Stab Magazine | Afghanistan, and the joy of surf!
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Afghanistan, and the joy of surf!

Story by Jake Howard War-torn, landlocked and staunchly anti-bikini, Afghanistan seems like the last place you’d find a growing population of surfers, but in a nod to the sport’s global influence, in 2012 a group of friends got together and founded the Wave Riders Association of Afghanistan (WRAA). “The WRAA is the governing body for […]

news // Mar 8, 2016
Words by stab
Reading Time: 3 minutes

Story by Jake Howard

War-torn, landlocked and staunchly anti-bikini, Afghanistan seems like the last place you’d find a growing population of surfers, but in a nod to the sport’s global influence, in 2012 a group of friends got together and founded the Wave Riders Association of Afghanistan (WRAA).

“The WRAA is the governing body for surfers from Afghanistan and those Afghans living in exile,” explains Kava Spartak, the media manager for the organization. “Besides serving as an association and representative for Afghan surfing, we want to present Afghanistan’s image in the proper light.”

Given that the country’s been torn apart by conflict for the past 35 years, and been at the center of a 15-year “war on terror,” portraying Afghanistan as anything other than a hotbed for Muslim extremism is a tall order, but as we’ve seen, surfing can be a powerful agent of change.

“We would like to share the emotions that surfing gives us with our fellow countrymen and women, emotions such as freedom and joy,” continues Kava. “On the other hand, we would like to share our unique rich culture with the surfing world. We want to illustrate a different picture of Afghanistan since in the last decades our country has also suffered under a certain misrepresentation due to global events and the mainstream media. You watch nine out of 10 news reports and they’re about war, terror, drugs, and so on. We want to change that and attract a different kind of interest towards Afghanistan.”

Thanks to geography, Afghanistan will never rank as top surf destination – it lacks any oceanfront property. In three (plus) decades of fighting, more than five million Afghans have been displaced and moved to other countries. The majority have sought refuge in neighbouring Pakistan and Iran, but some have ended up in Europe, America and Australia, and subsequently a handful of those were been bitten by the surfing bug.

“Many of us Afghan surfers are living in exile and had the chance to get to know the sport outside of Afghanistan,” says Kava. “We have members from Europe, the US and Australia. With the foundation of WRAA we finally had the chance to connect and exchange ideas. We are certain that once Afghans get in contact with surfing and have the chance to grab a board and enter the ocean everything else will follow automatically. The story of Mohammad Malek, a double amputee who learned surfing in a very short time and fell in love with the sport, has inspired all of us and made us very proud.”

From May 21-25 the WRAA will host the first-ever national Afghan surf championships in Ericeira, Portugal. A long time in the making, the group is receiving a lot of support from friends around the world, as well as from fellow Afghans. They’re even hoping to offset some costs through a crowdfunding page they’ve set up.

“It means a lot to us since we will have the opportunity to gather all the Afghan surfers in one place and present Afghan culture and have a good time,” says Kava. “The competitive side of things won’t be playing a major role in this first event. However, the event will determine the qualifiers for the ISA World Games in June. We are writing history.”

Today the the Afghan population consists of young people, who, as Kava says, “are literally sick of the ongoing conflict and misery. They want to build themselves a brighter future. We as young, exile Afghans want the same. And we think that with sports and education we can develop something sustainable.”

It’s going to be an uphill climb, but the WRAA is enthusiastic and sees a future in Afghan surfing. They’ve seen the growth of cricket in their native land and are eager to follow suit.

“Afghan refugees growing up in Pakistan learned to play cricket in the 1980s and 1990s. They built a team and started competing on an international level. Today the Blue Tigers are among the best 14 cricket teams in the world, and the streets of Afghan cities and villages are filled with children playing cricket,” says Kava. “This has taken more than a decade, so if in the next 10 years Afghan surfers will be frequent participants in the World Games and can slowly improve their competitive standing it would set a milestone. It is definitely hard to imagine how a landlocked country like Afghanistan can participate in the sport of surfing, but we are quite optimistic about it. Afghan people are very ambitious and hard working. The recent years have proven that, especially when it comes to young people and sports.”

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