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Pictured above: Iran's first surfers, including Britton in the center. Right, Britton surfs in a hijab. Photos: Courtesy of Waves of Freedom

documentary Into the Sea. In one poignant scene, a young Iranian boy witnessing surfing for the first time asks, “Is this something boys can do, too?” The movie is by women and starring women, but it is not just for women. Surfing becomes a liquid bridge washing over cultural, socio-economic and, of course, gender divides. Britton, a five-time Irish national surf champ with a doctoral degree in environment and society, talks about how winning contests and surfing the best waves of her life can’t compare to the experience of surfing in the Middle East. How do you see surfing as a form of sports activism? The ocean doesn’t discriminate and it’s open to all. On land everyone tends to be a little more tense—I’m like that, even—but then after you surf it’s loosened up a little bit and it allows things to flow better in terms of how we understand each other. Surfing created that space where it brought people together in Iran.

There are people from across all sectors—surfing industry, nonprofits, academia—starting to use surfing as the lens to look at issues like sustainability, community development and women’s empowerment. The film showcases two Iranian female pro athletes, whom you taught to surf, as surfing pioneers of their country. That was really intentional. [We were] trying to create an experience where we could learn more from each other through going on this adventure rather than it being one of, “Here, I want to convert you into surfing because it’s the best thing on the planet!” Then, to have strong Iranian female role models act as coaches creates possibilities that weren’t there before for local girls who may not have thought that was possible. It’s powerful that in the predominately Muslim culture of Iran, the sport of surfing—which is male-dominated

"I now see surfing ... as a tool to better understand and engage with issues that are much bigger than me.”—Irish big-wave surfer Easkey Britton here in the West—is being led by women. The focus [of the film] being on women in Iran and [of surfing] being led by women, even as men are also now surfing there, means there persists this feminine visual identity. You don’t really get that in surfing—you pick up a surf mag and if there’s any visual identity given to women it tends to be one that really objectifies them. Here, it’s a story being told by women, initiated by women, and even if you go on their Instagram page, it’s their way to capture and catalogue how they experience surfing, what that looks like and how that makes them feel. Being able to have control over how you want to be portrayed as a woman is so important.

You try to return to Iran every year. How has it changed you? I now see surfing as something that can be powerful—not just for how it impacts my life, but as a tool to better understand and engage with issues that are much bigger than me. Having been a sponsored surfer, competing and that whole thing is great and it can offer you a lot, but the feeling you get from an experience like this sort of outweighs all that. It humbles you because you realize that there’s so much more potential. I always go back and feel like it’s a huge learning experience for myself.

Learn more at wavesoffreedom.org.

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Santa Cruz Waves Aug/Sept 2015 Issue 2.2  
Santa Cruz Waves Aug/Sept 2015 Issue 2.2  
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