Think of a place that is known for the quality of its surfing, and a few destinations may spring to mind. Australia, certainly, with its long sandy shoreline and near-obsessive love for the sport that plays out on beaches from Brisbane to Perth. The glorious coastline of California. Even our own Cornwall, with its busy boarding scene.
But Iran? This enormous Middle Eastern country does not, probably, feature in too many people’s perceptions of a perfect haven for surfers – despite its being able to lay claim to some 1520 miles of seafront along the edges of the Persian Gulf and the Gulf of Oman.
But try telling that to Easkey Britton. The 28-year-old Irish surfer has spent several weeks in the past three years riding the waves in a remote region of what is – to Western minds – a little-understood state. In doing so, she has helped to break down cultural boundaries, and introduced Iranian women to a sport that was always waiting on their doorstep.
Now her achievements are the subject of a new film, Into The Sea, which premiere 9 October 2014 at the London Surf/Film Festival.
It is a fascinating spectacle which sees her travel to the south-east corner of Iran, very close to the Pakistan border, and don a head-covering hijab to ensure she observes local custom while surfing.
Britton’s odyssey began when she decided to seek a fresh challenge. Born in County Donegal, she was introduced to the art of surfing by her father at the tender age of four – and had won the Irish National Surfing Championships four consecutive times by 2008.
In 2011, she looked to new horizons, teaming up with French filmmaker Marion Poizeau. Together, the two women decided to head to Iran, to see if it had any sort of surf culture.
‘It started off as a wild idea, passed along through friends of friends who also love to explore off the beaten track,’ Britton explains.
‘When I first heard about Iran, I realised how little I knew about the place or the people – and that most of what I did [know] was shaped by preconceptions fed to me by what we hear in the media, which is overwhelmingly negative. We didn’t know what to expect and I couldn’t resist that sense of adventure: to explore and possibly find waves with no-one.’
Her wanderlust carried her to Chabahar, Iran’s most southerly city – a distant outpost which sits a full 1,130 miles south-east of the capital Tehran, but just 70 miles from the frontier with Pakistan, in Baluchistan, Iran’s poorest (and arguably its most dangerous) region.
She was led by the thrill of the unknown and the roar of the waves – Baluchistan is home to the only sections of Iran’s long coastline which are ideal for surfing. And she found both around the little seaside village of Ramin, which lies directly to the east of the city.
Of course, when she and Poizeau reached the beach, there was nobody in sight.
‘There was no surf culture in Iran,’ Britton remembers. ‘No one was surfing there.’
No one, that is, until she took to the water. During one of her first forays into the waves of the Gulf of Oman, a police car pulled up by the beach. Britton confesses that, despite being properly attired, she was concerned. Had she inadvertently broken the rules?
She need not have been worried. The police were intrigued by the novelty of her actions, but otherwise just wanted to check that the two women were OK. They also pointed out rocks on the beach, and in the shallows, which could prove hazardous.
‘I was quite naive on that first trip,’ she recalls. ‘But this left me open to the unexpected. Leaving behind expectations and being open to new experiences can be very surprising in a positive way.’
The trip resulted in a short film, made by Poizeau and released online in the summer of 2012.
The four-minute clip showed Britton on her board, but also captured her travel across Iran to reach the deserted beach, as well as the reaction of the locals – quizzical young men and captivated children, fishermen waving from boats at an unusual sight.
Inspired by their journey into the unknown, Britton and Poizeau have set up Waves of Freedom, a non-profit organisation that – to use its own words – ‘uses surfing as a medium for empowerment, transforming the most vulnerable and marginalised members of society, especially women and girls.’
The body’s first project will be Surf Seeds, an attempt to establish surfing in Baluchistan, via the donation of equipment, formal lessons and workshops on how to build and create surfboards – with the end ambition of forging Iran’s first surf club.
But in many ways, Easkey has already achieved a good deal.
‘It’s really about connection,’ she says. ‘About seeing people who might seem worlds apart come together in shared experience, connecting through a common bond of surfing.
‘It’s about boundaries dissolving in water.’
Into The Sea have its first screening as part of the London Surf/Film Festival (www.londonsurffilmfestival.com), on Thursday 9 October. For more information on Waves of Freedom, see www.wavesoffreedom.org.
Read full article, here