*This article first appeared on LobeLog and was reprinted here with permission.
Here’s a treat. The short film posted above is part of videographer Patrik Wallner’s skateboarding documentary, the Visualtraveling series, which features countries that people wouldn’t normally associate with skateboarding. In “The Persian Version,” an international group of professional skateboarders offer a truly unique way to see Iran, where I was born.
The two Americans, Kenny Reed and Walker Ryan, were granted tourist visas to Iran, but they were prohibited from skating, except for once, when they visited a skatepark. So, while their colleagues glided through one of the oldest and restrictive countries in the world, the Americans had to travel with a 67-year-old tour-guide.
“Just being told what you can and cannot do, 24-hours a day. I mean, we had a babysitter the whole time,” said Ryan, who is shown smiling throughout the film.
French skater Michael Mackrodt saw the Iranians as engaging in tit-for tat behavior, “They want to show the Americans that you give Iranians a hard time when they come to America, so we do the same…”
While Iranians who are lucky enough to get visas to the US are able to travel there freely, Tehran has a list of historical grievances against Washington, which its sees as responsible for the strangulating international sanctions regime Iranians have been enduring for years.
Washington claims that Iran’s nuclear program is not purely peaceful, something which Iran, a signatory to the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT), adamantly denies. Negotiations on a comprehensive solution to this issue are in process.
It’s not clear exactly what Mackrodt had in mind before expressing his observation. Regardless, the film allows viewers to arrive at their own conclusions about whether the limitation imposed on the American skateboarders was fair, unjust, or completely expected from Iran, a country filled with contradictions.
It also demonstrates how some of Iran’s contradictions are beautiful.
Here’s what M.J. Rahimi, a pioneering Iranian skateboard manufacturer, had to say after hanging out with the professionals:
This is the best ten days of my life…I’m really excited about your trip and to see professional skateboarders here. My biggest dream is one day, I can make a skateboard for a professional skateboarder. Made signatured for them, especially for Walker.
Skateboarding, rooted in rebellion, is an American sport that has spread around the world. Despite decades of hostility between the governments of Iran and the US, this film shows that skateboarding is also now an Iranian sport, and the stuff of some Iranians’ dreams. Who could overlook the beauty in that?