This autumn, we’re celebrating women with a series of interviews, focusing on women in Ireland. We got the chance to interview Easkey Britton, a Donegal native, five-time Irish National Surfing Champion, who also holds a Ph.D in Environment & Society.
Can you tell us what it was like venturing into surfing, researching, teaching?
Growing up in Rossnowlagh by the sea, I’ve been in love with water for as long as I can remember. The sea is the single greatest influencer in my life and for me surfing is this playful medium that allows me to indulge in that passion and which has also allowed me to build a career. The sea is a constantly changing environment that fuels my curiosity and I think this translates well into my academic interests. I earned a first class BSc in Environmental Science and a PhD in Environment and Society, specialising in human well-being and coastal resilience, both at Ulster University. Surfing during my studies also helped me keep a healthy work-life balance, and clear perspective on the importance of always doing what you love and not postponing that desire. I’ve found a way to weave my passion for the sea, surfing and helping to foster a more positive relationship between people and the sea in my current research post at NUIG.
Any advice for young women finding their way professionally?
I increasingly see a pressure to always be ‘on’. That constant drive to create change, or make a difference, often leads to burn-out. For me, I noticed I was going through a pattern where I’d reach the mid-point of each year (around June) and my physical and emotional health would start to crash and burn, because I’d been in ‘doing’ mode constantly all year. To break the pattern I began to track the moments in my life when I felt most alive and full of energy, and what were those moments when I was left feeling drained or exhausted. Slowly, I’ve come to understand the importance of cycles. We all have them, men and women. Because we’re living beings we’re influenced by our environment and are affected by the cycles of night and day, the moon, the seasons… As women, we are gifted with an internal cycle – if we’d only been taught to better listen to our bodies. Our body tells us when it’s time to act and when it’s time to rest. I’m beginning to develop a greater awareness of my menstrual cycle in the last couple of years, and it has had a profound effect on my work-life balance and energy levels. It helps me understand my own inner ebb and flow, the high cost of always being ‘on’ in a society that rewards ‘being busy’, and the equally important need for stillness and reflection.
Best piece of advice you’ve received?
There is a saying in my family passed from my grandfather to my mother to me, ‘out of the hottest fire comes the finest tempered steel’. It reminds me as we face the greatest challenges of our lifetime that change can also strengthen and transform, that no matter how tough it seems right now, if we allow ourselves to move through challenge rather than resist it there is incredible potential for transformation.
What’s top of mind for you at the moment?
Exploring the links between nature, health and well-being and, especially how water and the sea can impact health and well-being both at an individual level and within communities is at the core of what I do – it’s the focus of my research on the EU funded SOPHIE (Seas, Oceans and Public Health in Europe) project.
Personal style philosophy?
Do no harm. Be conscious, natural and responsible. As much as possible use the power you have as a consumer, and as a citizen, to buy products that are local, made with natural materials in an ethical way causing as little harm as possible. And think about the end-life of a product, what waste will it create and how might we recycle or upcycle? Always ask questions, this creates more awareness.
Your favourite local spot & why?
There are so many in Donegal! It’s hard to beat Rossnowlagh beach, although I love heading to the pier at Mountcharles with my grandmother. Sometimes I’ll swim and then we just sit and drink in the incredible 180 degree views of the bay and mountains. It’s a stunning perspective. My grandmother calls the sea there a ‘tonic for the soul.’
Your perfect day?
One filled with waves, a surf or dip in the sea before breakfast is hard to beat. I’m energised for the day!