ROOM CONVERSATION 16.10.2020
Stace Gill and Maria Nilsson Waller (Flora Fauna Project)
Easkey Britton (Pro Surfer, Scientist, Socail Activist)
surfing, wave, feeling, women, surfer, dance, body, fear, water, iran, sea, creating, realized, embodying, lunar cycle,
Maria Nilsson Waller: You're describing yourself as an explorer, as well as a surfer, as an artist, as a writer, as a researcher. So, in terms of exploring, this is a wide question: What are you exploring?
Easkey Britton: The exploring-- yeah, that's a really good question. I think it comes back to what I've been exploring all along, all the different strands of my life. So I have, you know, the role as a scientist and researcher, and then the artist and the surfer, and maybe even the activist. And then I've been saying, I've kind of been blending all of them together more and more, which feels really good. But what I'm exploring is that really human relationship with the sea and how can we better... how we might restore that. It's this belief that's really strong and prevalent across indigenous cultures. And one of my favorite writers, Robin Wall Kimmerer, has written: how we restore the land, we restore ourselves. And then in my belief: we restore the water, we restore ourselves; restore the ocean, we restore ourselves. So it's first kind of better understanding that connection and how do we reconnect. And believing that there is such healing potential in that, it's hugely transformative and it's so needed right now. Especially in what's been coming up is this kind of collective trauma that we are in the midst of and how do we find our way through that? How do we heal? And there's probably going to be lots of different ways, but I do believe-- I think for me I would love to find a way to work with women in water, as I have been, to create that kind of healing. And then it's trusting the ripple effect. Easily we can feel overwhelmed and the task at hand is enormous. But actually, through talking story here, at this day that I realized, okay, you don't have to [audibly exhales] try to fix it all. It's like, what's the starting point and the ripple effect of your work? And that is why we're all here in this room.
[ Fear and the body]
Easkey: Because we had an interesting conversation then around fear and where it lives in the body and the process that happens when you're surfing. So every time I surf, especially with what we talked about, big wave surfing too and it was like, I'm ever scared? Like, all the time, always terrified [laughs] going into big waves. And I think any surfer who says they don't have any fear, there's something wrong with them or they're maybe an alien [laughs]. But I think it's a really healthy thing to do in that environment. You have the ability to feel it in the body rather than get up and caught up in the analysis of the fear in the head. And so it is really visceral in that way, but you can move through it. I think that with surfing, it allows you to have the experience where you meet fear and move through it and discover something far more powerful than the fear itself on the other side, which you know, [is] that feeling you get when you finish like riding a wave, where there was that sense of total presence, and often, the biggest thrill. And those sort of heightened sort of states of-- call it awareness, presence, flow--those kind of peak moments of that sense of some would describe it even as the sense of like oneness or that total alignment. And where there's no separation between your sense of self, the board, the wave, it all kind of melts. I mean, that usually comes first, but I haven't felt that fear and just gone like, "Fuck it" [laughs].
Stace Gill: You've no choice in the water.
Easkey: No, no, it really confronts you with those kinds of emotions, like whatever you're sort of bringing into the water will be mirrored and revealed. And it's also just this, I think, really powerful way to work with moving through it because you have to. You can't really resist a wave that's coming at you. You have to learn to move through it or go with it, you know, and ride it out and see where it takes you, both literally and metaphorically.
