By @SimonCocking Lead image by Christian McLeod 

Great interview with Easkey Britton, multi talented Irish surfer and campaigner for social good. We met Easkey at Surf Summit where she was speaking and raising awareness about the Fair Surf initiative. 

Web Summit and Surf summit, how was it for you? 

I had the chance to go to Web Summit briefly. I observed it, had a quick dose of it. The scale was enormous. It was very impressive to see it all running, with 40,000 people. It was a very different environment to what I am used to. There was a sense of urgency, not much space for listening or dialogue. Fantastic in many ways but after that Surf Summit was great for all the things that it offered in contrast. A lot more intimate, smaller, in a different place, so much easier to engage with to people.

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I went to Surf summit to support something local, in my own part of the world. To celebrate that part of Ireland, Sligo ‘Adventure capital of Ireland’, especially after Web Summit. It was good to decompress. There was a good mix of tech and surfing, and the outdoors. The event also did a really job of celebrating the local arts and culture, and food of the area, and the local beauty, involving the local community.

I went with my good friend Linzi Wilson and fellow member of the Fair Surf team. Fair Surf is transitioning and rapidly evolving, so it was good to tune our pitch, what we’re doing, and how others respond to it. We’re interested in how events like this are run, the how and why spaces like these are created. We’ve just created a powerful in-person experience earlier this year with the first global Surf for Social Good Summit in Bali, May 2015. With Fair Surf, we’re exploring how to build that experience into an amazing online experience. So we’re now looking at the community-building part. How do you sustain that energy and connection beyond a 3 days event?

What is Fair Surf? 

Fair Surf is an online and offline experience that facilitates connection, collaboration and impact, guided by the same principles we built the SSG Summit on.

It began as long-term collaborative project, and its original conception was born at the end of 2012 in the remote islands of Mentawais Indonesia, where Lizzie Murray (co-founder) was setting up her non-profit A Liquid Future and the challenges she was facing doing that alone. Through a process of reaching out and collaborating with others using surfing as a force to positively impact people and places it’s evolved to where we are now, refining the FS model and summit experience.

We’re exploring how the unique qualities of surfing can be translated into more innovative and creative approaches for the challenges we face in the world, especially massive social and ecological disconnect? This is already happening, but we want to help connect the dots between sectors – business, academia, non-profit, civil society, break-out of those silos. We can already see this happening with many collaborative projects around the world sparked at the SSG Summit. For example, between business and non-profit with Salt Gypsy x Waves of Freedom co-designing surf-leggings for female surfers in Iran; new initiatives like the Girls Make Waves Day in Sri Lanka; new research collaborations; branding support for start-ups and non-profits; the sharing of new educational tools and approaches…

We want to better understand what’s happening in the surf space, what impact surfing is having. Like we discussed in Sligo about the ‘mainstreaming of surfing’, surfing offers something different to traditional sports. But we need to better understand what is happening, to build evidence of how projects make a difference, and what that impact is. A big thing for us is accessibility – how do we make the impacts, benefit, knowledge more accessible? And that’s where tech comes in, to help facilitate communication and knowledge sharing that reaches a far greater and more diverse demographic.

Did being in Iran help to shape this goal for you?

Iran was as much an inner journey as an outer one for me. My experiences there gave my passion (for surfing) a greater sense of purpose. The sea is a powerful connector and I’ve always believed in the power of the ocean to connect. Iran, as unlikely as it may sound, is where I saw that metaphor become something real. It’s where I witnessed how the ocean can literally dissolve boundaries, cross-cultures, challenge social hierarchies – even if only for those moments we are surfing together. Something bigger shifts, is changed, that may have far-reaching impact. At it’s simplest, it brings people together in a healthy way.

Where does it go next?

To build on what we’ve started. We’ve built an incredible offline experience and now we want to reflect that in an online platform. Our next global Surf for Social Good Summit powered by Fair Surf called Reimagining Surfing will be in Ericeira, Portugal next year, October 13-17th. We want to see surfing as a force for social good, that’s what the Fair Surf platform is about. It comes down to our commitment to each other. We need to work together, linking with other networks and communities already making change, fostering a “global-wave-community”.

