The Photographic Journal

Hajwalah

Essay 89 • Oct 17th 2016

On remote stretches of highway in the Arabian desert a unique form of drifting is claiming a spot in the world of motorsport. Unlike most drifting events, there's no winding circuit to complete and the judges aren't looking for speed or technical precision. Instead, it's more of a freestyle display of machismo with modified SUVs taking the place of the low, nimble sedans used elsewhere. 

Drivers take turns showing off their vehicle's power with points won for various types of showmanship: burning the furthest through a set of tires, spinning the most rotations, displaying the most apparent recklessness, inciting the loudest cheers from the crowd.

It's based on something called "Hajwalah" in which thrill-seeking young men would reach high speeds on public roads and then spin seemingly out of control, oftentimes weaving through traffic. Traffic accidents were, for a time, among the leading causes of death in some gulf countries. In recent years, local governments have enforced new road safety campaigns and authorities who were once lenient are cracking down to clear the streets of these reckless drivers.

As a result, the sport has largely moved off of public roads and onto private strips of asphalt tucked away in more rural parts of the desert.  There, free from the threat of prosecution, Hajwalah is taking on more formal structure. I visited one such community in the United Arab Emirates making that transition and drawing big crowds.

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Peter Garritano is a photographer originally from Vermont and now based in Brooklyn, NY.

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