I'm definitely not the first or only person to say this, but how water holds memory, you know, and it quite literally does. All the water in the planet is the water that's ever existed, and it's just constantly being cycled and recycled and renewed as it moves through us and the ocean and everything else. So in that way, I think it's a real powerful memory holder and so it's stored in water as well as in our bodies. And we definitely take something of that with us when we leave the water. And when it comes to fear, I think, so it's not only a feeling of fear, but it's that sensation of having moved through and discovered [that] what's on the other side also stays in the body. So when you meet those sort of challenge points or the waves that come at us when we're on land, it's like the body knows-- it remembers and feels it and also knows it's possible to move through it and not get caught or stuck in it. That's actually what's empowering, then isn't it? But then it also depends-- I mean, it doesn't always work like, you know, you just you build up this sort of accretion or layers and layers of tolerance for fear or bravery or, because there's definitely some days where I felt much more like, armored, in the sense of being prepared and in the zone for meeting my fear and having that courage to call upon. But then it's not always there, it isn't a given that if I one day mastered being able to ride [a] 20 foot wave, it doesn't naturally follow that it'll happen again. Because there's just there's so many elements, and then realizing our sensitivity to that, to what's going on around us to the energy we're holding, the emotions we have, will follow us into the water and I actually think the power of it is that the wave reveals, again, mirrors what it is that's most alive in us. And sometimes if that's not really... you know, the demons, the baggage, all of it, the good, the bad, and the ugly, so to speak. Yeah, I've definitely felt that, where it can be really revealing. And then it can even feel quite it leaves me feeling quite exposed or raw. Even unsettled, it can be really uncomfortable. But again, it's just something about water, it's just a wonderful place to kind of, I suppose what I'm trying to say is, meet yourself, again and again.
Maria: In the dance studio, that would be part of the practice. Like every day, you kind of go in and you start your your warm-up and you're really tuning into your body.
Easkey: Well like you said, it's almost from zero.
Maria Nilsson Waller 07:17
And some days you're just off and you have to really struggle to get yourself into that alignment. But I think that somehow as well, in the studio, do you bring yourself in or do you leave yourself outside? That's kind of a question where I think we are really trying to bring in an honest tuning into the body with all the baggage with everything that is in there, everything that is stored, and to somehow allow that to be part of the process.
Stace: It's very important to give people permission to feel exactly what they're feeling. Because like you're saying in the water, you have to move through it, you don't have a choice, because you're faced with a wave, that is also a mirror. And whatever emotional state you're in, you have a few seconds sometimes to get that in line.
[ Place of encounter ]
Easkey: We don't dance or surf in a vacuum. So like what you just said around giving ourselves permission to show up, like all of who we are, I realized that was a thing with surfing, especially when I was competing and even in a big way of surfing. It's you know, incredibly male dominated in Ireland and I've only ever been the only woman out there on those big days. And I guess it was a narrative I was telling myself or my own expectations I was setting was this you're getting caught up in that. What I was doing, I realized, was leaving behind parts of myself that I felt didn't fit. The role I was supposed to play or expected to play, as in be fierce, be fearless, be brave, take it on the head as hard as the guys, that you know that whole like, you know. By believing that maybe I had to maybe embody those more masculine or even like male traits because it was a domain of men, right? And then, Oh, no. But I realized that's what I was doing, and why it wasn't working for me for quite a while. I was getting really stuck with it. Like I could feel it, like I would feel it almost like a physical block of knowing this is really where I want to be and really what I want to be doing but unable to actually like, take off and commit to any waves. And I realized it's because I left part of myself behind and hadn't showed up like with all of who I am.
Maria: So for you, surfing has become that space where you really get to encounter yourself.
Easkey: Yeah. Place of encounter.
Maria: And I think dance is that for me and for us, you know. I'm thinking-- in our studio, I think a lot of the fear element is actually that as women, especially, there is still a bit of a fear in taking up that space in public and actually allowing other people... like there's this constant fear of being seen and being judged.
Stace: There's a wildness to feeling how you're feeling, and women for sure, certainly in Ireland, we have been taught-- there's a lot of body shame and there's a lot of fear around expressing things with the body, in the body. I think that's your work-- I don't know if it was conscious or not that your two projects in Iran and Papua New Guinea have very much empowered women by giving them access to surfing. Which, as we've just discussed, helps with facing yourself, how you're feeling, the fear, and it might not be fully conscious, it doesn't have to be because they now have an experience in their bodies because they're taking on the waves as well. Was that part of the plan to empower women? I know that we touched on it earlier.
