LONDON, June 16 (Reuters) - Six years after an Irishwoman rode the waves off Iran's coast to the bemusement of locals the country has become the 100th member of the International Surfing Association (ISA) federation.
Easkey Britton's visit to the country in 2010 inspired a local surf movement on Iran's Baluchestan coast, so much so that the Iran Surfing Federation was formed this year and even women are participating, fully covered and wearing hijabs.
The unlikely rise of the sport in the Islamic country has been welcomed by the ISA who describe Iran's membership as a landmark moment in the global growth of surfing.
"This decision is rich in symbolism for us, both in terms of the milestone of recognising the ISA's 100th member, but also in showing surfing's ability to help bring unity through sport," ISA president Fernando Aguerre said in a statement.
Other nations to join the ISA are Haiti, Sierra Leone and Bangladesh.
Britton founded the website Waves of Freedom after returning to Iran in 2013 to surf with local women -- a trip that led to acclaimed documentary Into the Sea featuring Britton surfing with Iranian snowboarder Mona Seraji and swimmer Shahla Yasini.
"Witnessing the birth and rapid emergence of surfing in Iran has shown me how the sport can be a unique lens to facilitate a deeper understanding of the world around us and each other," Britton said in a statement.
"Ultimately, it can be developed to create a space and opportunity for connection across cultures and a positive relationship with the marine environment."
Surfing is poised to become an Olympic sport for the Japan 2020 Games with the IOC set to ratify its inclusion in Rio de Janeiro in August. (Reporting by Martyn Herman; Editing by Toby Davis)