If you didn't already know, there're waves in Afghanistan. A few years back, MSW interviewed Afri Amu, the country's humble ripper, who let us in on the first surf expedition in the country's mountain range, seeking river-based surf. Since then, interest in the Far East as a very different surf locale has peaked. And as for Afri? Well, he's now the first ever Afghanistan national to compete in the ISA World Longboard Surfing Championship, which is currently under way in Biarritz.
It is another first for Afri, a true gent who has spent a fair bit of time surfing in the south west of France. He was the first Afghan national to compete in the ISA World Surfing Games and has now added that long board accolade to his growing list of achievements.
Read more: Surfing the First Wave in Afghanistan
The ISA World Longboard Surfing Championship is has been running from May 26 and will continue on until June 2. They're only into round 2 as of right now, so there's still plenty more competition left. I checked in with Afri to see how he's getting on at the comp and he replied in typically good humour...
This is the first time a surfer has been in the longboard games from Afghanistan, how’s it going?
AA: Well, let’s say it’s going just as you would imagine it to go when an Afghan takes part in a longboard surfing competition [laughs] I just lost a heat against South Africa and Taiwan, but I also didn't come here with the goal to go home as the longboard world champion.
I see it as another step for the Afghan surfing. Last year we have surfed in Afghanistan for the first time. The documentary on that Unsurfed Afghanistan will be released at the end of 2019. And other than that, I'm really enjoying my time here, the longboarding spirit here is incredibly easy-going and mellow. It's almost impossible to get into real competition mood here.
Where have you been practicing?
Being more into short boarding, I only recently started practicing longboarding. First in the Azores, where I spend more and more time with my surf coach, then in Berlin...yes, it's well known for its party waves, but actually they have really good surf skate asphalt waves. And now I've come to Hossegor to prepare myself for the French waves.
...broke my board one day before the competition started. But hey, at least now I'm surfing a watermelon board
For the short amount of time that I practiced, I actually got really comfortable with my longboard! But Neptune, the god of water, didn't agree apparently and he broke my board one day before the competition started. But hey, at least now I'm surfing a watermelon board.
What is it about the ISA games that are so special?
Where else do 32 nations throw sand into a container for an opening ceremony? It’s just a truly great, friendly and supportive atmosphere. Just as surfing should be. And love it or hate it, the ISA made surfing possible in the Olympics.
Has Afghanistan thought about making a serious pitch for the Olympics? It’s difficult to qualify, eh?
Well Neptune owes me now... And I only have to surf as good as John John Florence, Gabriel Medina and the likes. It's actually very difficult for non-traditional surfing nations to take part in the 2020 Olympic games in Tokyo. But, if surfing goes to Paris in 2024.... the hope of all non-traditional surfing nations is that these games will then be more inclusive.
How’s your longboarding skills? Do you prefer shorter boards?
Honestly, I truly enjoy the longboarding atmosphere, many more smiling faces. However, I started off as a shortboarder and that is what I still enjoy most.
But as I used to surf mostly, well basically only, while travelling, longboarding also never was an option. However now that I am somehow settling in the Azores, I started to longboard more and more. In some wave conditions short boards just don’t get you many waves.
Also I really enjoy the longboarding laid back surf feeling. In this regard the ISA Games come totally at the right time for me - one more prove how much fun and easiness longboardong adds to your life. But so far if given the choice - I always prefer a shorter board and a bigger wave.
What types of waves do you prefer surfing?
The first years of my surfing I thought it's all about surfing big waves, hollow waves or long waves. But with time and also because I've been meditating regularly for a couple of years I realised it's less about the wave and more about my mindset in the water.
For me, it's not the quest for the objectively perfect wave, but it's about being present with all your senses
Sometimes I enjoy small onshore conditions, more than punchy offshore waves. For me, it's not the quest for the objectively perfect wave, but it's about being present with all your senses. Present in the water, in the nature, in the moment. There is this powerful mass of water, elegantly pushing you through the blue and letting you travel on top of the ocean. Every wave is perfect, just sitting in the ocean is already perfect. What else could I be chasing?
How’s the surf scene in Afghanistan right now after a bit of exposure?
Surfing in Afghanistan is still in its beginnings. But for the last seven years we have been slowly but constantly working on building it up. The number of surfing exil-Afghans is rising steadily.
The national championship, our participations in the ISA world surfing games 2017 and 2018 and of course last year's surfing expedition in Afghanistan have created - quite unexpectedly - widespread enthusiasm for surfing in Afghanistan.
As a founding member and board member of the Asian Surfing Federation. I hope to help further develop the surfing in Afghanistan and other non-traditional Asian surfing countries such as Oman and Mongolia. The Asian Surfing Federation was founded this year and as one of the first steps we are aiming to host the first Asian Surfing Games already this year. Fingers crossed.
And you’ve spent a bit of time in Biarritz, right? How well do you know the waves?
This is where it all started for me. I surfed for the very first time when I was 19 in Hossegor, which is a 40 minutes drive from Biarritz. I have come back repeatedly over the years.
Still, I wouldn't say that I know the waves here well. The ever-changing sandbanks are still an unpredictable mystery to me. I think all these waves south of Bordeaux are pretty much like Bordeaux wine. You can get anything - from truly cheap and disgusting to world-class-it-doesn't-get-better.