Cloud Cover:0 %
Today Overall:Partly Cloudy
10am TCR fm Mornings
How Long Will I Love You
Chase & Status
Les Rythmes Digitales
Jacques Your Body (Make Me Sweat)
Tracy McVeigh, Sunday 21st October 2012 00:19
Off a quiet stretch of Iran's Indian Ocean coast villagers gathered to stare in astonishment. Someone even called out the local police, who turned up in full force. The view of an Irish woman in a hijab wetsuit riding a bright pink surfboard through the swell of a monsoon sea is not one the Islamic state's citizens get to see often.
"But they were all incredibly nice, just really intrigued and interested. The police were just worried that I'd hit the rocks and hurt myself. The worst thing really was wearing the Lycra hijab suit in 30-degree heat, that was pretty tricky. But although I'm sure it would have been fine if I'd gone out in shorts, I was keen to show total respect," said Easkey Britton, 26, four times Irish surf champion and British pro-tour champion.
The Donegal surfer's trip to Iran has been made into a short documentary by French film-maker Marion Poizeau which will be shown on French TV later this month before beginning a tour of international film festivals, hopefully later in the year.
Both women arrived in Iran unannounced and unsure of their reception. "It was just a wild plan to surf where a woman had never surfed before, to try and get other women interested," Britton said.
They didn't even know if they would be able to find waves. She went into the sea in a monsoon swell close to Chabahar, southern Iran. "There was a lot of looking at Google Earth before I went!" she laughed. "But we've been overwhelmed by the reaction to the film."
Britton hopes to use it to get more women into the waves. "I'd love to see more women surfing and I'd love to see it become a sport for everyone, not just the wealthy. There's surfing in the Gaza Strip now, and in Bangladesh, believe it or not. It's amazing really. There's also a brilliant scheme I've seen in Brazil where they are taking the kids from the favelas and getting them into surfing, donating the boards and gear. It's transforming their lives and showing that surfing can be a lot more than just a leisure pursuit, it's a great tool to open life up for women and girls and offer opportunities."
While surfing is taking off among Muslim women in California, and at least one surf company has started producing "burkini" surfwear suitable for the all-body cover-up they require, along with the Islamic swimwear that is already available, Britton is keen to encourage women from impoverished countries to taste the freedom of the waves.
Named after a wave break off her native Ireland's west coast, that was in turn named after the Irish for fish, Easkey Britton had little chance to avoid the sea. She points out that she is not just trying to get more women in the water but wants to reclaim a sport that was at its origins possibly dominated by women.
"In Hawaii, where surfing began, it was a sport of royalty and of the poor, and mostly of women. The engravings from Captain Cook's trip show lots of people out in the water on some kind of board and almost all of them were women. I suppose the missionaries came long after that, however, and that was that," she said.
"But often when kids learn to surf the girls pick it up and get better much quicker than the boys. So it's just a shame there are not more women in surfing but I hope that's changing and I want to help change it. In Ireland there's not too many women surfing either, but I think that's maybe about climate and weather as much as anything.
"Surfing is still seen as very male-dominated, but that's changing. Women are making a big impact and aren't being put off by the notion that you have to be super-fit to surf. You just need to be a good swimmer.
"I've seen a lot of newcomers fall in love with surfing and I hope to be back in Iran next year getting a few of those women I met out of a board for the first time. That would be something to get them out frolicking in the ocean, with all the freedom of the sea to enjoy."