Rafting in Iran

Iran, also known as Persia, is home to one of the world’s oldest civilizations. It’s a country in Western Asia surrounded by Armenia, Azerbaijan, 

Iran sezar-bakhtiari (1)

Turkmenistan, Kazakhstan, Russia, Caspian Sea, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Persian Gulf and gulf of Oman with over 77 million inhabitants. Iran is the world’s 17th most populous nation and the 19th largest country in the world. Its area roughly equals that of the United Kingdom, France, Spain, and Germany combined. The capital city is Tehran. To this great country nature has given it all – from rain forest to desert, from high mountains and their rivers to the lowland rivers ….
Locals using a home made raft
Locals using a home made raft

Iran has a long tradition of using the rivers, but we are wondering about sport and recreational rafting in Iran now. In New Zealand we saw a men’s Open team from Iran. Inspired by their participation, we decided to find out more. So we asked Hanieh Goharipour – member of Iranian Rafting Association (IRA)to tell us how it all started, what the plans are for the development of the sport of rafting, what is the balance of women in this sport and other topics.

Iran The first ever rafting festival-armand (6)
First rafting festival – Armand

Iran has a rich history in river trips.” – explains Hanieh – “But white water rafting as a relatively new adventure activity started in 2003 with early expeditions and rafting trips to the Himalayas (India and Nepal) arranged by Kianoosh Mehrabi, the first Iranian raft guide and river expedition leader. Many Iranians had the chance to paddle in the Himalayan Rivers – Alaknanda, Ganga, Trisuli, etc. After gaining knowledge and experience in 2007 he devised “River Ecotourism in Iran” which was considered by the Iranian Tourism Organizations as a national development plan for the country .

The plan was based on River Tourism safety standards and Eco-tourism principals. The main aims were: promoting white water activities in tourism and sport, preserving nature and conserving rivers, empowering local communities by employment and economic development.

Iran Workshop (5)
GT&E Workshop

The standard rafting trips started on the Karoon river, Chaharmahal o Bakhtiari in 2008. There had been a few people arranging river trips before but not in a professional way. Many Iranians have enjoyed rafting trips up to date.

The Iran Rafting Association (IRA) was formed by a team of experts in the fields of River Eco-tourism, Raft Guiding, River Rescue, with the assistance of the IRF in 2009.

The “First Ever Rafting Festival”, which includied a Judges Workshop, was a rafting competitions base on IRF Race Rules, and a swimming competition for villagers. It was run by the IRA in 2011 with the collaboration of the IRF . At a similar time a Rafting Committee was formed within the Iran Canoe Federation.

Gaspar Goncz, the Head of IRF Guide Training & Education Committee, has traveled to Iran a few times since 2011 to run IRF Raft Guide workshops. Other courses and workshops have been run by the IRF and arranged by IRA inside Iran and a few guides have trained abroad. Now there are a good number of teams and raft guides who are active and many tourists can experience safe rafting in Iran.”

Iran The first ever rafting festival-armand (8)
First rafting festival – Armand

“Rafting is a relatively new sport and adventure activity in Iran. Many people are attracted by rafting with the start of  the “River Ecotourism Plan”. A few groups formed with the purpose of commercial rafting but very few for sport purposes.

That is fantastic. No beginning is easy, but Iran is showing good progress which is a great reward for people who have invested a lot in the promotion of the sport rafting.

Are women interested in this unusual, and certainly a difficult sport?

Iranian Women Rafters
Iranian Women Rafters

“In the development of rafting we provided equal chances for women and men. Women have been active from the beginning by taking part in the training courses, working as raft guides, helping the projects as volunteers and training and competing as athletes.

The first challenging experience for the Iranian women’s team was at the 2010 IRF Australasian Rafting Champs in Indonesia where Iran Rafting Women’s Team received 1 silver and 4 bronze medals.

Although there has been a strong interest among Iranian female rafters to compete in the international scene, not being supported by sponsors has prevented them from being seen in the IRF competitions.”

Where outside of Iran have your teams competed?

Iran Indonesia
Iran in Indonesia

“The “Iran Rafting Team” first participated in the 2008 Asian Rafting Cup in Ganga River – India and then at the 2010 IRF Australasian Rafting Champs – Indonesia. Another team has competed at rafting cups in Russia and France. Unfortunately in 2013 the teams that won our National Selections could not get sponsors and so could not participate.

Kianoosh Mehrabi, the member of IRF Australasian Committee and Head of IRA, participated as a Judge at the 2009 Bosnian World Rafting Champs and the 2010 World Rafting Champs in the Netherlands.”

What are your plans for the future?

“IRA is planning to promote rafting in Iran and has been doing its best to find sponsors and make use of sport tourism to empower athletes to afford the expenses of participation in the competitions.

Iranian qualified rafters are really interested and hopeful to find the chance of competing in the world scene. The IRA objectives are:

Iran Women (12)
Iran’s Women’s team in Indonesia
  • Standardize Rafting in Iran
  • Exploring more rivers
  • Attracting international rafters, kayakers and tourists to paddle in Iran’s rivers
  • Writing books, pamphlets, assays, reports about rafting, river tourism, river safety and related issues
  • Making movies and documentaries
  • Organizing training courses and workshops
  • Organizing international and national festivals and competitions
  • Empowering local communities
  • Developing River Rescue
  • Develop cooperation with international organizations such as IRF, Rescue 3 etc.
  • Cooperating with Iranian Government Organizations and NGOs
  • Encouraging qualified persons to enterprise in river tourists
  • Talent Spotting
  • Empowering Raft Guides and Sport Rafters
  • Planning rafting for children
  • Participating in international competitions
  • Hosting Rafting competitions/cups”

Maybe some states find inspiration in these projects. What is certain that each should share the experiences from these projects to make as much progress as it possible, and avoid making the same mistakes?

If someone now wanted to come and paddle on rivers in Iran, which would you recommend?

Iran haraz (6)
In Zagros area there is virgin nature and unseen landscapes where there is no access except by river. To explore the amazing nature of Zagros and to see unseen attractions you need a river craft and a professional team of river guides. The rivers are different levels, so all nature lovers from families to professional white water rafters and kayakers can enjoy paddling there. The main rivers in this area are Karoon (Armand) and Zayanderoud in Chaharmahal o Bakhtiari, Sezar in Lorestan, Zaab in Azarbaijan, Sirvan in Kordestan, Zayandeh Roud in Esfahan etc.

Dave Manby, a well known British kayaker has paddled in the rivers of Zagros area and made the amazing documentary, “Five Danger Zones” introducing Zagros rivers amongst the wildest and most beautiful rivers in the world.While in Alborz area rivers are mostly steep and good for creek kayakers such as Karaj and Haraz in Alborz and Mazandaran provinces. The river Seifdroud in Gilan and some parts of Haraz and Karaj are the exceptions with easy and safe rapids and suitable for families and non-professional paddlers.

After this, Iran is not a great mystery to us. We know by which rivers to paddle, we can see that much has been done in Iran so far, plans for the future are great, we wish them much success in their implementation, and we invite girls and boys, women and men to try this sport. We sincerely hope that we will watch Iran and in Brazil next year, as well as in many other competitions.

Iran at 2013 WRC in New Zealand

Links to:

(The listed links belong to the only known rafting groups. Please note that some of them are new and not aware of river safety standards. So we cannot recommend all.“)