Easkey Britton is a world renowned Irish big-wave surfer, scholar and social change-maker. Surfing is Easkey’s active metaphor for life. Pursuing big waves, adventure travel, research and artistic expression has given Easkey the opportunity to explore more deeply the values surfing teaches and the importance of exploring more innovative and creative ways of applying and sharing those values to create positive social change. As part of our #myethos series, we spoke to Easkey about her work and her unique connection to the ocean.

What is your ethos?

My ethos is to honour my inner ebb and flow, to live a life that’s attuned to the cycles of nature and the own rhythms of my body.

What brings energy into your day?

I live a life that’s completely tied to the sea and as much as possible my life is shaped around tidal flows and lunar cycles. When it comes to scheduling my day and planning what to do I first check the weather charts and what the swell is doing and what stage the tide is at so that I can work it around when is the best time for me to be in the sea to surf and when then is the best time for me to get down to work. That’s what really helps me thrive and find balance and that’s what gives me energy, is that proximity to what I love most and what energizes me which is water and the sea.

What is the biggest challenge in your life right now?

The biggest challenge for me right now is the loss of connection to others. What really matters most in the work I do and allows me to thrive and not burn out is having these wonderful collaborations and partnerships with other people. Doing amazing work especially in the space around ocean and human health or ocean therapy. I work with a charity called Liquid Therapy who specialise in creating those nature based immersive experiences in the sea and through surfing for youth and young people with a whole spectrum or range of disabilities, mental and physical and I just see how powerful and important and vital it is for people to be able to access those experiences in nature and in particular in blue spaces with sea and water.

To have the support of the team of people behind something like Liquid Therapy, to feel that sense of belonging with your own tribe and learn from others, to having that social setting in a therapeutic environment like the sea and with surf therapy, is so important for so many. Right now it’s not possible and it’s not allowed and it’s forbidden to be able to access those experiences which I find hugely challenging because I know how healing it is and how vital it is for our health to be able to have that and for so many it’s the lifeline, it’s what restores them and brings them back to themselves. Also, it’s so good for our own health, immune system and mental wellbeing. So, it is my greatest hope that we can initiate these programmes again around blue health with Liquid Therapy. Hopefully they are starting in May this year to bring and restore that connection with the sea again. To receive the healing benefits of these environments can be therapeutic for so many.

Are you a happy person? What does happiness mean to you?

Happiness is an interesting one. I’m not really sure for me it’s never been about seeking happiness. I kind of feel it’s quite fleeting and maybe even sometimes a little superficial. For me it’s about seeking those experiences that make me feel most alive. I suppose my happiness comes from that feeling of aliveness, of total self-connection where I’m fully in my body, where I’m not stuck in my head in a story or a mind rut. Happiness for me also comes through appreciation and gratitude. You’re really celebrating the beauty in the world but also in our everyday lives in those little moments. Noticing what helps us feel that sense of connection and love and turning that into a practice of deep appreciation and gratitude for the things that bring us joy in our life.

Is your life controlled or affected by fear in any way?

Our relationship with fear right now is a really interesting one. We live in a very strange time where there is a huge amount of control through fear. A lot of the storytelling in terms of media and news consumption is very fear based. You know fear can be a great motivator, but it can also can really numb us and lead to disconnect, disassociation and shut down. It is useful in moments of immediate danger to give us a kick of adrenaline and get us out of a bad situation. We evolved with it, it’s an important evolutionary mechanism but it is not a state that we can sustain. To be in a state of fear I think is extremely damaging. I’ve had to actively cultivate a relationship with fear through my surfing. My surfing has really helped me to create a healthy relationship with fear. I don’t think it’s effective to try to resist it or ignore it or push through it. Fear can be a really good teacher, it really flags those roadblocks, tensions, anxieties and resistance within ourselves.

Quite often the fear we feel is hitched onto a story that maybe no longer holds any truth for us anymore, attached to something in our past or worry for something that has not yet happened in the future and may never. So, for me I use fear when I feel it, to recognise and notice it and not to get caught up in the story. One way to do that is to sort of drop into it and notice the feeling, allow it to be there and track where I am in my body physically as a sensation and kind of just breathe into that. As soon as I do that it sort of starts to soften and loosens its hold on me and by creating this space. It means that I don’t go into reactive mode and I’m able to discern whether this is a legitimate fear that I should respond to, or if it’s something that doesn’t hold any truth for me and it’s something that’s blocking me from living more fully.

I think fear is a great call for me to listen to myself, but I also really consciously try to not make decisions from a fear-based place. I try to create spaciousness and step back in those moments before reacting. Instead I try to act from a place of love and possibility that really helps me move through the fear. When I try to connect what it is that matters most to me, that outweighs the fear because love is so much more powerful than fear. I think we need a lot more of that kind of messaging and storytelling in the world right now instead of all this kind of fear based control.

What do you love about yourself?

What a beautiful question and one we should ask ourselves more often, and yet it’s usually the most challenging thing. We are so good at celebrating what we see in others and not ourselves, particularly in women. I would like to reclaim self-celebration. I think what I love most about myself is maybe this ability to have a sense of adventure, that I’ve always had. I’ve been drawn to adventure and for me that means going to the edge of something that is known and familiar and taking that little step into the unknown. That discovery of new experiences. I feel most alive when I’m learning, when I’m fuelled by my curiosity. I really thrive on embracing those moments of spontaneity instead of sticking to that rigid schedule, to-do list or agenda. When I break from that it always recharges me and I come back renewed, my imagination is stimulated. When I don’t honour that call to adventure this is when I get stuck, stagnant and nothing flows. I think it’s important to create rhythm and routine for sure, but also to create this space in our lives for those moments of spontaneity and the unexpected and just go f**k it and embrace it. So, I really love that ability in myself to go off script and to go wherever that will take me.