The THNK creative program looks great, how did it help, both for you, and the projects you’re involved in?

I finished it in September, but you are never really done. It gives you a great network. It is a creative leadership program. I went because I was in a transition period. I realised I was going down a path I didn’t want to do. I had just finished my Phd, and a post doc too. You can be quite alone in academia, and in surfing too, it is a bit  of a solo mission. Whereas THNK offered an alternative way of learning – an inner journey, alternative MBA program almost. There were lots of CEO’s and people with social enterprises, it was a good mix. It offered a good mirroring process, lots of time for self exploration.

Are you still surfing competitively?

Surfing has taken on a different meaning for me.  I competed since I was 8 years old, it’s taken me all around the world with the Irish team and to International events, with a lot of success and opportunities. I was still competing full-time until the last year of my PhD (2011/2012). At the same time I also got more into big wave surfing which changes you. Facing waves of consequence it becomes a much more personal thing. And Iran too, the ocean offers a great way to connect to people globally. All of this helped me to realise what I wanted to do next.

Are you still surfing the big waves ?

Yes but it’s hard to do it. It’s not a career but a passion for me. To do it full-time you have to be 100% focused on chasing big waves. So much preparation goes into it for a long time beforehand, to be ready for it. When I’m at home, I want to do it and I still train with the crew. I always make sure I’m home in Ireland for the biggest storms of winter. It’s in me now, a strange attraction to wild, big waves so I won’t stop doing it. It’s a pull I can’t really describe – like I almost don’t have a choice, there’s this attraction to it everytime, as well as the fear.

How did your digital detox go?

I had a week on Inis Oirr. I got back to Galway with an islander mentality. It’s really interesting being on island, on a small island, with a 360 degree vision of sea around you. You still do the things you setv out to do. I was there to write, but you can’t write all day, and so, without the internet, it means in the rest of your time you have to go out for a walk, find things to do. These times are great, it’s when ideas and inspiration comes to you.

How do you manage your work / life / online / offline (in water) balance?

I have been thinking about it a lot. What is balance? it’s a dynamic thing. Balance isn’t scales, it’s about being on a tight rope. You need some tension to be focussed, and yet also be flexible too. Like a guitar string, you can’t be too tight or too loose (or a surfer on a wave!). It’s important to be aware of my own energy. The THNK program really helped, to teach you how to listen to yourself. To also learn what gives me energy, and what takes away my energy, to be aware of this. Conferences inspire me, but leave me feeling drained too. I then need to have space afterwards, to have downtime and solitude, to be in nature. This is then also a challenge for how do you do this in a daily way too. I haven’t been home for more than 2 weeks in a long time, but I am now home for two months which will be great!

It’s great as well to prioritise what matters most – good to find right rhythm. Being on an island removes the online distractions too. You are with your self, left with your own thoughts. You go for walks, you do things that don’t have a big purpose, like surfing, calming things to do. The water impacts on you in a positive way.

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Talk about the art a little bit. Why do you do it?

I have been doing it as long as I have been surfing. Probably for longer, for me, it’s almost like therapy, a must do thing, I feel like I have to let it out. It’s creative release. My dad, Barry Britton is an amazing artist. I’m more transient, but  I’m very lucky to have Pauline Bewick as a mentor. She’s just turned 80 now and full of vitality! A great pal and mentor, based in Kerry. Sometimes in her studio we will both just sit there painting, not saying a word, but it’s a great connection to have.

Whats next, how do you balance the scientist and the surfer?

I was just in Galway at NUIG. I’m part of a research team there and we just won a grant joint funded by the EPA and HSE looking at the interconnectedness of environmental health and human wellbeing. So I have a 2 year post-doctoral research fellowship starting next Spring with that. The knowledge part of what we do is important, especially better understanding our relationship with our environment, nature and the sea. and health. I hope to focus on the impact of sea spaces, especially the synergies between mindfulness and water, collaborating with what’s already happening in local coastal communities. The aim is to bring everything back home. It’s another thread that helps weave together what matters most to me, understanding how we are in relationship with the sea.


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