I went to Iran last year in April, so had a strong knowledge and experience base to readily accept another offer from the Iranian Surfing Association to run some courses this year. But this time for longer, for more courses and see new places!
The courses and trip had been arranged and supported this time by Olympic Solidarity funding and the Iranian National Olympic committee (IOC). One of their stipulations was to have a female instructor too and this took the form of Costa Rican Caro, a surfer and coach from Playa Hermosa. We had corresponded heaps, but met for the first time at Heathrow Airport on the way out. After a pretty uneventful flight, we arrived to find our Visas weren’t arranged properly (again!) so ended up facing a payment of 300 euro Visa On Arrival fee for the both of us!
We didn’t have this much money between us in US dollars or Euros, the only currency they’d accept! So as we were sitting there wondering what to do next, we got a call from Setareh, the Iranian Surfing Association (IR Surfing) Vice president, translator and all round woman on the scene.
“How are you?”, she asked. “We’re stuck at immigration with no visas and no way to pay for them! So I guess we’re staying here or going back to the UK unless you can find a way to pay for them!” After an hour, the Visa fees were paid and after some unnecessary immigration faff………we arrived!
All went well from there. We were met with bunches of flowers by Alireza head of the surfing Association, Setareh and some random guy from the IOC who was as effective as a chocolate tea pot!
We were whisked off to our hotel on the mountain side overlooking downtown Tehran. What met our eyes was the Espinas hotel. It’s one of the most luxurious hotels in Tehran, hosting state visits and big business meetings. All arranged and funded by the IOC, and we were truly stoked with this kind of consideration. I’ve never been here in Summer and it was HOT, 35 degrees plus in the day time! Perfect for going swimming in the indoor pool and then having a siesta. In the evening we caught up with a lot of people, new found friends and old, for some amazing Persian food. After a good sleep and easy start, we traveled late morning to Chabahar, the most SE corner of Iran. This is the place where the surf is most consistent and the courses were being held. The plane touched down in the sandstorm made haze of monsoon season. Getting off the plane was like stepping off into a sauna, 44 degrees and humid as! Met the course members at the airport and once bags were dropped at the hotel, we set off for a look at the practical venue and, of course, surf!
The taxi drove down a cut in the coastal cliffs and we were greeted with our 1st sight of Baluchistan’s main surf spots, Ramin. It was glassy 4-6ft! A beach break with cliffs at one end a rock groyne harbour at the other. Say no more, sunscreen and lycra, we’re on it! Super warm water hit us and our eyes started stinging straight away. At 31 degree C, The Gulf of Oman has some of the hottest and saltiest sea water in the world!
It was also the first time I met the local crew. Caro’s had been here before, so she introduced me to them. The locals are Bulchi tribesmen, a Sunni minority group whose area actually ranges from Eastern Iran across the border into Western Pakistan. I believe the guys round Ramin had surfing introduced around 7 years ago by Easky Britton (Surf pro and scientist, who gave me the run down on Iran in 2017). With National and international support they have been surfing, running surf coaching sessions and tours for visitors. They’re lead by Abed, local tribal chief assisted by Shams, his brother and other close and extended family. Abed’s quiet, observant, but very hospitable man. His safety planning and water coaching skills are excellent, so a great asset for the coming courses in some quite challenging conditions. We surfed for round 2 hours, then exhaustion and twilight came on quickly. Back to the hotel for course prep, food and, relative to Persian life, an early night………….at Midnight!
The first morning of the water rescue course was theory, based at the hotel. After a 2 and half hour lunch break and siesta(!), headed down to Ramin late afternoon for some practical training. Then, things started to unravel! It seemed no-one was listening to or following instructions, some even going off surfing on their own! It was like herding cats!!! We got through as much of the course as we could and returned to the hotel. I called a meeting to discuss what happened, especially as safety was compromised. What could the repercussions have been if someone was injured or worse? This episode and their take on it really highlighted the differences in our cultures.The Iranian social hierarchy is different. Everyone in Iran understands it (I hope!), but it is sometimes subtle and for me confusing, who is supposed to listen to who in each situation? Who do I give this surfboard to, without offending someone else? Even though Behnaz did an amazing job of it, translating makes the situation even more frustrating. It confuses who is giving the message/instruction (Is it me or Behnaz giving the instruction? I have to listen to Andy, but in this situation I don’t have to listen to Behnaz!) and doubled the time it takes to complete tasks. We had made the plan, we agreed it and then I thought, we’d do the plan!! Little did I know, our hosts had added another step after that, called “What I think Andy might like to do?” Then change the plan accordingly without telling me or most of the course!
Fortunately once all got a better understanding, we settled into a great rhythm for the rest of the courses. Caro and I stepped back and let them discuss when there was a change and used the long chilled breaks to snooze away the fatigue of the heat, long days and late nights. We compounded this fatigue by leaving the hotel early in the morning and surfing before the course started, to get some waves and tranquility.
In between the rescue and the surf instructor course we had a day off, so we went on a little surfari. Checked out areas east from where we were, but the surf was massive and too heavy on the beaches. Found some potential points, but couldn’t access them with such little time to explore. A great trip in any case, as we got to look at the Mountains of Mars! It’s an amazing region of colourful salt lakes, hot springs and mountains that, apparently, look like Mars:-). In the afternoon we had lunch at Konarak and then headed West. On advice of local guy and school English teacher, Abdolrahman, we found some possibilities: points and beachies. Unfortunately most were on military restricted areas and/or hard to access. Around 4 we ended up surfing off a rock groyne on a gently sloping beach near Konarak. It was breaking 6-800 meters offshore so a long paddle out. After a while, Abdolrazagh and I ran around on the groyne and paddled straight into a great right peak. Abdolrazagh is a super stoked, friendly young guy. He comes from Baluchistan, spent time in the military and went to Japan for the World Surfing Games this September. I had some great sessions with him in the water, we pushed each other in stoke levels and into waves. Also got to try fresh dates, interestingly, the ones we normally see in shops here are actually when the fruit has gone brown. The fresh deep red new ones have a quite bitter, but nutty flavour and suck the moisture out of your mouth. Although, once just turned brown they are wonderful, with fresh water and these, you can keep going for a long time. To note as well, the mangoes here are out of this world!!
Had a bit of entertainment in the evenings, with local musicians playing at the hotel. Really quite an experience, funny watching the men dancing and everyone was giving them small rial notes as tips for great shapes and moves! Not so funny is the fact that women are forbidden to dance in public. Other evening highlights were singing and laughing in the bus on the way back from the beach, going out to have amazing fruit drinks, food and chilling under the Persian Night skies.
In closing, such an amazing experience on many levels. The weather and environmental conditions were insane, it was so hot and humid. It made it difficult not only for Caro and I, but other Iranians from the North of the country struggled too. Some suffered from heat stroke and had to take emergency action one time when a girl fainted. Every day I felt light headed and dizzy, but sleeping in the early afternoon helped. The world’s hottest and saltest sea water of this area was also a factor to consider. You would have to come out of the water at least once every hour to re hydrate. Not only did it cause our eyes to sting, but my skin started to dry and crack between my toes and fingers. Also had a zit that just started ulcerating and the skin started coming off my feet in sheets! But 2 days after I left Chabahar, my skin quickly recovered.
Although I always felt safe and the security is excellent, the stories of petrol smuggling and boarder insurgency between Pakistan and Iran, bandits, drug running and military installations, gave you something to consider. So did getting my balls closely cupped by the not so friendly security guy when we went to return to Tehran!
Sign up or tune in next week for part 2 of the trip!!