Despite Craig Kelly‘s famous trip to Iran in the mid-’90s, people seem to forget that there is world class riding to be done in the Middle East’s Alborz mountain range. And with all of the recent buzz in the news of travel bans and Trump tweets, we decided to visit a story that started a few seasons ago when Mona Seraji jumped into the scene as a contender on the Freeride World Qualifiers stage. After top three finishes last season at multiple events, we checked in with Mona to get to know her and see what it is like to deal with the other end of the unprecedented presidency of Donald Trump.
First off, what does it mean to be the first Middle Eastern rider in the World Qualifiers?
It means so much to me, I love to represent my country to the snowboard community and help change the image of Iran.
When and how did you start snowboarding?
I switched to snowboarding from skiing at the age of 16. I changed because one day getting back from the ski resort my skis fell off of the roof rack and broke in half. I saw a few snowboarders on the slopes before that and I was wondering what is that cool thing, I really wanted to try it. Especially when I was younger I wanted to skateboard but I couldn’t get the permission from my dad. So I started roller blades as a kid instead. But snowboard looked like a skateboard and I just wanted to try it.
Dizin and Shemshak.
What board are you riding in competition?
I ride a Burton Day Trader 146cm.
What riders have you been looking up to recently?
Kimmy Fasani is my favorite freerider, but also I look up to Marion Hearty, the Freeride World Tour current champ.
When did you make the jump into riding full time?
I decided I wanted to snowboard for my life the second I strapped my feet to my board, and I made it happen after a year or two of snowboarding.
How is it moving up the ranks of the FWQ circuit? Plans for FWT?
The first year I couldn’t make it to the podium. Then last season, which was my second year in the qualifiers, I made it to the podium in three of the six comps. If I can stay longer in Europe and participate in more comps, I think I might get the chance to get in to the tour which is my biggest dream.
How would you describe the snowboarding scene in your home country?
I would say snowboarding in Iran is in a good way, especially with all the high mountains we have. There is a lot of potential for freeriding.
Tell us a little about We Ride In Iran.
We Ride In Iran is a non profit organization with the aim of developing snowboarding in Iran. It was made in 2013 with the help of my friends from Switzerland, all very good riders from Swiss Freeski.
We heard you met Craig Kelly, tell us the story. How was that? How did it have an impact on your snowboarding?
Well, when the legend came to Iran, I was pretty young and I didn’t get the chance to have an exact chat with him or meet him in person, but it was absolutely an honor (to have him riding these mountains).
We have heard it before, but what the heck does Dadash mean?
It means BRO!
We are guessing you have had your fair share of hurdles, want to expand on any of that come to mind?
Being able to travel with an Iranian passport is not so easy, and as snowboarding needs a lot of traveling, it was not so easy at the beginning, still not very easy. Not having any coach and being in love with this sport also didn’t let me to improve as much as I could have when I was younger.
I also broke my spine a few years ago and had to go through spinal surgery, being back on my board and compete again was my biggest achievement I would say…
How did you break your spine?
I overshot a kicker and broke my T12. I have two rods and six screws in my back forever… I was very emotional and anxious the first time back when I was strapping my board to my feet. I wasn’t sure if I’d ever be able to ride again. That day post riding… I felt over the moon.
Video by Erik Bulckens
Have you ever rode in the U.S.?
I haven’t yet, AK is like a dream to me. I did bike across the state of Iowa to raise awareness for participation of women in sports in the summer of 2015!
What about Trump's recent travel ban targeting Iran, does it have any effect on your training?
It did, for sure. This past season I wanted to go to AK (my dreamland). I’ve always wanted to go AK… but this time everything was sorted. Sponsors, filming spots and… but I couldn’t get my visa because of the travel ban.
What was the process like with getting all the Alaska trip together and then having it kind of taken away from you?
Well, when the plan was shaping up I was so excited. I had my filmmaker from Belgium lined up, the crew and guide. And also my potential sponsors. When I figured out I would not be able to make my dream come true I was frustrated as hell. It felt like: it’s not fair, it shouldn’t be like that, where you’re from doesn’t need to affect your dream.
Every single Iranian needs to go through a hell of a process to get most of the countries visas.
Have any thoughts for the U.S.'s current president?
I don’t really think he’s aware what he’s doing, it’s a shame to the U.S.
Where are you doing a majority of your training then?
In my home mountains (Alborz mountain range).
And finally, as the first Iranian rider to ascend to the FWQ, any Olympic aspirations or plans in the future?
Not for myself as I’m getting old. Next season I hope to get the chance of competing in FWT, but my longterm goal will be to train an Iranian talented young woman for the international competitions.