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The Place We Call Home | Part I

When Matt Smith thought to explore the fly on the wall conversations of fellow Ambassadors Easkey Britton and Sam Bleakley, we thought we'd be in for a fruitful insight into their daily lives and musings. In what he describes a ‘cave and candles conversation’, it was soon apparent that inherent family values were a steadfast foundation in the DNA, lives and journeys of two very interesting people.

Easkey ends her email with ‘Give expression to who you are – freely and truly without expectations’. So I will, I have a big beating heart and a hole in my stomach that only love can fill. I like to connect people and facilitate understanding. When flowed into the role of Ambassador Manager I believed I knew the team of people that could really represent the company in a way that I felt I couldn’t, I knew them all so well. They were people who I had shared so many emotions with, love, friendship, companionship, admiration, anxiety, fear, shame, honour, pride, sympathy, and empathy. I had shared so many days and nights being beside or witnessing them in their home and natural environment. So when I was asked to run the Ambassador program, it was clear to see our three points of commitment were the requirements both Easkey Britton and Sam Bleakley held true.

Recently Easkey and Sam went on a trip to Mauritania together to work on a Documentary film that Sam has been running called Brilliant Corners. Shot by Jack Johns with The Wave Productions I saw some photos and followed their journey. I was so happy they were connecting in this way and wondered what some of their conversations may have been like. I knew they shared a love of the ocean but what else did they share? I emailed them a few weeks later and we started a cave and candles conversation, one that we never knew would see the light of day; our focus was to gain a deeper understand of one another through the other - MS

SB | I first connected with Easkey on a trip to Ireland in 2005 with Daniel Crocket, John Eldridge and Jim Newitt (what a team of talent). We were travelling in Daniel’s white Mercedes estate that we dubbed ‘The Albatross’ and skirted the Clare cliffs before going north to Donegal. The rain hissed, the moon rose, we toyed with bonzers, twins and spoons, and a fair few moss-water phantom sets struck me down and drum-rolled me against the reef.

Seeing Easkey (still a teenager at the time) in home waters I was immediately struck by her weather-savvy eyes. They are ocean coloured and are filled with Atlantic energy and wisdom, patient, silent to listen and learn, but alive and ambitious and ready to pounce. Her zest for life is infectious. She is definitely stained in amazing ways by the deep green of Ireland – gracious, graceful and salt-water spirited. Then our paths rarely crossed for nearly ten years.

By 2014 I was now a Dad of four children. Ruben was just a few months old. Easkey and I were destined to reconnect. We wanted to collaborate on some research together through Falmouth University and beyond (as we don’t do borders, boundaries or rules), so she stayed at our house perched on the cliffs above Gwenver near Lands End, Cornwall for a few days.

Reflecting on that Easkey sent me this email on New Years Eve 2014 (I hope it’s OK to share this for now Easkey?)…

Hi Sam! I went for a walk on the beach by my house with Rell, our dog today. A proper wintry day - the bay is sheltered so never really any surfable waves but today they were doing a perfect impression of a micro skeleton bay, endless peelers, just 30cm high! I used the walk as a great opportunity to reflect on 2014 and one of the things that really surprised me and made me smile was the connection I made with you... I couldn't believe that we only really reconnected early this year, wow!

I feel there are good things, seeds already planted that will begin to sprout in the next turning of this planet of ours. I hope you're well and new opportunities and growth opens up from the unexpected Sam. I really hope it aligns so that we get the chance to work together too. I have high hopes!

It would be great to have a catch up, if you're free next week we could jump on Skype?

Big love to you and all the family, especially Lola ;) . I love her surf drawing of me - surfing with you both and staying at your beautiful home, being made to feel so welcomed by your family at a time when I needed it most, was a real highlight of 2014.

Look forward to returning that experience when you make it to Ireland :)
Enjoy the crossover to 2015 and see you on the other side,


I collected Easkey from the train station at Truro before we drove to Falmouth Uni. I love the way Easkey slides effortlessly between elegant attire and the form and function of surfing and coastal life. She was wearing turquoise high heels and bright minerals as jewellery. She looked striking. We enthused all day with talk of our respective projects that seemed to permanently seal the creative with the scientific in positive ways, then sped back to Gwenver (a full hour’s drive from Falmouth) for a surf and to meet my amazing wife Sandy and the kids.

There was a low sea-mist and the waves were terrible, but we longboarded and talked about surfing as dance.

After a few days of intoxicating academic energy in Falmouth, good food, table talk and grey and greasy waves I watched Easkey take my daughter Lola for her first ever session with the hand-plane. They were charging. Lola was very inspired by Easkey. (“Send Easkey me love,” she said before we went to Mauritania.) Watching Easkey and Lola hand-plane together touched upon something special for me.

