Interview: Afghanistan Snowboard Federation

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Interview: Afghanistan Snowboard Federation

Last month's government changes in Afghanistan put their snowboard team in jeopardy. We spoke to the team leaders to find out how the federation started, what snowboarding is like in Afghanistan, and their future now the Taliban has seized control.

Over the years, I've seen a few videos of The Afghanistan Snowboarding Team pop up on my Facebook timeline. Before these videos, I didn't even know it was possible to snowboard in Afghanistan or that they would know what it was. Still, here they are, men and women of all ages hiking up a hill in Kabul to go riding. The equipment they have managed to find is basic, but they make do, which is evident from the huge smiles and laughter as they are all united by their newfound love for snowboarding. Snowboarders worldwide can watch the team taking their first turns and reminisce that those first few days on the hill will have you hooked for life. 
The Afghanistan Snowboarding Federation has big plans. Not only have they shown the world that Afghanistan can have peaceful and fun sides, but they have also given women and the youth of Afghanistan the stepping stones to progress at snowboarding and motivate them to feel confident in society.
The World Snowboarding Federation has already recognized the federation. It has entered Afghan riders for the championships held in neighboring Pakistan. It was the first time they had been on a lift or ridden a groomed slope for the team. Although they hadn't ridden a slope before, the team walked away with a silver medal on their first-ever visit, the first-ever medal for winter Sports in the history of Afghanistan. There were even future plans to develop a team that would be allowed their chance to attempt to qualify for the Winter Olympics.
Now the Taliban has reclaimed Afghanistan, the federation is facing uncertainty. All their hard work in developing the snowboarding team will come to an immediate halt. We reached out to the team's founders to see how these recent developments will change their plans and how they wish to continue in the future.

Where did you first discover snowboarding? Did you see it on TV, in a magazine, or in person? And where did you first get to snowboard for the first time?
We were a team of skateboarders; in summer, we were skateboarding on the streets, but we did not have any hobbies in winter. We thought of using a skateboard without wheels at first, and we did that for a while before we found snowboarding. We put some money together to buy our first snowboard from Iran that cost us 13000 Afs, 1000 Afs each [around 135 Euros].

How many riders are in the Afghanistan snowboard team?
We have more than 30 riders who are mostly beginners, but we have 14 more advanced riders.

What difficulties will the team face in light of recent events? Will you still be allowed to snowboard in Afghanistan? 
According to the Taliban Ideology, you should not waste your free time. This time should be spent on prayers and going to Mosques. The Taliban are against any sports activity except Cricket, which they love. Still, any other sports will be banned, which is the wrong ideology. Still, they are told that we are not allowed to do or to continue snowboarding. We have even been given death threats for our activities, helping the women's snowboarding team ride and grow.

Have you managed to evacuate Afghanistan, and where will you go? Will the team regroup elsewhere?
Some of us have already managed to escape, but others are still in Kabul. Now all borders are shut, and it's impossible to leave. When we are eventually allowed to go, we will stand together and continue to snowboard. Currently, all team members (14) have been given a Canadian Visa. Still, we are looking for the evacuation possibilities, which so far most haven't managed.

Was it snowboarding that allowed the team to receive this visa?
We made friends at an international level through snowboarding, and some of those knew lawyers or friends in their governments. Then they started our case, and then the government of Canada granted us visas.

The team is a part of the World Snowboarding Federation. What does this mean for the team, and how would you like to see the team develop in the future?
This meant a lot for us, as we can now represent our country with pride in international events. Still, membership in snowboarding's international body and the national body does not help us anymore.

I have seen videos of yourself and the team riding in Kabul. Where else have you ridden, and do you have a dream destination to snowboard?
We were not just riding in Kabul; we have been snowboarding in different locations, like Bamian, Wardak, Logar, Khost, and Panjshir. 

Do you train on the sand during the summer?
Yes, we do. We have some pretty good sandy places, like Herat, Kapisa, Balkh, Nimroz, Farah, etc.

You once attended the Pakistan Snowboard championships. How did you find riding there, and was this your first snowboarding with people from other countries?
That was the first time the team experienced riding the chair lift and the standard slopes. Usually, all our riding is done with us hiking and in the powder. It was a fantastic experience, and we learned that with new snowboarding technology and equipment, snowboarding can be great fun and easy. When we were riding in Afghanistan, we hiked the mountains without snowshoes and on old equipment.

Did you ever speak to US-based people in Afghanistan about snowboarding, and did anyone from there go riding with you?
We were not allowed to meet any foreign snowboarders in Kabul, so we could not go riding with them, but we always wanted to.

Where does the team find its snowboard equipment from? I imagine snowboards are hard to find in Afghanistan?
The first board that I mentioned earlier we purchased in Iran. 14 of us shared the same board, and we rode like this for nearly two years. Obviously, there are people of different heights and weights, but we all used the same board. Then some friends from abroad helped us get some boards from Switzerland that they donated and sent to us.

What can people reading this do to help the team?
We need all emergency evacuation from Kabul because we don't feel safe here now, and we are threatened with death. But, if we somehow get to Canada, we will need new snowboarding equipment to help us all go snowboarding.

The safety of the Afghanistan Snowboard Team is most important to us. Therefore, we've decided not to list any names due to the opinions in this article. You can follow the Afghanistan Snowboard Federation on their Instagram:

We will stay in contact with the team and have plans to gather donated snowboarding equipment and send it to them once they have relocated away from Afghanistan. We will provide you with updates as their situation develops.