Languages
Page last updated at 09:48 GMT, Thursday, 1 January 2009

Bangladesh's pioneering surfer

Zafar Alam
Zafar Alam says he has saved dozens of lives in the sea around Cox's Bazaar

By Mark Dummett
BBC News, Cox's Bazaar

Surfing is normally associated with places like Hawaii, California and Australia's Bondi Beach, but the sport has now even reached as far as the coast of Bangladesh.

Cox's Bazaar, in the country's remote south-east, is better known for its cyclones and vulnerability to rising sea levels, but it also boasts of having, at 125km (78 miles), the world's longest unbroken sandy beach.

According to the man who claims to be Bangladesh's first surfer, Zafar Alam, it also has great surf.

"When I'm riding the waves it feels like I'm on a speedboat and I just love that feeling," he says.

No leash

Before Zafar, the only people who surfed here were the occasional, intrepid foreign tourists. Ten years ago he was able to persuade one of them, an Australian man, to leave him his board.

Advertisement

Zafar Alam tells why he is teaching his countrymen to ride the waves

"He asked for $200, but I was so young I didn't even know what a dollar was, so I gave him 200 taka" (the local currency which is worth considerably less).

"In those days I didn't know how to stand up on the board, and it was very difficult because I didn't have a leash," he said. A leash is the string that attaches the board to the surfer's ankle and prevents it from being dragged away by the waves and the tide.

Surfers in Bangladesh
Zafar now coaches about 70 young men and women

"I then saw people surfing on the television so I knew what to do and the next morning I tried to stand on the board for the first time."

His family was terrified because they had never seen anything like this before. Many fishermen and Bangladeshi tourists drown here every year.

"My mum sometimes cries. She thinks I will die in the ocean. But I tell her it is ok, that I love surfing."

In fact, Zafar used his new skills to save an astonishing number of lives - he says he has dragged 70 drowning people out of the water.

"Most Bangladeshis don't know how to swim and the currents and the waves here can be dangerous. All the time I have to rescue them."

Surfers in Bangladesh
The currents and waves at Cox's Bazaar can be dangerous

In 2001, Zafar was spotted by Tom Bauer, a surfer from Honolulu, Hawaii, who runs Surfing the Nations, a charity "that seeks to give communities... a message of love and hope through the sport of surfing and acts of selfless service".

He believes that "surfing can be used as a powerful tool to bring about positive change".

In Bangladesh that has meant enough equipment for Zafar to set up the country's first surf club, and an annual surf tournament. He now coaches about 70 young men and women.

Persuading them to take part is the hardest task, because the region's traditions discourage women from spending time with young men in public.

Cox's Bazaar is one of Bangladesh's most religiously conservative areas as well, so many women here wear the all-encompassing burka. This is not a place for bikinis and tight-fitting wet suits.

In spite of this, Zafar is hopeful that more and more people will take up the sport.

"When I started I was out there in the water all alone. But now I want there to be thousands and thousands of surfers here in Bangladesh."



Print Sponsor


SEE ALSO
Bangladesh 'tiger boy' to return
24 Nov 08 |  South Asia
Bangladesh to open own Taj Mahal
09 Dec 08 |  South Asia
Bangladesh landmass 'is growing'
30 Jul 08 |  South Asia
Cyclone horror haunts Bangladesh
14 May 08 |  South Asia
Bangladesh 'Beatle hero' move
11 Dec 08 |  South Asia


FEATURES, VIEWS, ANALYSIS
Has China's housing bubble burst?
How the world's oldest clove tree defied an empire
Why Royal Ballet principal Sergei Polunin quit

BBC iD

Sign in

BBC navigation

Copyright © 2019 BBC. The BBC is not responsible for the content of external sites. Read more.

This page is best viewed in an up-to-date web browser with style sheets (CSS) enabled. While you will be able to view the content of this page in your current browser, you will not be able to get the full visual experience. Please consider upgrading your browser software or enabling style sheets (CSS) if you are able to do so.

Americas Africa Europe Middle East South Asia Asia Pacific