Monday, March 31, 2014

Ya, Ollie! – Skateboarding in Iran

Alireza Ansari, founder of the Iranian skateboarding collective TSIXTY, does a kickflip at a skatepark in Tehran.
(Photo Credit: TSIXTY)

The West is often plagued with a rather blinkered view, coupled with a voyeuristic obsession, of Iran and its people. All too often, news reports, photo essays, and viral videos make the Internet rounds accompanied by breathless, slack-jawed commentary, expressing countless variations on the “Oh my god, they’re just like us!” theme.

Last month, Marguerite Ward perfectly distilled this common occurrence in a column for PolicyMic entitled, “Young Iranians Continue to Shock the Internet by Being Normal.” Noting the recent online sensation caused by “a provocative photo essay” by Hossein Fatemi, which “gives a global audience the chance to peer into the country’s more modern (or scandalous) sub-culture where men and women socialize together, drink alcohol and listen to rock music,” Ward accurately remarks that the essay’s success “is just as much about the content as it is about the audience. A person in touch with Iran’s contemporary culture would not likely be surprised or extremely interested in the series.”

Young Iranians doing much of anything – with the possible exception of praying, yelling or scowling (the “Argo Hat Trick,” as it were) – seems to surprise most Western observers, be it buying Apple products, drinking alcohol, going out to coffee with friends, or women engaged in ninjitsu training. Earlier this month, Agence France-Presse made a big deal out of a group of young women practicing parkour in Tehran. Almost a year ago, France24 did the same thing.

With this in mind, a video recently posted on the website of Thrasher, a San Francisco-based monthly skateboarding magazine, is a breath of fresh air. Beautifully shot and edited by Patrik Wallner as part of his “Visualtraveling” series, which follows professional skaters circling the globe in search of sick spots to shred, the half-hour film is a travelogue of Iran, Azerbaijan, and the Caucasus, as experienced by an eight-man international skateboarding crew.

Skatepark in Tehran
(Photo Credit: MJ Rahimi / 8FIVE2SHOP)

What is perhaps most remarkable is how the film treats young Iranian skateboarders; they are shown, not as outliers to be studied, pitied, analyzed or ogled at, but rather as compatriots in a worldwide community, bound by a common passion and respected as equals.

We meet 27-year-old Mohammad Javad (MJ) Rahimi, who dubs himself the “first skateboarder in Iran” and now manufactures handmade skateboard decks out of his home in Tehran. MJ introduces us to the small, but growing, Iranian skateboarding community and proceeds to tour the country with his new comrades.

Early in the film, one of the skaters, Kenny Reed, explains to the camera, “Iran is under sanctions right now and it’s really hard for them to import anything from the West. This kind of put the skaters in a position where they were forced to figure out a way to make their own boards. If they didn’t have MJ making those boards, I couldn’t see the scene getting any bigger at all.”

The footage of skaters rolling, grinding, jumping, kicking, sliding, and carving through the streets of Tehran is exquisite and remarkable, from one of Tehran’s state-funded skateparks in the Enghelab sport complex to public plazas like Azadi Square, in parks, back alleys, busy thoroughfares, down ramps and railings, over benches and stairs. The mastery of navigating urban topography is dazzling. Just as impressive are the locations, cinematography, and kickflips in places like Baku, Azerbijan and Tbilisi, Georgia.

Check it out here. Be amazed.

This is not, however, the first skate video to come out of Iran. The Tehran-based T-SiXTY crew, founded by skateshop owner Alireza Ansari, put out this video in 2011:

T-SiXTY has posted other videos of Iranian skaters celebrating “Go Skateboarding Day” in 2012 and 2013, as well as a 2012 skating excursion to the beautiful central city of Esfahan. And late last year, ABC News correspondent Muhammad Lila featured Ansari and T-SiXTY in one of his dispatches from Iran.


Originally posted at Muftah.


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