By Tooka Pourgive
07 April 2019
Strategically located in Iran’s south eastern province of Sistan-Baluchestan, with access to the Sea of Oman, and the Indian Ocean, the city of Chabahar is an unusual destination that is slowly gaining popularity amongst Iranian youth for surf tourism.
As an Iranian citizen who has barely lived in Iran, every time I return, I feel like a tourist at home. After 3 years of living in Bahia- Brazil, where I learned to surf, I decided to go back to university, and this time, in Portugal. However, to obtain the Visa I had to return to Iran. During my three months stay, I kept on wishing upon a wave, and sure enough I found out that indeed a group of surfers and a surfing spot does exist.
The surfing tour had an upcoming 4-day surf trip package, which included hotel, surf lessons, one meal per day, and a full day of sight-seeing pre-planned. The plane tickets were relatively cheap as it were a national flight of about 2 hours from the capital city of Tehran, and they also booked it for me. Although I do enjoy surfing a lot, I like bodyboarding more, and sure enough I took my bodyboard and flippers with me to Chabahar, at no additional cost.
Upon arrival, the hot humid air quickly reminded me of Bahia. We ordered two taxis to take our group into the hotel area of Chabahar, and surprisingly arrived at the 4-star hotel called Ferdos.
Iran is a country with diverse landscape and a very rich history and culture. The northern part is covered in mountains which today has several ski resorts, above it the Caspian Sea, and below it, the dessert. Many ancient sites and outstanding architectures attract tourists to the country.
Sistan_baluchestan is the least developed province in Iran, and also considered the most dangerous due to its proximity to Pakistan. In fact, the main road connecting the two countries is the principle entry for illicit drugs, namely opium. We travelled down this road several times to arrive at Ramin, the beach where we surfed at, and also for seeing the attractions. As the road nears Pakistan, more border police appear.
Surfing is a new phenomenon which started with a visit by Irish surfer Easkey Britton to Chabahar in 2010. She and filmmaker friend, Marion Poizeau started surfing the Baluchi waves and soon began traveling back and forth to bring material and to teach the locals to surf as well. When I went to the surf school, the locals were still using her material which were well kept. Their surf trip was turned into a documentary called ‘Into the Sea’.
Chabahar does not have much ancient ruins of Persian empires, and it does not offer any typical touristic activities. In fact, it is the opposite of what tourism destinations represent. Moreover, Iran is an Islamic country, and there are no such things as beach resorts. What I mean is that people cannot take off their clothes and bathe in the water, or the sun. Indeed, we had a strict head to toe clothing regulation, especially for women, to be able to enter the hot waters and surf. I followed the Islamic code rule, but I did not wait to receive a surf lesson. I spent the entire first day in the water alongside local surfers. They told me that the summer months have the best waves, and in July the waves reach up to 5 meters high.
On the third day we were taken by a local Baluchi in a van to see the natural attractions. We crossed the Lipar Wetland known as the pink lagoon which stretches for about 13km. We visited the Martian Mountains which look as though we have stepped on another planet, and the main fishing ports in the area and took a boat across a salt water lake. I was truly amazed by the rich natural landscape, especially the combination of Martian mountains on one side of the road, and the ocean on the other.
The availability of taxi services and 4-star hotels adds on to the overall value of the destination, however, if we had to take a bus and stay at a hostel, I’m sure that we would have done It as well. Several shopping malls and restaurants were in close proximity to the hotel which gave us a night time activity.
The local culture of Baluchi people is very different to our modern ways; they wear traditional clothing, they speak their own language, they listen to their own music, and they have a different cuisine from typical Persian dishes. But they also speak Persian and are mostly very hospitable and welcoming. Between surfing sessions, I would talk to the Baluchi surfer boys to understand their journey. They were all sons of fishermen and had started surfing about 4 years ago when surfboards had arrived there. They told me about their fishing trips to Pakistan, India and Somalia. They were the real adventurers and dreamers. They told me about the Chinese fishers who exploit the water’s resources heavily.
Iran is very underdeveloped in terms of sustainability, and Sistan-Baluchestan is perhaps the least developed. People have no notion of littering and trash is spotted everywhere on the beaches. Because it is a relatively under-populated area, it has yet to become unmanageable, even so I was bothered to see so much trash and put an hour aside to do a beach clean-up. Our group would gather the trash from our days’ worth of food at the end of each day, but recycling and trash separation are concepts far from the perception of the people.
There is also the question of security, in December last year, Chabahar’s police post was hit by suicide bombers, and another suicide bomb hit a bus in Baluchestan in February 2019, killing 27 Revolutionary Guards.
What brought our group to Chabahar was the love for surfing, and to get away from the hectic city life. The nature in Chabahar is isolated and rare. I was very glad to get to know Iranian surfers and also to catch waves as the first ever female Iranian bodyboarder.
Looking back on my experience, I realised that our objective which was surfing in the ocean has no limits and being in the water with people who spoke my language that made the experience valuable. For a surfer, all related tourism facilities are part of the journey, but ultimately, the waves are the destination.