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The Place We Call Home | Part II

In part II of the place we call home, sam and easkey provide a window into their personal lives and reveal just what 'home' means to them. With Father's day just around the corner, we thought we'd share these exchanges in celebration of the old man himself | Read part I here

SB | I have a very strong connection with my Dad and, although he is fit and active, having had close friends who have recently lost their fathers, I worry about losing him. There are so many more things I want to do with him before that point, particularly in a more creative realm. But surfing together provides the greatest enjoyment. Having a family has heightened this. When free surfing alone we generally gravitate towards different tides, conditions, sheltered winter spots and times due to our respective working patterns and wave shape focus. But shared family sessions in small waves with the kids always bring us together to engage in that shared space in a positive and fun way. For me that is priceless. We are actually neighbours to my parents and I definitely searched for that opportunity, not because we get along, and they both inspire me, but also because when I am away (which on average can be two weeks away, six weeks at home throughout the year), my parents have a role to play in my kids' upbringing, and I always light up when I hear that Dad has taken Lola surfing while I’m on a working project abroad.

I do sometimes feel (in the kinds of media attention any surfer, writer or filmmakers gets) that I don’t reference the powerful role my mum has played and continues to play in my life. It can be a rollercoaster with two step girls and two kids, My mum had three kids (I have two sisters), and while we were raised in an extremely unconventional household, what I have always admired about Mum is her passion for her own creative work and how connected she is spiritually to people, events and places. My mum is an artist, and in a recent article about her work, journalist Alice Wright wrote, "As she describes her work and practice, Susan Bleakley darts around her cliff-top studio in West Cornwall, pulling out sketches, sculptures and materials from drawers and shelves. The words 'play', 'explore' and 'experiment' come up frequently in our conversation. 'If I can't play with doing this then there's something wrong with it,' she explains. 'It has to come from my heart, to have a joyfulness to the work, otherwise I would disappear into oblivion.'"

The primary anchor in my navigation is my wife Sandy. We all have a story about the tensions that an addiction to surfing can bring to a partner, particularly one who does not surf. I have suffered these tensions, and brought frustration and anger into past relationships through my dedication to travel. At the same time, travelling has taught me that there is nothing more special in surfing than being a local, having a family, and that one should cherish home breaks, home life. I have never tired of the vaulting granite cliffs at Gwenver, the bright skirt of sand, the winter squalls, the pungent haloes of gorse in spring, the first cuckoo, the hovering bird of prey momentarily stitched to the sky, and the familiar faces that keep me sane, acting as an anchor. I miss my kids tremendously when I work away. But I always keep travel projects as short as possible and produce the subsequent work from home. Also, I try to give the kids a rich slice of my passion and learning from travel when I’m home, and engineer some trips for all of us. We are a devoted beach family. I’m happiest when I’m on the beach with the kids. There is a wild, rugged and raw energy to Cornwall that is unrivalled. Those warm snaps between May and October can deliver colours and experiences in the waves that I’ve had nowhere else – rainbow spray combed off the back on offshore days, seals, dolphins, basking sharks, and a local landscape that inspires me.

In the beginning your kids are perfect. Then we begin to accept that are just who they are – they don’t have the best teeth, they don’t get the top marks in class, they don’t excel in everything they do. But you love them so much. And above all you have to have faith in them, give them confidence and let them believe and be imaginative. After all, if a parent doesn’t have faith in their child, who else will.

Above all I suppose I want the kids to be inspired, happy, imaginative, creative, perhaps unconventional, and certainly free. A highlight in surfing for me is sharing waves with Lola, now 9. I first put her on a board in warm water waves (in Barbados) at 4 months, and aged 3 she stood alone in trim (in China) for the first time. She then started surfing summers in Cornwall, and aged 5 began to join me even in the winter with a warm wetsuit. Seeing her learn to read the waves and the ocean currents and swells is really special. Learning about the coastal environment is essential to have fun in surfing and be a ‘great’ surfer. Once all the ingredients are there, waves and surfing will carve an unforgettable smile on your face until the sun tips whole into plum coloured sea, and you are the only one left out, already planning the dawn patrol. What I want to share with the kids is that surfing isn’t just about being in the water. Learning to read the ocean is key, studying weather charts and spotting rip currents. Observe. Where are the crowds, where is the access? Where are the biggest and smallest waves breaking? What are the dangers? Where are they? Treat the beach as an exciting classroom to ‘learn through surfing’. And at home, practice the pop up in the living room, and watch your heroes surfing in surf films to be inspired by their style.

EB | Where does the ‘mystery and majesty’, the earth-felt ‘intimacy and intensity’ come from? My friend Sam asked me “Is it born of your Dad, or more you?” Do we get these qualities from our parents or do we somehow uncover them from within ourselves, or is it a bit of both? Fundamental to it is the notion of place and belonging, how we find that for ourselves. Mine came about through a mix of very early, intense exposures to nature; My Dad returning me to the salt water before I could walk, floating me on his surfboard; My Mum, NC, recognising the need to provide access to and encourage the cultivation of skills and tools to make meaning and give expression to these moments of self-discovery and awakening through nature… The natural environment and books became my life, the things I cared most about in all the world.