[ Empowering women ]
Easkey: Yeah, I think that's a beautiful way of looking at it. Now in retrospect, I can see the process is also about creating access and an opportunity to experience or participate in surfing isn't because I want to convert everyone to surfing or turning everyone into surfers. And in both instances with surfing with women in Iran and my experiences in Papua New Guinea, it actually wasn't really about the surfing at all, but that being a really powerful kind of conduit or vehicle. It was much more about, how do we really access this very creative, playful way of giving expression to who we are, how we're feeling, and connecting with our bodies. And then this introduction and creating relationship with something like the seed and water being really quite profound as well. And those settings were, you know, some would say maybe it's the element of escapism, but it's like what we talked about earlier, it's that being able to cross that threshold and into your own world. And sometimes being able to leave the land life behind for even a moment and just being I think with the sea as well, when you live near it, it's that kind of constancy. You know, it's like it's always going to be there. And yet, it's always changing and offering different energy. But when everything else is just so confusing and unknown, once you have that relationship with the sea, I think it's such a great companion as well.
Easkey: And then for women as well to feel held, in a way, by the water, something so much greater than us. I know that's something a lot would say in the work that I do with talking about experiences of water and how it makes us feel and what is it about water. And a lot of women would say that water holds them-- so feeling held. One of the most powerful things that a woman's ever shared-- that anyone's ever shared-- [is] when I asked this woman in Iran what the sea means to her. And she's a mother of... they both surf now... but she's the mother of one of the young up and coming Iranian female surfers now who won an international surf scholarship a couple of years ago, Farima, who I had taught to surf when she was about 14... And then Fereshteh, her mum said, I can't remember now, is that the sea's a place without judgment. So it may be vicious, it may be calm, but it's always honest about how it is. So it was just that. And that's another really shared experience, I think, of going in and just that feeling [that] the sea isn't... that wave isn't judging [laughs], so you can be who you are. The freedom to be who you are was a biggie.
[ Exploring the edges ]
Easkey: And all of this I've now had a chance to sort of reflect on and realize the richness of those lessons, but it'll kind of just began with mad notions of not really knowing what was going to happen, just kind of following unexpected opportunities. That willingness, out in 2010 when I first went to Iran, but something around especially that time in my life was really pulling me I would say to the edges of things. So if that's when I was doing big wave surfing, so it was going to the edge of like, okay, where's the edge of my limit with surfing? And then I started a PhD so okay, where's the edge with my mind [laughs]? And then in Iran, I'm just going to go off to this edge of what's known in terms of the surfing world and see what's going on in Iran and this remote coastline in Balochistan next to the border of Pakistan. And then you know, 10 years later surfing has been established, initiated by women.
Easkey: And then now we're finding ways to expand that opportunity through things like addressing specific barriers for women and surfing around clothing, and creating a collaborative project where we created the sea suit. Initially it was inspired by women's experiences surfing in Iran and going in the water with layers of clothing, actually becoming quite dangerous, because it's so heavy and saturated, and then the hijab getting... you're trying to keep that on your head when you're getting tossed around by waves [laughs]. And then the more you put these stories out there hearing about other women's experiences in other parts of the world, in India, or Sri Lanka, and going in with like your full sari's and so much fabric. And then women in the UK, maybe from immigrant families or with body image issues, or just the whole spectrum. And it really highlights, I suppose, the diversity of women who surf and this diversity and richness in surfing, it just doesn't really get acknowledged or at all catered for when it comes to the surf industry and designing products. So I think that's what the sea suit's really about. It's like, just one way of looking at that and creating something that's just functional to wear.
Stace: It gives access.
Easkey: Yeah, it's about creating another access point, for yeah, creating more options, more choices. And the freedom to choose then if that's what you want to do. Yeah.
Stace: Can you see the effects of it empowering the women for themselves and helping them find their own place and their own autonomy?.
[ Cultural intersectionality ]
Easkey: Yeah, I think so. Because it's always going to be complex and there's so many layers. I realize that's where I really witness and directly experience what intersectionality actually means. So you have this crossover of class, religion... the gender issue is really made a big binary thing, especially in Iran because of the rules of, you know, politically, in the country. But there was so much more going on. And part of the acceptance offered, I think, was A: me going there and the fact that I was a woman and I surfed covered up, so showing that it was possible to, within the confines of the culture, to surf, and just keep the door open. And so that it wasn't something that was seen as something that women couldn't do or shouldn't do. And so immediately, there was a kind of curiosity and openness around it, that more or less has stayed. And I think the local community in particular would be much more, you know, I suppose, more conservative ethnic Boluch. So the fishing community just happens to have one of the best beaches for learning how to surf has really been the kind of the birthplace of it. And they've just been so supportive in establishing the surf club and having kids camps and beach cleanups. And we always thought it's going to be a real challenge, like women and girls, maybe for more liberal affluent families or urban areas, could come and experience it, but what could it really change at the grassroots level in those local communities where the divide is, kind of, the worlds are very gendered. And then the beach is this open very fluid space. So how do you even manage that? You know, you have all this mixing happening.
