Easkey Britton is an Irish five times national surfing champion, a Mullaghmore charger, who has a PHD in Marine Science, as well as being a respected artist and committed environmentalist. In fact she might the smartest surfer in Europe. After becoming the first woman to surf Iran two years ago, she is now just to return to Iran to make crowdfunded film about Iran called Waves Of Freedom. We caught up with Easkey to discuss her latest project and to find out whether local women will ever get barreled in Iran.
When I first heard about Iran I realised how little I knew about the place or the people and most of what I did was shaped by preconceptions fed to me by what we hear in the media which is overwhelmingly negative. Or that it might even have waves! We didn’t know what to expect so how could I resist that sense of adventure – to go and explore, to possibly find waves with no one. And to leave expectations behind and be open to the unexpected.
Describe your last trip there.
We were only there for a short while, about two weeks. We spent a week exploring the far south-eastern coastline in the region of Baluchistan next to the Pakistan border, out in the desert for the most part in the this crazy lunar/Martian landscape. Scoring waves is really the icing on the cake in a place like Iran. It is such a huge, diverse country with a fascinating, rich heritage and history and beautiful cities. So the other part of the trip we visited cities like Shiraz and Isfahan, met artists, shopped in the bazaars, wowed by Persepolis… There’s so much more to see and do there.
What are the chances of encouraging women to surf there?
We’ve actually had a lot of responses from Iranian and Muslim women around the world and in Iran as well as guys who thought a) it was great to see their country shown through such a different lens and b) they felt really encouraged by it, and some who would like to go explore their coasts and try surfing too. So the interest is certainly there. The opportunities to make it happen, not so much. Especially for women. The region we are going to to surf, Baluchistan, we have to get special permission from the military for security reasons, give the Mayor and Cultural and Heritage Minister the heads up and also have permission from religious leaders so that we don’t offend or make matters even more difficult for women to do what they want to do. It’s all coming together and the reaction in Iran to our first documentary has been hugely positive with an Iranian TV company wanting to show a clip from it – so that’s interesting!
Are there any local surfers now, male or female?
It’s been over two years since we were there so who knows? We didn’t meet anyone else surfing, but there was a lot of curiosity and interest in what we were doing the first time, how the whole surfing thing works, surfboard design, etc. The local people are big fans of the beach heading there in the evenings and weekends with families but there is zero surf scene and I surfed mostly with not another soul in the desert except fishermen for miles.
What are the waves like, or the potential for waves?
The potential is not bad, given the tiny swell window for the stretch of coast wedged between Pakistan and Oman. It seems to get pretty consistent swells from June to Sept. I’m not sure how big it gets but we were there at the tail-end of the swell season and scored fun 3ft (head high) surf every day for a week on empty stretches of beach with some good sand-bars, before the late morning sea breeze. There are also potential pointbreak set-ups that might light up on a bigger swell.
What are some of the difficulties in going for a surf trip in Iran?
You definitely don’t go for the surf alone. Unless you have loads of time it’s an internal two hour flight from Tehran to Chabahar on the coast. Then it’s so close to the border with Pakistan it’s best to make sure you have permission to do it before you go and if you’re camping out in the desert that could be risky, although it is a stunningly dramatic coastline. I recommend homestays with local families and try and see as much of the country as you can. For a woman there’s the issue of trying to stay as covered as possible when surfing, including your head. And it’s really hot in the summer.
What preconceived ideas or prejudices did you overcome once you visited?
I had so many preconceptions before I went – fed by media that is constantly filtered, politicised, scandalised, it’s easy to become numb to our sense of what is real. So I felt this was a unique opportunity, especially as a woman, to take a look through a different lens at what is so often portrayed as a threatening world. Any fears or preconceived ideas I had were totally shattered – Iran is full of the unexpected. Where nothing is quite what it seems. The whole experience was like peeling back the layers of an onion with layers of experience and depth in every situation.
What’s your goals for Waves of Freedom?
Our follow-up project, ‘Waves of Freedom’ is a full-length documentary with Marion Poizeau as director again. It will be more in-depth, telling the story from within this time – how local people perceive surfing and engaging with young women through surfing, exploring what they think about the experience, if its something they’d like to keep doing and what is the potential for that region, Baluchistan – coastal, rural and one of the poorest in Iran, to have something like surfing. It’s no Indo but it is a pretty unique experience!
What is the situation with gender equity in Iran, and did you come across women who were really looking for a better deal?
Iranian women continue to rebel in their own way in their fight for equality. Women chip away at the oppressive regime wearing a defiant splash of red lipstick, brightly painted toenails under burqas, making visionary movies, becoming expert at interpreting the law and winning the Nobel Peace Prize. Iranian human rights campaigner and lawyer Shirin Edabi and one of the founders of the ‘One Million Signatures’ campaign, insists that enshrined within Islam are all human rights and all that is needed is more intelligent interpretation. Her hope for Iran’s future lies with women and their powerful social movement and with young people, over 70% of Iran’s population under 30. As a result of sharing our first trip we have connected with a lot of talented, creative, brave young Iranian women doing incredible things – We hope to be able to share their story this time too.
And how do you answer the criticism that its a western outlook trying to impose our own views or values on the people there?
I think there’s a danger with that sometimes, but it depends on your perspective and intention – how you view something like surfing. For me, to view surfing as an imposing western outlook is a ridiculous notion. The motivation for this is driven by the desire to pull down some of these ‘veils of the unseen’, to encourage open-minded travel and tolerance, to understand something familiar from a totally different perspective through someone else’s eyes, to push gender barriers. To share a passion and learn from how other people experience something like surfing.
I think surfing can be a great equaliser, the ocean doesn’t discriminate. It also offers, in a way, a form of escapism and hope from troubles on land. It can certainly help expand your horizons and test yourself. It’s also about reclaiming what once was very much a woman’s pursuit. If you look at the old engravings made during Captain Cook’s expedition to Hawaii many of the first surfers were women. It was a sport for ordinary people as well as the Kings and Queens, and at its roots, certainly not a ‘western’ concept.
If you want to support the project, the best way is to get involved on the crowdfunding campaign site: www.indiegogo.com/wavesoffreedom
You can also get in touch with Easkey directly at firstname.lastname@example.org