Written by Olivier Dézèque
All photos by Kévin Métallier

Published in BS28

A short check-up before we take off to Tehran: the Ministry of Foreign Affairs warns tourists about the dogmatic character of the country—“passengers traveling to Iran should give great vigilance and discretion in their behavior”—yet some 2,000 heirs of the Persian Empire are genuine and enthusiastic skateboarders! A mockery of the authorities, a vector of rescue, a particular freedom, or a simple sports passion? The wall-rides these days rub against posters that magnify the prefabricated heroes of the nation.

Jaakko Ojanen - FsOllie

The initial intent of our project is not to land like conquistadors unveiling skateboard performances, but rather to meet and exchange with some locals who have been transported by a relatively recent urban practice. Like extreme sports, graffiti or musical renewals, this is often considered an appropriation of subcultures from the West by an audience emanating from the decline of the industrial era’s founding pillars. But the values ​​of religion, family, work and political power have been blunted, and new benchmarks have been laid. Skateboarding is one such craft which can be seen as having cropped up due to a weakening of these fundamentals, inscribed in the history of our empires since the dawn of time.

Nassim Lachhab - Ollie

Following football and baseball—two disciplines for which the Islamic Republic had national teams—the skateboard has hatched from its shell. In Persepolis and elsewhere in the country, riders who are characterized by an offbeat, almost ostentatious look are more and more numerous. While onlookers may be intrigued by these groups of unusual young people, the authorities often remain unimpressed and unswayed by the sport. Regardless, some entrepreneurs and pioneers, like Alireza Ansari or MJ Rahimi, are operating commercial organizations with no major concerns; skateshops, the manufacture of boards and the development of park projects receive not only the approval of the public authorities but also their financial aid. Ten years after the demure creation of the Iranian Skate Federation, a plethora of public infrastructure has been created and animated by monthly events.

While our European riders Jaakko Ojanen, Nassim Lachhab and Carlos Cardenosa are working on their tricks in front of the Isfahan mosque, Alireza Ansari, boss of the specialty shop Tsixty, explains: “Rock’n’roll is forbidden, we can not dance in public, but skating has acceptably entered into certain circles. Now it is even globally supported. At one time the only solution was for us to buy modules from Germany; we were only a handful of guys, and then Red Bull financed a competition. The media talked about it massively, with TV and newspapers relaying the news. The government has been amazed by the impact of the advertising that gravitates around the competition, and as we’re still in the midst of a revolution in communication, it seems interesting to them to use skateboarding as a way of feeling important. They constructed zones, ramps, curbs… alternatives to the enormous propagandist posters glorifying the friends of Ayatollah Khomeini and Khamenei. Is this the sign of a change? Still, they do not accept derivative behaviors like extravagant haircuts or over-Americanized dress styles. But finally it’s just down to these details, because a board and four wheels already gives us a lot of fun. It is only a game for children—that’s how they read it. It’s not countercultural.”

Jaakko Ojanen - Hippie Jump

Some Iranian natives are fine skaters, yet don’t consider the potential in the street spots they have. They seem very curious to observe the pro team accompanying us, but express a suspicion in their timidity and distance. The coolness of our guide, skater Alireza Ansari, is essential in this journey of more than 3,000 kilometers through the arid and dusty country. And the country seems to seize the opportunity to open up some tourism, gradually aiming to offer a kind of austere Burning Man trip, so we are generally pretty welcomed.

Carlos Cardenosa - Bs Tailslide

At our hostel in Isfahan, a misunderstanding arose when one of us shook hands with a maid to thank her. Important and useful info: do ​​not touch ladies, and do not listen to music as a rule—especially hip hop or R’n’B. Though very frowned upon in public spaces, many ordinarily prohibited things nonetheless take place within private and intimate spaces. Behind closed doors the party can be crazy; you can drink Jack Daniels and listen to Wu-Tang or R. Kelly, but this remains far removed from the collective consciousness.

Nassim Lachhab over the city

“No, we’re not spies…”

During a skate session hyper-productive in tricks in the Southwestern desert of Tehran, we observed missile silos, a profusion of anti-aircraft batteries, sophisticated assault tanks, and fighter planes ready to tear into the skies. Later, when we were shooting some last souvenir footage one dawn in Ispahan, the army came to greet us in their own way. Photographing panoramas of what could be interpreted as the achilles heel of the city ended up costing us the equivalent of a few hundred euros in fake fines and bribes. “No, we’re not spies…”

Touring the desert
Nassim Lachhab goes byebye