A few years ago, a small strike crew punched into Afghanistan's mountainous regions in a bid to find a powerful river wave. They succeeded and the first waves in Afghanistan were ridden and since then, momentum for surfing in the country has been on a skyward trajectory -- with plans in the works to build a wave machine that can better harness the river's energy and turn it into a legit, consistent wave.
Teams have already flown to Austria to check the viability of this technology and whether it can be bought to landlocked and war-torn Afghanistan. Leading the charge is Afridun Amu, the Afghan surfer who was part of the crew who surfed the first wave in the country, is Afghanistan's only ISA World Games competitor and a general, all round, rad dude. You’ll recall Afri’s story? Parents fled war stricken Afghan with a young Afri, resettled in Europe and Afri learned to surf around France. Right now; he’s holed up in Germany, awaiting the end of COVID.
And when that edit dropped back in 2018, Afri says it was more a signal of hope for afflicted citizens of his home country. "It was like, if we can surf here when people said we couldn't, then we can do anything," Afri tells MSW when we caught up with him earlier this week.
It seems Afri and Afghanistan has tapped into the perfect time for pushing surfing as well. After being inducted into the Olympics, organisations were keen to help fund aspiring surfing communities to help mould Olympic teams.
“There is more funding available now and people were taking notice of surfing in Afghanistan,” says Afri. "We're pulling on all we can to help make surfing - not so much a destination - but an inspiring thing for children, young people, refugees to look forward to."
Last time MSW spoke with Afri, he'd just competed in the ISA World Surfing Longboard Championship (FYI, he'd broken his board the day before and ended up borrowing a watermelon longboard) and since then, things have progressed forward at some pace. Afri now sits on the board of the Asian Surfing Federation, has delivered talks on the benefits of surfing at the 2019 Peace and Sport International forum in Monaco, developing a project to help get children into surfing and delivering this wave technology for his country.
But despite his multi-faceted approach, Afri's mission has remained the same; raise the profile of surfing in Afghanistan, build hope for the children and refugees of the country, instil pride from a young age, while still finding the time for personal trips away. We caught up with Afri to chat through what's changed since 2018, that river wave tech he hopes to bring to the country and where plans are going next.
Hey Afri! How are things? Seems like there's a lot of things that have changed since the first edit dropping of surfing in Afghanistan?
Definitely, there was quite a lot that progressed. You know, I'm talking pre-COVID of course. That's not an Afghan thing, that's a worldwide thing. Before all the corona stuff I was training with a Urzala Weiss, a female Afghan surfer because she wants to compete in the ISA World Games.
Together with her, we were training in Indo, and we got invited by Chris Moore, Carissa's father, to go and train in Oahu. He's such a cool dude and really wants to help build up the Afghan surfing community. It was my first time on the north shore. It was crazy.
The ISA's obviously postponed right now, like everything else, but in the near future, you could have a full Afghan team? As you were the only competitor there from your country a few years ago.
Right, that's one of the goals absolutely for Afghan surfing. The other is to bring surfing to the country. We had that big surf trip, like you mentioned, so we showed a kind of surfing is possible there. Nevertheless, it was a huge thing that this was possible. With river surfing, it's too dangerous to tell people, 'hey take a board and go in', it's rippy, too crazy.
So our idea was to work on swimming, teach the kids how to swim when they're young – get them used to the water and build it up. For that, we're working on creating more training facilities all over Afghanistan which is something I'm doing with the national Olympic committee – let's see.
The goal is a long way out. But the overall game is to have an Afghanistan surfer in the Olympic games. With surfing becoming Olympic there's definitely support there.
The Olympics has thrown open so many doors. So, train the kids to swim and then to surf – but where would they go surfing?
Well, the next step in this is to build an artificial wave in Afghanistan. You know better than what I do, it seems to be super expensive, so, in a country like Afghanistan where you've got so many other problems, it would have been quite a risky thing to put that much money in it, plus, right now there might not be the market in the country to see positive returns.
Anyway, we've been looking at this static wave in Austria. This is actually super easy tech to use and one of the engineers in charge of that wave was one of the guys with me, surfing that wave in Afghanistan when we went in 2018.
