Bangladesh surfing started way back in 1995 when an fourteen year old Jafar Alam was walking along the beach in his hometown of Cox’s Bazar the longest beach in the world . Jafar asked The Australian guy said he’d sell it to Jafar for $200 – Jafar, not having heard of dollars, was unperturbed and said that he’d give him TK2000 ($20), to which after some days the Aussie agreed. This left Jafar with a problem – he didn’t have any money let alone $20, so in the manner of grooms the world over he went home to his mother and said he needed some money for school fees….
Equipped with a board, but no leash or wax (that stingy Aussie again) Jafar was ready to become a surfer. Having also never actually received his surf lessons from the Aussie Jafar had no idea what to do with his board so for three years he used it as a bodyboard. During this period (and the years that followed) Jafar found that riding the board was the least of his worries, for more seriously, the police took a very dim view to Jafar’s missile shaped toy and kept trying to arrest him, so that in the end Jafar had to resort to surfing in secret at hidden spots further along the coast. It was whilst watching TV in 1998 that a light went on in Jafar’s head – suddenly on the screen in front of him was a person with a board just like Jafar’s – and he was standing up on it!! For the next seven years Jafar struggled to master the art of standing on his board, but of course with no wax or leash this was a bit of a struggle.
In 2001, eleven years after he last saw a surfer on his waves, another chance encounter was to change Jafar’s life again. Out surfing one morning he noticed a group of western men stood on the beach watching him – and they had boards just like his with them. When they first put some wax on his board Jafar freaked out – he thought it was a strange medicine or gum that meant he couldn’t fall off. But he quickly warmed to this new ‘medicine’ and, for a man who’d ridden without wax for more than a decade, surfing suddenly became a change .
One of the men on the beach that day was Tom Bauer, a Christian Missionary from Hawaii who had founded an organization called Surfing the Nations whose basic tenant is to spread Christianity through surfing. A few weeks after Tom and crew left Bangladesh Jafar received a message from Tom saying that they would like to take him to Bali – all expenses paid! Despite some problems with a corrupt Bangladeshi immigration service who tried to prevent Jafar from boarding the plane because he wouldn’t pay a bribe Jafar finally made it to Bali where he was greeted by Tom and several others. Jafar’s first impression of Bali was shock at the number of white people everywhere (!) and then sheer terror at the size of the waves in Kuta as well as the amount of other surfers. In fact, Jafar never having surfed with anyone else before, knew nothing about wave etiquette and was repeatedly shouted at and even punched on his first few surfs. It was whilst in Bali that Jafar was presented with a new surfboard – the first time he had ever seen a new board – and Tom also announced that he would like to return to Bangladesh with fellow members of his organization to set up a surf club.
Since that day Bangladeshi surfing has progressed in leaps and bounds with Surfing the Nations donating a number of surfboards (with leashes and wax!) and body boards, but there was a condition. Jafar must teach other Bangladeshi’s to surf and this must include girls. Therefore a female surfer here requires a level of dedication and determination completely beyond that required by a girl surfer in the West. And yet, by 2003 there were enough surfers in Bangladesh for Surfing the Nations to organize the first Bangladeshi surf contest and now, with the contest in its fourth year, there are some forty surfers in the country – more than half of which are women and girls; a percentage figure which is probably unequalled by any other country in the world!
This years contest attracted wide spread media exposure with TV news crews from local Bangladeshi stations and newspapers recording events alongside the BBC and al-Jazeera and it was even put out on the AFP newswire.
Jafar also Life safes rescued 70 people as a Surfing lifeguard. People drown frequently.