Photo by Andrew Kaineder

What are you most proud of?

I’m surprised at the way I’ve been able to weather this sense of confinement and being constrained to being in one place and not having that freedom of movement. Particularly, in this lockdown finding that stillness within myself that I wasn’t so aware of. That there was this ability to be really calm and grounded. Within this last year or so I’m most proud of my ability to have written two books exploring in depth our sea connection and my own personal connection and lived experience with the sea, and also how to connect people with the sea. So the first book coming out in May this year is called ‘50 Things To Do At The Sea’,  part of a little hardback series with lovely ways through mindfulness practices to connect with the ocean and also actions we can do to protect and care for it and also how it heals us. The second book comes out in September called ‘Salt Water In The Blood’, it’s a very much the story of how salt water runs not only in my veins but in all our veins and exploring more deeply that innate ocean connection that we have. So that’s been kind of a journey to go through that whole process of writing and publishing at a time like this.

Knowing what you know now, what would you tell a young Easkey ?

Trust the wisdom of your body, and your menstrual cycle is your superpower. It’s your bodies intelligence speaking to you and to really honour that inner ebb and flow. It’s something I wished I knew so much more about and it’s something I still wish we would celebrate. In our society women can gain so much power and wisdom from it rather than it being this taboo topic that we don’t talk about. It’s our bodies way of speaking to us, of telling us when it’s time to rest, play, be still or be out in the world saying ‘hey look at me’. Our society doesn’t create any space for that part of our cycle that is really calling us to go within ourselves or to rest or reflect or to tap into that deeper creativity or stillness in ourselves to allow ourselves to drift and wonder, to let go of the to do’s, to drop our bundle.

Instead we value this hyper productivity to always be on, which of course exhausts us and burns us out because that’s not our natural rhythm. We have been denying that for so long, so reconnecting with my body in this way and discovering this power and wisdom of our menstrual cycle is something I have learnt from the co-founders of Red School Alexandra Pope and Sjanie Hugo Wurlitzer and from their book ‘Wild Power”. I have been training with them as a menstruality mentor and now as a facilitator just to help others on this journey. Helping other women to rediscover this powerful connection with the wisdom of our bodies.

Who have you learned most from in your life?

I’ve learnt most in my life from the sea, the sea has been my greatest teacher. You know it’s where I find my belonging, it’s where I feel most alive. Its taught me to trust the power of my body, it’s really stretched the limits of my psyche in terms of meeting my fears and vulnerabilities. In terms of how to be with them and move through them and as well as honour them and listen to them. Sometimes they are a really good teacher too. It’s also where I found my greatest joy through pleasure of riding waves and the inherent playfulness of that and how important that is in one’s life. Also, connected to everything is the ocean, it’s our life support system and we depend on it utterly. It doesn’t need us in order to be healthy and well, but we need a healthy ocean. We can’t be well with a sick sea. That’s been a huge life lesson for me. The way to restore ourselves is to restore the water and ocean. That’s become my mantra to heal the ocean is to heal ourselves. A mantra inspired by Robin Wall Kimmer, a native American botanist and writer of the fantastic book ‘Braiding Sweetgrass’. So, I’ve also learned a lot from her, and she talks about the importance of this culture of reciprocity. I really feel that through my surfing that is what it is for me. It’s this exchange of reciprocity between me and the ocean and the waves. I’ve learnt a lot from her and from other water keepers who are primarily women from indigenous communities. The importance of honouring water and the role we play as women everywhere, that we are the water keepers. All life comes from the ocean but also from our watery wombs.

Photo by Andrew Kaineder

What’s the next challenge in life that excites you?

I think the challenge that lies ahead that excites me most is this kind of awakening and recognition at last of how integral nature is to our health. How interdependent nature is to our health. I think that’s been really amplified by this pandemic. We have been separated from nature to the point of our own destruction and demise. The way back to wholeness and ourselves, back to a healthy planet is this re-centring of how vital the health of nature, of this living planet is for our own health. This nature connection this connectedness, how woven through everything else we are, how hitched to everything in the planet we are how we are just one part of a living breathing ecosystem. This is becoming to be recognised so that nature isn’t just some kind of frill or add on. When we think about things like public health that’s what the next big challenge there is. Opportunity for huge transformation is there, rather than this approach of over medicalising and reducing the problem to some of its parts. It’s so much more complex than that. We need a system approach that really embraces this notion of interdependence as nature is integral to our health. So, our way back to our own health, our own healing is going to be through the restoration of natural environments and in particular restoring our relationship with nature, that’s what is going to be vital. That’s going to be the work of our time, certainly the work of my lifetime.

To learn more about the work Easkey Britton is doing for social change, read about her projects and research.

#myethos is a series where we meet with creatives, pioneers and social-change makers who either have a unique connection to nature that has fuelled their life ethos, or who are using their talent as a medium for creating positive social impact by empowering others. Follow us on Instagram to hear about more upcoming features.