International Surfing Association Nets New Iranian Members

The introduction of the popular sport into the Middle East nation spurs the formation of a local surfing association, which is now partnering with likeminded groups across the globe.

Iran draws headlines for a lot of reasons—and surfing usually isn’t one of them.

But earlier this month, the International Surfing Association (ISA) officially welcomed the Middle East nation’s homegrown group of enthusiasts. The addition of the Iran Surfing Association makes the international umbrella group 100 strong, officials said.

“This decision is rich in symbolism for us, both in terms of the milestone of recognizing the ISA’s 100th member, but also in showing surfing’s ability to help bring unity through sport,” said Fernando Aguerre, president of the California-based organization.

The coming together represents another rapprochement between Iran and the wider world. For decades, the theocratic nation has been in an often adversarial approach with its neighbors and the West—particularly the United States.

That relationship began to thaw earlier this year, when the landmark nuclear agreement between Tehran and the West went into effect.

“As I’ve said many times, the nuclear deal was never intended to resolve all of our differences with Iran. But still, engaging directly with the Iranian government on a sustained basis, for the first time in decades, has created a unique opportunity—a window—to try to resolve important issues,” said President Barack Obama in January.

But surfing’s beachhead in Iran was established in 2010. That’s when Irish surfer Easkey Britton arrived to promote the sport in a country not known for hanging ten. Six years later, it has gained enough popularity to precipitate the formation of an independent surfing association.

Britton described it as a teachable moment. It’s certainly another victory for a sport that recently gained admittance to the Olympics as it expands in popularity, even away from the coast.

“Witnessing the birth and rapid emergence of surfing in Iran has shown me how the sport can be a unique lens to facilitate a deeper understanding of the world around us and each other,” said Britton, who turned the story behind her Waves of Freedom project into a documentary.

Sports have long been seen as a way to bridge cultural and political divides. Perhaps the best known example is the series of impromptu Christmas Truce soccer games between the Allies and Germans along the trenches of the Western Front during World War I.

Britton sees surfing as a similar form of diplomacy.

“Ultimately, it can be developed to create a space and opportunity for connection across cultures and a positive relationship with the marine environment,” she said.

The Iranian organization she inspired is set on continuing her work. Its goals include exposing more Iranians to the sport, cultivating talent, hosting workshops, organizing competitions, and codifying local surfing rules. Local backers believe the sport’s ideals translate well into Iranian culture.

“Surfing is not just a sport for the people of Iran, but a tool capable of uniting people of different cultures and backgrounds that highlights the values of hospitality, truthfulness, and loyalty that define Iranian culture,” said Alireza Rostami, president of the Iran Surfing Association.

(via Waves of Freedom's Facebook page)

Derrick Perkins

By Derrick Perkins

Derrick Perkins is an associate editor at Associations Now. In his career as a reporter, editor, and photographer, he has covered communities in New England and Virginia as well as the Defense Department. MORE

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