Easkey: But it's been amazing and a great incredible stories. So like a nine year old girl, Venus Boluch, who's just like obsessed about skateboarding and surfing and has a really supportive dad, and so he's like constantly coaching her, filming her, and she's just like this, you know, and she's all dressed in her beautiful traditional dress and then going out and doing her surfing thing. So there's lovely stories like that where people are now--you know, surfing has been established, there's that origin story that they'll always have of her surfing was initiated by women so you can't change that. And so that's something that every girl who ever learns to surf now, you know, next in the future will still have that story. And so as long as it remains open, then that will be great. But I think it will because you have stories like Farima's and Venus you know. You have other girls making it their own thing now. You know, since I've been there, I went for between myself and my employers, the filmmaker probably at least half a dozen times between us over those years. But now these last few years it's kind of become its own thing, and it's lovely to see different women different surfers there take it in different directions. Yeah. And become different things. And then there's other women who choose to remain more behind the scenes, but that I know are in there as a kind of driving force. And, you know, in terms of how it's managed and with the Surfing Association.
Stace: What an amazing project, what a ripple effect.
Easkey: If there was ever an example of what happened to ripple effects from us going, "Sure why not? Let's go to this mad little bit of desert coastline with surfing!"
Stace: You pushing yourself to the edge brought you to an edge that has now empowered a women's movement in surfing, and now they can never un-know that it was inaudible] in a feminine beginning. It's beautiful.
Easkey: And really it's lovely how they continue to acknowledge that, you know. Because it could have been something, I mean for loads of reasons you'd imagine, that could be dismissed. But even now, you know, when we really suppose 5, 6, 7 years later, they still really acknowledge the origin story, which is lovely, yeah.
[ The expression of surfing ]
Easkey: I think it's interesting to notice what my eye is drawn to when I watch it. And I think it's noticing what I would call these-- what are those fluid flow lines. So the lines that surfers are actually drawing on a wave as if the wave was this kind of canvas. I think there's that relationship that happens between the surfer and the wave. When a surfer's in flow, it's like, the surfer gives expression to the wave. So I think we also see the wave in a new way. It's not just what moves or tricks the surfer's doing. And then it's the energy that the surfer's either channeling, you know, through her body and her movement in her expression or the energy she's actually bringing to the wave and how those forces kind of meet. So it would be things also like, those moments, obviously of surrender-- so moving with the wave-- or those moments of release of what happens in between the moves. Or how she comes to actually sort of meet the lip of the wave-- and this, that, and the connection between the body, the board, and the wave and how it all syncs together.
Maria: The terminology like curves, lines release, you know, balance, fall, gravity, momentum. Like we're all using the same language as you, as well.
[ Challenging gender stereotypes]
Easkey: Yeah, and a friend of mine, Sam Bleakley, he's a wonderful surfer and writer as well. He's a longboarder and he's just written, he's written a lot about how surfing is like a water dance. And another friend of mine, Lauren Hill, she's just published a book kind of rewriting women surf history, but she's a big advocate around the more feminine aspects, but how challenging the stereotypes of high surfing gets portrayed, and also around the language that gets used. And then how our bodies move and how the female body moves differently to the male body, and how what happens when you've got the female body trying to emulate the masculine and male movements all the time. And that disconnect happens then with how our own bodies move, you know. Because we're trying to sort of mimic or copy something which our bodies, you know, don't want to move that way.
Maria: In the dance world, of late, in the last 10, 15, 20 years, there's been a real trend that is kind of favouring a very masculine, explosive, quite aggressive style of movement that is-- I think in that space is very hard actually to find a balance where a natural feminine body, what is that really, you know? There is all kinds of traianig.
