The story of three women pioneering surfing in Iran.
In 2014 Irish surfer Easkey Britton embarked on a surf trip unlike any other. She travelled to the town of Chabahar, in Baluchestan, on the south-eastern tip of Iran, with a particular objective in mind: to introduce surfng in Iran, using a couple of chicks as her ambassadors. She wrangled up two accomplished sportswomen – Iranian snowboarding champ Mona Seraji, and Iranian diver Shalha Yasini – to join her on her mission. French filmmaker and surfer Marion Poizeau’s documentary, ‘Into the Sea’ follows their journey into the heart of the Middle East.
Iran is nestled between Pakistan, Afghanistan and Turkmenistan to the east, and Iraq to the west. The site of ancient Persia, it is brimming with mythic tales of a brutal, exotic past. For flmmaker Marion Poizeau, the lure of surfng in Iran was also tied up in her fascination with its cultural history. ‘These days,’ she says, ‘we seldom hear of Iran except through media outlets, and so for me it became as fascinating as it was scary.’
Iran is a diverse place, says Poizeau, and the capital Tehran is a very modern city. But the rural region of Baluchestan is considered dangerous even by local standards, and remains one of Iran’s poorest provinces. The local Baluchi people lead fairly traditional lives, and there is no tourism industry to speak of. But it’s the only stretch of the Iranian coastline that borders the Indian Ocean, the only area open to any swell, and therefore the only option for surf.
Sport is encouraged in day-to-day life in Iran, providing participants abide by the boundaries defined by Islam. This means women must surf wearing the hijab, unless a ladies-only surf beach were established, where women could surf comfortably in swimmers without worrying about being seen by men. Poizeau explains that the lycra hijabs they wore while surfng in Iran were not ideal, but tolerable. She is currently working with a designer to create a better suit, in order to make surfng a touch more accessible for Iranian women.
The sea in Iran is largely the domain of men, with fshing being a primary source of income for many coastal families. In a society in which gender roles remain pretty clear cut, it was important for Easkey and Poizeau to introduce surfing with female ambassadors, to cement the idea that this is an activity that may be practised by both sexes. In fact, they really turned the traditionally male dominated sport on its head, when one young local boy, after watching the women surfing for some time, approached Easkey to ask whether this was something that boys can do too.
So what’s next for Iranian surfng? Easkey and Poizeau have left some boards in Baluchestan for the local people who have taken an interest. They returned last year to teach some lessons, and created a not-for-profit foundation called
‘We Surf in Iran.’ The foundation has a number of goals in its sights: for starters, to set up a surf school on the beach at the small fishing village of Ramin; and secondly, to promote the craft of surfboard shaping. This presents its own limitations, she tells me, considering Iran is under sanctions and it’s difficult to import materials. In the not-too-distant future the girls hope to organise an international event in Iran, to promote cross-cultural exchange and ‘to grow this amazing Iranian community of new riders.’ And there are other areas in the Middle East with potential for good surf, she suggests, like Gaza and Oman, ‘it’s just a matter of being curious enough to get there.’
‘Into the Sea’ is about the unexpected places our passions might take us if we keep an open mind. Above all, it is a testament to the power of surfing to break down barriers and foster cultural understanding.
It’s an exciting prospect, to imagine a Middle Eastern surf culture wherein new technologies and designs are not only developed to improve the function of wetsuits and swimwear but also of the hijab and the full body suit. A place where the surfing day is brought to an end, not by the setting of the sun but by the evening call to prayer. Where after a surf one sits cross-legged on an embroidered rug sipping Iranian tea rather than stopping by the bakery to grab a meat pie.