What most people don’t realise was that Mum was a surfer before she met Dad. And she had to overcome a lot more odds to be able to do it. She was perhaps one of the few young female surfers to keep surfing from pre-teens all the way through teenage years. From my Mum, I got a passion for travel, for seeking and trying to understand what was beyond the horizon (one of the things I love about surfing is the constancy of the horizon line), through different world views, spiritual traditions and by going on epic journeys together from a young age. One of the big turning points was when I was 11 years old and finishing primary school. Mum wanted to mark the transition to secondary school with a rite of passage of our own making. We spun the globe and I had the choice of deciding where we’d land. The first place I chose was Tibet. No sea there but it’s the roof-top of the world, it grazes the sky, I’d just watched Little Buddha and Kundun, and read Herman Hesse’s Siddhartha. At a deeper level, why these places draw me (Tibet, Mullaghmore, Donegal, Iran, Baluchestan), are because they represent the ‘borderlands’, both in the physical and geopolitical sense but also how we might bridge the worlds between self and society. I think it comes from growing up in a border county with Northern Ireland, the most isolated and rural country in Ireland, Donegal. My parents’ stories and my own childhood are woven through with the Troubles and the after-shocks from that era of sectarian violence and conflict that spilled over and between the borderlands as we worked towards the Good Friday Peace Agreement. So it’s no wonder, looking back now, that these places resonate with me, who I am, my own identity and understanding of ‘Irishness’, (the storytelling, poetry, a deep sense of connection to heritage and place, a quiet knowing that’s the opposite to being forthright or pushy, a spirituality that is as old as the stones, a sense of guilt, shame and loss that still lingers).

We didn’t go to Tibet, it was too challenging to get visas at the time and I imagined it would be a hard thing to see an empty Potala Palace and a Chinese amusement arcade dominating Lhasa square. So we went on an adventure to neighbouring Nepal. We lived one day at a time, each day full of possibility, and the unexpected was always to be expected. Nepal opened me to the light and dark of the world – a place where life and death co-existed and were celebrated – milk was used to cleanse the dead and blood was used to cleanse the living. I met lepers and a living goddess, monks and thieves, holy men and con artists, Tibetan refugees and Nepalese Royalty. It was something that both my parents never hide from me – the rawness of life in all its colour. The memories remain the most vivid of any trip, still. I’ve kept a journal since I was a child. I dug out the journal from that Nepal trip - here’s an excerpt from my 11 year old self that captures some of the essence of that journey with Mum;

Bodhunath, November 1997

Walking around Bodhnath stupa turning prayer wheels, Buddhist monks prostrating, young monks with arms around each other. Drink a lassi on the roof top in the morning mist. Visit a Tibetan tailor and buy little monks clothes for me. This is where they filmed Little Buddha. A poor Nepalese man sat with us on the whitewashed steps telling us his sad story of his dying sister and no medicine or money for doctors. I read in the guidebook to be wary of such scams. He could be lying or telling the truth, it didn’t matter. He was so desperate and we had more than him so Mum gave him the money she had. I don’t think it was enough to fix his problems. It’s like trying to stop a flood by building a dam of pebbles...but I think it is much worse to do nothing at all…

When we travel together and share experiences like that it doesn’t feel like we are mother and daughter, more like best friends. We find where our strengths are and how we can support each other, for example, when Mum goes shopping I do the bargaining or when I want to get up close and personal to a wild rhino, Mum (tries) to hold me back!

I think we don’t allow enough space for relationships to grow, evolve, merge, dissolve, go their own way. Too often it feels like society dictates a narrative of what family should be and how we should love. And in Ireland it’s one that’s so powerful, this idea of the nuclear family as a single unit till death do us part, that it is enshrined in our constitution.

My parents consistently bucked the status quo, of both Church and State. They were working parents. And it followed that even their 'separation' is unconventional. The sea and surfing may have added tension or caused friction at certain moments but I actually think it’s the love of the sea, that bond that seems unbreakable, that still keeps my parents so close even though they’ve decided to break out on their own terms once more. It’s amazing as an adult to see your parents discover whole new parts of themselves; the bravery it takes to go against the norms of society, especially for women, and make crazy, big, scary decisions in order to better know who they are and honor their own calling. How indirect and unexpected the path of our passion can be. It's something we should talk about more often.

Keep making time to go on surf adventures together. It’s the greatest gift and bond. A life-long thing. But trust that Lola will experiment, play and discover her own lines… My Dad always let me make up my own mind, taking the risk that I might choose not to always follow him into the sea, allowing me even to diverge from his core values as someone how doesn’t have interest or see any place in surfing for competition or a competitive mindset. And he had to put up with a competitive, contest-hungry daughter for a long time! Instead of spinning me out, both my parents encouraged self-exploration, encouraged me to make up my own mind but also challenged me to understand why I was doing what I was doing. Dad used to say, ‘eventually she’ll come to her senses, wise up’, and stop competing… and one day he was right. We surf differently, we draw different lines. But the best feeling in the world is sharing a surf together. Always prioritise that. Give Lola your love, and keep sharing your stoke. Trust she’ll find her way, especially if you’re path staying true to her.

End of Part II

Photography by Jack Johns, Chris McClean & Halina Pokoj

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