[A lunar cycle ]
Maria: But I'm just curious, so you have been sort of dipping into a bit of dancing yourself. So you created the film "A Lunar Cycle" where we see some of you just on land, moving. And I suppose I'm curious to know how did you get into... What was your entry point into making this dance sequence?
Easkey: Oh yeah, good question. Hm yeah, because I don't, like I'm not--
Maria: What happens to your body when you're not in the water, basically.
Easkey: Yeah. Yeah.
Maria: That's also something we were talking about in the coming here. Like who has access to surfing? It's an amazing gift but not everybody, especially people living in cities, you know, might not have the access to equipment or even access to [the] sea. And I suppose with dance, we work in our body. Everyone has the body. What happens in your body when you're not in the water?
Easkey: Hmm. Oh, that's a really good question. I mean, that's the challenging part in a way. For me, if my body's not in the water after a certain length of time, it's almost like it feels stiffer, it feels like it's drying out [laughs]. Yeah, it gets restless. So all those things if I haven't been in the sea, and then that's when I feel like I go back to my more natural state. But with "A Lunar Cycle," for me, I don't have a dance background and I never trained in dance, but I've always been very strongly connected to my body embodiment movement in-- at least, in water. Then through maybe, having to dabble and play with aerial dance, anyone you get asked that question, okay, if you weren't a surfer or if you never had surfing in your life, what would you be doing now? And I think I'm sure it's that [laughs] because it's the only other thing I think has that for me. I'm always really drawn to it visually to watch it, the energy, how I feel in my body watching someone who's in their flow dancing. It's so powerful. And then this sort of synergies between surfing as a water dance and dance. But at the same time, it's so much harder to really be embodied for me, and to have that kind of self expression uninhibited on land. It's like, so much easier in the water and then on land, I just felt exposed, silly, awkward, stiff [laughs], you know, all those things together. And I realize it's all our conditioning as well, and then especially with the female body and how we're supposed to move [and] present ourselves.
Easkey: With the "A Lunar Cycle" it was an interesting dynamic because it was filmed with Andrew Kaineder, so a guy. Then the element of dance-- how did that come into being? In a way it was birthed because I had the support of Andrew being really open creatively so I didn't feel there was any judgment, and then he had this-- again, it's really useful to have someone else's eye sometimes-- he had this idea of it's on land but it's still water so when the sand is wet it creates this reflection, and could that be a way if I indirectly... So when I'm filmed dancing, the camera and the lens and the gaze isn't on me, it's on my reflection in the water. So in a way that just transformed everything. It felt incredibly freeing. It felt like I could do my own thing and what Andrew was capturing was what the water was capturing, and it was almost like it was me but not me, you know? Like this transference.
Stace: Or maybe more you.
Easkey: Maybe it was more me, yeah. So it was this dance, almost in partnership, with the water that was on the wet sand. But I just remember, we went down to the beach, Tullan strand in Bundoran, early morning. I just remember that feeling after doing it, like initially doing it going, Okay [laughs]. But as soon as I took my socks off, and you have you know, your bare feet in wet sand-- that was quite grounding straightaway. And it's totally just free form wild, whatever, no, absolutely zero choreography, just trying to go with... It was an interesting process of dropping down in my head, thinking what I should be doing that might look good, you know? [Laughs] like, make a pretty shape. And getting through that and then dropping, dropping, dropping. And it's almost like dropping into all these layers until you sort of forget. It's like this state of when you're really in flow surfing-- that there's anyone watching you, that you're performing, that you're doing this for anyone else other than how it feels in your body. So that kind of finally reaching that stage. I just found it a way more powerful way to explain-- to answer your question-- what I just don't think I would be able to explain in words, of the energy, the feeling and the emotion in the body, often those different stages of my cycle and kind of giving expression to that through the body instead of words. So finding a different vocabulary. And in a way just doing it by itself was vulnerable for me because it's not something I've ever done in terms of a performance like that, and then to have somebody you know, there with the camera. So it was a really interesting creative process. Yeah, like learning to ride a horse.