Suddenly surrounded by the rumble of wheels on pavement, onlookers turn to observe a raucous horde of 30 skateboarders. They hurtle down steep roads at breakneck speeds. Sporting American-brand clothing, GoPro cameras, and skull-covered skateboards, it seems like a scene out of Southern California. It is, in fact, a scene out of Tehran, the capital of the Islamic Republic of Iran.
Unlike American citizens, it's pretty easy for French people to visit Iran. After applying for a visa at the Iranian embassy in Paris, I simply took a flight from the French capital to Tehran in September 2015 in order to meet and photograph the Islamic Republic's skateboarders. In contrast to their government, many young Iranians have adopted a Western-friendly lifestyle. I accompanied the skaters I met through eight towns and completely immersed myself in their daily lives.
According to several enthusiasts I met on my trip, there are about 2,000 skaters in the country—mostly students between the ages of 15 and 25. Given the difficulties associated with importing American products and Iran's inflation, skateboarding is not accessible to all.
"It's a costly hobby here. At the moment, it is a sport confined to middle and upper classes," said Alireza Ansari, owner of TSIXSTY, the country's first skate shop.
While Tehran builds skate parks, other towns remain reluctant due to the sport's perceived Western stigma. That said, it's becoming more and more popular in Iran, and is even one of the few sports where genders intermingle. Wearing backward caps atop discrete-but-compulsory veils, girls skate with boys.
While the country's leaders grapple with the West, these young Iranians are living their lives, weaving between French Peugeot cars and Paykan from the time of the Shah. In Tehran, the road belongs to them.