Easkey Britton — Fierce Female Surfer, Activist and Researcher
• • • Easkey Britton— the amazing Irish surfer who has taken to the waves with not only her board but a dedication for re-connecting women with water and nature all around the world.
Hi Easkey! It’s so lovely to be sitting here with you under an olive tree, sipping icey cold water in 27-degree heat after an epic Wavemakers Collective retreat. To start off the interview, could you tell me a little bit about LikeWater?
It was born out of work I was doing with women in Iran and the whole notion of LikeWater is based off the famous Bruce Lee quote, “Be like water”. My whole relationship with surfing and the sea really started shifting through working with women who were experiencing the sea and their bodies in water for the first time and how transformative that can be in building confidence, creating connection and trust. I really wanted to take lessons learned from there, in such a different cultural context, and bring it back home as I realised there was a huge need for it on my own doorstep.
People are really wanting to find ways back to their own bodies and sense of self through a connection with the environment. Water is such a powerful medium to do that. For example, white water holds you up and its a very powerful feeling. It was also inspired through working with Shirin Gerami, Iran’s first female triathlete and it was through her eyes, the beginner eyes, this all started. She’s not a surfer and I’m a lifelong surfer, we were both in Iran together with women surfing in 2015.
It was amazing to see the beginning of surfing through her eyes because I’ve been surfing since I was four years of age and it was hard for me to remember. But she was there to remind me what those early stages are like when you’ve never seen the sea before and you’ve never seen the waves. You then throw a surfboard into the mix and she helped me strip everything back to the essence of it all again, which was simply the power of feeling our body breath and being in the water. That is the most profound tool that is taught and surfing is just added onto that.
You do a lot of work around gender equality particular in effects of conservation and sustainable use of the ocean. There isn’t much action in terms of empowerment towards getting women and young girls involved in conservation, under goal 5 of the UN. Could you tell me a bit more about the work that you do as part of this?
It goes back to early dives into research where we go back and look at the relationship that people have with the sea. My Ph.D. were in Northern Ireland with fishing communities. I was initially coming at it with a lens looking at it from the perspective of our values in terms of marine conservation and the livelihood dependency. But what really came out very powerfully was the relationship dynamic in these households, and the role of women. It’s often such an invisible role in how they sustain families and communities in the background but that are not included in conversations around marine management and sustainable livelihoods connected to the sea.
They are such a powerful force, so, gender came up quite prominently and unexpectedly in those early studies. Looking at it globally through other research projects, one was called ‘Too big to ignore’, and it looked at small sustainable fisheries. There was such a lack of data on the role of women in these fisheries and the communities there. Of course, in surfing it is a whole other dimension. The issue here is that it is gender, but it is also about diversity. Just the lack of inclusion of different cultures, different bodies, different experiences, different abilities. We have ended up with this really homogenised view for decades of what it means to be a surfer.
There were no discussions about what made up who we are as surfers and that made it a very exclusive space and not really opening in places, especially in countries where surfing was newly emerging like Sri Lanka and India. It becomes even more difficult then because there are already so many barriers that young women and girls face in these countries to access these experiences. Then, when you have this type of exclusive image of surfing, it becomes another barrier. So, it’s exciting right now to be part of these new stories that are coming out that are showing what is possible, and really turning a lot of those stereotypes on their head. It’s about really challenging identity in relation to the sea by giving space for these other voices and creating other mediums and platforms for them. By in large, at the moment that tends to be largely independent platforms led by women and not in the mainstream yet.
I would just love to see a bit of a revolution in how we work and live to understand balance...
Oceans and Humanity
That’s so exciting to see all these independent initiatives just popping up. It’s so inspirational.
Yeah it is! It’s really gaining momentum because I can see the difference from when I started out in Iran and we had the ‘Waves of Freedom’ Project, and it was totally new territory for me. But understanding that there is something important about connecting people through those playful experiences of the sea, rather than the performance aspect of surfing, has really offered an ability for people to connect.
Yes, very true. Your research at the University of Ireland on blue space, could you tell me a little bit more about that? What’s behind it?
Yeah of course, I can’t really believe my luck but the last three years I’ve been based in Galway working on various projects exploring that link between environment and human health and specifically for me around water and wellbeing. ‘Blue Space’ being all throughout our water environments and trying to understand what is it in particular about ‘Blue Space’ that has that effect on our sense of mood and wellbeing, especially mental health and how we feel.
In a way, I’m researching this more scientific space that underpins what I’ve intuitively known and felt my whole life, which is the power of the sea to provoke feelings and provide a restorative aspect. It’s really amazing to sort of dig through that all now and give even more meaning to the experiences that I’ve been having my whole life.
What would you like to see more of in the sphere that you work in?
Well, I suppose I work across a whole lot of different spheres but if you’re talking about academia, the consistent challenge for people that are trying to make change happen ,or are in leadership roles, is our management of our time and energy. We are living in a society that just fosters a really toxic relationship with time and just being very constrained by the structures that we are forced into and the boxes we have to operate in. Unfortunately, that can be extreme in the work we have to do in academia. I would just love to see a bit of a revolution in how we work and live to understand balance more. We should be comfortable in turbulence but also be able to move with those more natural biorhythms.
So, yeah, I feel like we’re doing a real disservice to the wisdom and intelligence of our bodies. We’re a part of nature, so we’re deeply influenced by the day, night, light, tides, moon and seasons. We’ve become so disconnected from nature and we’re seeing the cracks in that through people’s ability to cope with extreme burn out and this ‘always-on ‘mentality. Maybe there isn’t one solution, but I just wish there was more for conversation and the need to open up space around space for that to happen.
Words like ‘rest’, ‘sleep’ and ‘relax’ and other ways to release tension should all be far more celebrated and valued. I think as a point of reflection on the work I do, there’s a sense of urgency with the state of the world and we do need to act fast, but it’s how can we take that slice of action but with inner stillness, even when there is chaos all around us. So, it’s been able to cultivate practice that really nourish that ability in particular to have self-reflection and there isn’t much time allowed for that after creating a project. It’s almost as if we are moving onto the next thing straight away. So, I think it’s important to find the power in being able to pause and really honouring the importance and power of time in between the waves.
Riding the wave and taking a breath
If you could pass on one message to younger women who are thinking of getting into sustainability, surfing and/or connecting with nature, what would that be?
There’s a whole lot being said about “following your passion and living a life of purpose” and I sometimes think maybe that puts on an added pressure. There’s already this great compulsion on women to be all these things
Hence, I think my advice would be while it’s really honourable to want to make an impact on the world, it takes so much energy. You need to allow yourself to not know what life has in store for you. You need to do nothing and to embrace the mystery of being okay with the unknown even if that’s really uncomfortable. It’s about trusting yourself and what helps in that situation is to have support from those close to you and not be afraid of the challenge.
• • • We love it when other women are talk about the amazing wellbeing effects of being in the ocean. Easkey’s words continue to encourages us to realise how important it is to reflect and we will be keeping an eye out for what this wonderful woman is up to for the rest of the year!