Yeah, all the big countries in Asia are accelerating their surfing offering – probably the most it's moved on in the past decade
He said it was something we can easily implement in Afghanistan so this is something we're working on right now. Trying to build such a wave – we might be able to do it in the next year. Build it and it's not actually as dangerous as it first seems.
I was in Austria with a filmer and we recorded a lot and we're trying to get someone to fund it – we are almost there with that, we think. That's a cool thing.
That would be such an amazing thing, right, delivering surfing to a whole new range of people. And sounds like you've been busy? How did the training in Hawaii go?
Just before that actually, I was training with Laird Hamilton, he does that XPT training – it's like breath work for stressful moments and surfing big waves. For moments when everything has to be on point.
Is that because you're planning on surfing big waves?
Couple of thing [laughs]. It was for training for the world games. But yes, I'm totally into bigger waves. I don't want to pretend I'm surfing crazy, big waves, right now. But I've always been passionate about bigger waves – either you like it or you don't. For me, it's one of the craziest feelings in surfing dropping in bigger waves. That's a thing I want to explore me. And what better person to work with than Laird.
Laird was kinda a hero when I was younger and I couldn't turn down an opportunity to work with him. He was as super human as I thought he was going to be, but at the same time, amazed at how down to earth he is. Really interested in Afghan surfing.
And they say never to meet your heroes!
[laughs] yeah you know, in a way, I had the same thing with Kelly Slater too. Met him at the World Surfing Games, he was surfing the heat before me. But we ended up playing chess together. He was really into it and talking about endgames and fooling around.
Did you offer to play him?
I did! I think he had just recently picked it up – I gave him some tactical puzzles and showed him some endgame. He still owes me a game though. He was super competitive... but super humble and engaged with everything [laughs]
Classic. And I guess now, the focus is back on Afghanistan right?
Yeah man, to be able to go surfing in landlocked and war torn country, I think not only in Afghanistan, but everywhere it can give the feeling of, if that's possible, what else is? You know.
And that instills hope and a sense of pride. You're in Berlin right now with a trip coming up – but any plans to get back to Afghanistan?
Yeah it's not like I just want to go home and hang around. I want to go there with a concrete plan. This static wave is one thing is why I want to go there – but we've found a location and want to check out a few things. We have to see, with the restrictions in Europe, it's so hard to go there right now.
If there is a possibility to fly there and we have the funding then I'm there. For sure.
There's a couple more occasions for going back though – we are building up the Asian Surfing Association and one member of that is China and it is crazy how much they are investing in surfing right now. Last year there was the first official Asian Surfing Championship in China, I participated in it, and it was a good foundation to build it. This year, we had intense talks to hold it in the Maldives. I have to tell you, I'm on the board of the Association...
You weren't joking about being busy!
[laughs] no! I'm sitting there with the president of the Japanese surfing association, China, and Indonesia and there's lots of Asian countries getting involved too. It's already recognised by the IOC and ISA. They are constantly building it up man. The Asia games, next year, there's lots going on.
The Asian beach games and championships, they are planning to have them in November this year, and I've been nominated from the national Olympic committee to represent Afghanistan, so I may have to go home for that too.
So a stacked few years ahead and sounds like surfing is accelerating at a rapid pace for Asian countries?
Yeah, all the big countries in Asia are accelerating their surfing offering – probably the most it's moved on in the past decade. And Pakistan too, is having a bit of a movement. So much coastline that's been explored, what, back in the 90s? I'm sure there's so many crazy spots there.
Yeah that sounds like an insane trip. Keep us posted of course. Heard you're teaming up with Sebastian Steudtner as well?
Yes! We have a project working with his NGO We Make Waves, they are offering surf therapy. I remember speaking to a few US veterans who were saying about how surf therapy had helped them and we want to do that for Afghan refugees. Pretty much everyone who got here as a refugee has had traumatic experiences, either due to war or the escape... so, we set up a one year programme to teach Afghan boys and girls from the ages 12-17 how to surf.
Teach them stuff we can do while landlocked, then take them probably to Portugal and teach them what to do on the water and give them psychological support. We don't have the final budget yet, but we're working on it.
So, over the past two years, so much has changed from that vid?
Yeah, Afghan surfing is in a positive place and we hope we can do more, watch it grow and get more people stoked on surfing.