallen in love with Vancouver Island’s natural beauty and interesting characters.

“I think it’s a magical place and I can’t help but do my part and share it,” said Novak.

Over the past few years, she’s produced features on everything from the West Coast Trail to a profile on the world-renowned artist Robert Bateman.

Novak’s latest feature takes audiences to the southern, west coast setting of Sombrio Beach.

“The inspiration for Sombrio Surf was Leah Oke,” said Novak. “She’s pretty bad-ass.”

The story follows a young woman’s unlikely journey to becoming a Canadian female surfing pioneer.

“She was one of the first females in Canada to be sponsored and make a living off of surfing,” said Novak.

Oke currently lives in Panama but grew up off the grid just steps away from the shores of surfing paradise on Sombrio Beach.

She had ten siblings and was part of the ‘squatters’ community that lived at the beach until the late 1990s, before the provincial government turned the area into a provincial park, subsequently evicting the community living on the beach.

“At that point, unfortunately, a series of events meant that she lost three of her siblings and her dad, so you can imagine that is a lot of tragedy in a short time span,” said Novak.

The short film details Oke’s perseverance and how surfing helped her heal through the unimaginable loss.

“Her story to me is the ultimate west coast story,” added Novak.

Sombrio Surf will be among the many Vancouver Island-produced films available for viewing at the Victoria Film Festival.

This year’s festival is virtual due to COVID-19 restrictions and runs February 5-14.

Kevin CharachKevin Charach

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