Baluchestan lies on the border of Iran and Pakistan, and is considered one of Iran’s most dangerous regions. Often used as a trafficking route between Pakistan and Afghanistan, Baluchestan has become a perilous crossing, its people – the Baloch – caught between two much larger nations. A small village in the Baluchestan province, called Ramin, seems an unlikely spot for a surfing revolution, but it has become the centre of Iran’s Hijabi surfer movement.
Photographer Giulia Frigieri was first drawn to Baluchestan after watching a documentary called Into the Sea, which followed Irish surfer Easky Britton, Iranian snowboarder Mona Seraji, and Iranian diver Shahla Yasini as they introduced surfing to the area. The school they set up there – We Surf In Iran – teaches men, women and children how to surf, how to craft their own surfboards, and about marine life and water safety.
Surfing in Ramin, however, does not come without obstacles, particularly for women.“There is no adequate sportswear for Muslim women in Iran,” explains Frigieri. “Women have to wear multiple layers of clothing while they surf.” Added to this, there are no private, women-only beaches in Baluchestan, which means that many women in the area have never learnt to swim. “In this part of Iran especially, there is not much freedom for women outside of the household,” Frigieri says. Although We Surf In Iran is situated in Ramin, it draws more interest from those from other parts of Iran, who travel there for the excellent surfing conditions. “I think it will be a long time before this sport attracts Balochi women,” says Frigieri.
Shahla Yasini, the subject of Frigieri’s winning Portrait of Humanity image, is an exception. Born into a religious lower income Baluchi family, it is a remarkable feat that she has become Iran’s first female surfer, and the pioneer of its surfing movement. “In my picture, Shahla is wearing a traditional Baluchi headscarf,” says Frigieri. “This image symbolises Shahla’s fight against stereotypes and gender inequality. It is a statement of freedom.”