I could talk for a long time about our shared passion for ecology, cultural exchange and our newfound love of desertscapes (recently discovered travelling together in Mauritania), but I’m fascinated by Easkey as a powerful role model for surfing girls, and the strong relationship she has with her father. This really rings true to me as a Dad who now surfs with his daughter. I don’t know Easkey’s dad Barry, but I know he’s a living legend and a founding father of Irish surfing.

I am interested in the mystery and majesty of the way Easkey embodies that tutorship. It was likely never forced, but all born of love, instinct and nature. This seems to breed both an intimacy and intensity in Easkey that is such earth-felt yin and yang that it can bring me to tears when I listen to her talk passionately about things.


EB | This week I had a class with a group of Masters students studying coastal processes. But what they really wanted to know after an hour of lecturing on the different ways we make meaning in the marine environment across cultures was how do I reconcile all the different aspects of who I am? How do we create space for the multiple identities that make up who we are; surfer, sister, teacher, student; activist; scientist; artist. The fisherman who is an environmentalist, the poet who writes quadratic equations, the nomad who becomes a community builder?

For a long time, I struggled to reconcile the diverse and dynamic aspects of who I am in a culture that is hard wired to box people in using roles or job titles.

This is why I feel connected to Sam, even before we really knew each other. He represents the magical possibility of being able to bridge worlds, and somehow make it work! Sam is a surfer but he is also on the edge of that world because he didn’t comply to the norm of being shortboarder, in an era when longboarding had all but disappeared into the background of popular culture (and thank goodness for that, it seems to have flourished as a result, being able to get lost in its own creativity again). In a world where, as a competitive surfer I was told I needed to surf more aggressively by my coaches on the Irish surf team, Sam was infusing surfing with an effortlessness - the fluidly, and light footedness of a dancer, an expression of how to embody the wave not attack it. The freedom to express what is felt and sensed rather than judged and performed…and in my own way I’ve been rediscovering that too…

Sam bridges another world that is a place of dynamic tension and requires incredible balance - the often-uncomfortable position of being both scholar/academic and surfer/artist (with art being both pen, paintbrush, lines on a wave, however you wish to give expression in an unbounded way). Having to occupy this space between worlds.

Growing up, or growing into myself, I’ve often felt on the ‘outside’. I have this strong connection and belonging to place, the borderlands of Donegal in the North-West of Ireland. The pull is so strong it feels like an invisible umbilical cord at times. There, in a small corner of the bay, I know I have found my belonging. But in the rest of the world, even in my own primary school 3 miles down the road, I felt like I didn’t quite fit in, didn’t belong anywhere but the sea. And for many years, people have been telling me to make a choice: it’s either surfing or science, it is either activism or research. I didn’t realize that there was this space ‘between’, and when you discover it, it opens up a whole other world. Sam combines his personal passion with his professional expertise in a way that draws people in. Through his writing and his inquisitive, curious mind, his travels to brilliant, hidden corners of the world, he is able to draw to the surface the ‘song’ of a place and people - the essence, in a way that is understood regardless of who you are or where you are in the world. We share that in common, both seekers, seeking connection, connecting dots…

The time we really connected was that visit to Cornwall where it was actually our academic research - our land-based personas rather than sea personas - that brought us together. I’m sure we came up with amazing ideas for making change happen and trying to disrupt the academic status quo but what I remember most was the powerful place-family-connection Sam has so lovingly nurtured in Gwenver. I was going through a hectic time in my life, still hadn’t quite figured out how to stay grounded in the chaos of jumping between worlds. Sam’s home was an oasis of calm and healing. He has this wonderful shared sea-connection with his Dad and daughter that felt familiar yet different - offering me insights into my own relationship as daughter to a surf-obsessed Dad. I was able to see across generations what that connection must be like for my Dad. Here I was, surfing with Sam and his daughter Lola, who was 6(?) at the time and it was bizarrely and beautifully like being able to travel back in time to revisit forgotten and lost memories of what the bond must have been like for me, learning to surf at such a young age with my Dad. I could already see Lola’s determined streak, her appreciation for her Dad but also her own way of making meaning in the sea through play and wanting to test her autonomy even at that age. And Sam’s joy was so close to the surface, spilling over and infecting us all. When I was that age - I didn’t want to be told what to do, the sea and I had to figure it out by ourselves, no adults allowed, certainly no Dads! I didn’t notice how immense my Dad’s joy must have been then.

The next day, the whole family was in the water, Sam and Sandy taking waves in turn so they could go back to shore and mind Ruben, still too young to surf, Lola and her Grandfather floating together waiting for waves. In that moment it all made so much more sense. How we’re able to do what we do, Sam and I, how we find our belonging, is because of this kind of love and support. The care we put into the place we call home, the love we give to those closest to us and how much they support our restless souls in return. 

End of Part I

Photography by Jack Johns and The Wave Productions

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