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Tracing invisible lines

As we embark on our Women's Wetsuit Tester Programme, we welcome ambassador Dr Easkey Britton to discuss women in surfing.

A pioneering figure in the surfing world, waterwoman Easkey Britton is an internationally recognized scientist, artist, and professional surfer. Spearheading revolutionary agendas for female equality and empowerment, her work has taken her from Iran to Papua New Guinea all in the name of positive social change.

In 2018 we will be continuing the discussion around women in surf, examining the conversation from different angles and perspectives. But first, Easkey Britton reminds us why it is so important.

I wonder would a man have noticed, without it being pointed out?

Where are all the women?

Perhaps this could be said of film festivals across all genres and sports, but the absence of women on screen or behind the camera in ‘surf film’ is acutely felt by women at surf film festivals, especially those showcasing a ‘cold-water surf’ culture. When reviewing shorts of surfing in Ireland and the UK, edits that seek to capture the best of the best from the missions the surf community has been on throughout long winter months, you could be forgiven for thinking women don’t surf in cold water. Surfing colder climates, especially the wild North Atlantic coastline can be bloody tough, downright brutal at times.

So are there simply not that many women who cold-water surf?

We are there, we just remain unseen.

The question then is, why are we invisible?

A lot of story-making involves a strong network of social ties. These connections help create an in-road, build the skills and resources you need, mentor you, include you in an inner world unknown to outsiders. There simply aren’t enough women at the top within the (surf) film industry who could mentor aspiring female storytellers. We don't have the same social circles, social relations or opportunities available to us that our male counterparts do. Because the notion of our ‘invisibility’ persists we get forgotten when it comes to being included in these surf missions and social gatherings where further ideas might be sparked and collaborations formed to create an epic edit. (And of course, the same can be said of women in leadership positions within business and politics and across many other sectors). Surfing, especially in Ireland and colder climates has its tightly formed cliques, largely a male-dominated ‘band of brothers’. Women who surf in Ireland have often come to it in a non-competitive way, and have a different relationship with surfing, often surfing alone. The narrative of perfectly honed, bikini-clad, incredibly young, hyper-sexualised and competitive shortboard surfing females in an idyllic, tropical location is overwhelming (as documented in Flux) and just doesn’t ring true for the reality of being a cold-water surfer.

This, I feel, is getting closer to the core of the issue of our ‘invisibility.’ It’s because of the stories we tell ourselves, the scripts we allow others to write and believe when we read, the narratives we live on a daily basis that we fail to question. It goes deeper than an issue of gender and sexuality alone and comes down to the feminine. By that I mean our relationship with our environment, the sea, the waves, the world around us, how we relate. It’s about how we are able to express ourselves, to give expression to who we are - freely and truly without conforming to social norms and cultural expectations. It’s as Krishnamurti said,  “you think you are thinking your thoughts; you are not - you are thinking the culture’s thoughts.” There persists within the ‘surf film genre’ a culture of wave-porn. A culture that idolises shortboard surfing, hyper-masculinity, a domination over and taming of the ‘beast’ rather than a more intimate letting go and a surrender into the wild, untamed natural environment. A culture where the female surfer and femininity in surfing remain invisible, or at best become a passive object in the storyline.

Do we want to watch porn or do we want to make love?

I know which I would choose. For me, its about the ‘surf genre’ needing to make that journey from wave-porn to a more intimate relationship with our ocean environment. It’s about the exploration of who we are through our fears and vulnerabilities, through authentic expression, that matters most. It’s a creative process that requires us to take a risk and declare who we are - to embody the very values that draw us into the sea in the first place.

2017 was the year of the silence breakers, honoured as Time magazine’s ‘person of the year’; the women who spoke out.

“I am woman. Hear me roar.”

The time has come to shake off the covers, to take a stand, to give voice to (y)our story, to be seen and heard. To give expression to what it means to be a woman who surfs cold-water, to recover the femininity of surfing - the sensuality of the experience, how we feel our environment through all our senses, the fluidity of water, how we are in movement with waves, a water dance.

The world I want to see is one where it’s no longer a novelty to see a woman taking the lead and holding her own in a (big wave) feature documentary, without a single gratuitous ass-shot. Instead, I want to see a norm where gender isn’t a differentiating factor anymore. A world where we are able to represent ourselves the way we wish to be - where we have the freedom (and support) to authentically express who we are.

It’s all well and good to believe a more beautiful world is possible, but what are we going to do about it?

I realised I was responsible - I, you, we are the only ones who can make change happen, by each of our individual actions combined. A coming together that leads to a collective movement. And its happening:

The creative storytelling workshop for women at Shore Shots film festival; the Institute for Women Surfers; Into the Sea, the story of Iran’s first female surfers; the History of Women’s Surfing museum; Paige Alms’ The Wave I Ride becoming a social platform for others to share the story of the wave they ride; an increasing number of articles and publications on surf-feminism; the inclusion of the women’s championship event on the WSL Big Wave World Tour at Peahi; Keala Kennelly becoming the first woman to win the WSL Biggest Barrel of the Year Award.

These recent breakthroughs and successes in women’s surfing, have brought a lot of the gender biases that exist into the light. It’s opened a space to have a more meaningful conversation on these issues. And has given recognition to the incredible efforts, talent and commitment of the diversity of ‘women who surf’.

An online discussion thread in response to ‘we need more women in surf film’ blew-up on Instagram and reaffirmed my belief that there are women out there who surf with their own stories to tell and a real desire for collaboration over competition, to share skills, to celebrate each others stories, and to make change happen;

“Its brilliant to see such talent but my first thought was, where are the women? Myself and a friend who did video production are looking at it as a project (for next year) for womenwhosurf.” - @busylittlefoodie

“The films were amazing visual pieces but we need new narratives and new subjects including actually featuring some women - in front and behind the camera.” - @gorseandcoconuts

“We 100% need more films about women who surf and their stories. Need to continue the conversation.” - @otherislands

“I’m excited about where women’s surfing in Ireland is going and what’s to come in the next year! We have our own unique surf culture here, albeit its small, so we should take what’s special and showcase it. Let’s do it!.” @elizabeth_clyne

I’m not disappointed, I’m inspired.

It’s great to see change is happening but it’s not going to change over night. I think it takes time and patience to grow into our own stories, to realise we have stories worth telling. And now there’s a community of women who want to support each other in expressing that. There is so much more strength when we stand together. In that way, we break through our own glass ceiling. Let’s keep creating new narratives on, in, under the sea, in front and behind the lens.

As my Mum used to say to me as a kid, “the limit of limits is your limit, so take a deep breath.”

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