NEW DEPTHS/TIDAL MAGAZINE

NEW DEPTHS TIDAL MAGAZINE 2016

 

In a place so remote, so untouched that it has been described as ‘the closest thing to Mars on Earth’, organisation WAVES OF FREEDOM are creating a SOCIAL REVOLUTION driven by SURFING.

The sun burns low in the sky, casting a hazy, golden veil across the dusted, cobbled planes of land and the expanse of ocean before it. Painted in fervent orange, the jagged rock faces cradle the glistening ocean as it sways and tumbles forward, erupting with a crash on the rich, rusty sand.

This is Baluchistan, Iran.

Dotted along the shoreline, stand local Baluchi people. Foamy white wash swirls and licks at their ankles as they cast their gaze across the ocean where their wives, sisters, and mothers commandeer their boards to duck and glide between the curls of crashing water.

This is a dazzling, contemporary sight for the inhabitants of Baluchistan. Only recently acquainted with the sport of surfing, this community had been oblivious to the potential their beaches held for wave-riding until 2010 when Dr Easkey Britton —surfboard board in tow — arrived at their shores.

Irish born Easkey, is an accomplished, multi-talented, self-identifying explorer, whose professional titles span from artist, scientist, and humanitarian to internationally renowned professional surfer and Doctor of Environment and Society.

Devoted to an eternal pursuit for waves, the five-time Irish national surfing champion found herself on the Baluchistan coast in the unexplored desert region of Chabahar, where she made history by becoming the first woman to surf in Iran.

Contrary to Baluchistan’s reputation as one of the poorest, most dangerous areas in Iran, Easkey and trip documenter Marion Poizeau were welcomed by the locals, whose response to the newly introduced sport was overwhelmingly positive. Time spent with families and members of the community cemented a bond between the two explorers and the Baluchi people, and an ineffaceable partnership was born. This would mark the beginning of Easkey and Poizeau’s revolutionary social venture, Waves of Freedom — a radical initiative using surfing to empower those most vulnerable in society, particularly women and girls.

Fast forward six years and we’re back to the beach where the Iranian men and women are peppered across the sand, and on their boards in the water. Easkey has a group of girls around her, each watching her intently, absorbing the technicalities of learning the craft. Beside Easkey stands Iranian triathlete Shirin Gerami, who translates Easkey’s teachings and helps instruct the avid learners. In the water, local sportswomen Mona Seraji (champion snowboarder), and Shahla Yasini (professional swimmer and diver) help girls get back up on their boards. They are pillars of guidance and support, helping the eager amateurs navigate their way through the waves.

Shirin, Mona and Shahla are powerful role models for the local women, each integral to the Waves of Freedom team. Through their own examples as pioneering, ambitious sportswomen, they inspire and empower the girls. They equip the women with the confidence to overcome challenges and chase their passions — just as they did.

The scene is a vision of progressive, positive change and of harmonious collaboration. But the journey to this point hasn’t been without its trials. Communication barriers, a scarcity of resources and resistance from the more traditional locals, have been a handful of the hurdles that Easkey and the team have had to overcome establishing Waves of Freedom.

“When we see them [the children] and women enjoy themselves, every challenge, from bringing boards into the country, to disagreements between locals, have been worth it, no matter what,” says Waves of Freedom team member Jelle.

Small milestones, like having more local women approved to surf are what yield the greatest sense of reward for the team. “It’s all about those first steps for us,” says Jelle. “The Chabahar region is one of the most traditional and conservative parts of Iran. What seem like small steps to us can actually be huge steps in these communities. We realise that every time we’re there.”

While they revel in these small achievements, the Waves of Freedom team have their sights firmly set on the horizon - their focus never wavers from the bigger picture.

The entire initiative was moulded around Easkey’s resolute vision: to use surfing as a medium for positive social change. “Once you get in the water, the rules and norms of society dissolve. The ocean has a real power to connect and spread happiness,” she says. In this context surfing is no longer just a sport; it transcends its surface-level function as a physical leisure activity. It’s not just about getting marginalised members of society on surfboards, its true purpose runs so much deeper. It becomes a vessel for revolution.

By challenging and perhaps even helping overcome fear, surfing instils a powerful baton of confidence within. It is this assuredness that births self-empowered individuals. People are granted permission to exist and identify far outside the realms of marginalisation. They are imbued with the agency to be anything, do anything — regardless of gender or background.

In Iran, Waves of Freedom are establishing a surfing community where both females and males are introduced to the sport as equals and participate as equals. “This is the story of a mother overcoming her fear of the water, her husband minding her child on the beach while she rides her first wave to shore. Fathers who want their daughters to know the stoke of surfing. Girls and boys learning from each other, together,” says Easkey. “The seeds of hope are taking root in Iran through surfing and surf history is in the making.”

As the last glints of amber light flicker through the toothed mountains of rock and slink behind the dusty carpet of rugged land, Easkey, Marion, Mona, Shahla and Shirin wait for the sun’s dawn, and all the promise it brings with it.

The promise, says Easkey “that there are other possibilities: to challenge and transcend social and gender inequality, to bridge fear of the unknown, and to embrace the unfamiliar, opening space for new ways of doing, and being.”