The wave is a mirror
Dr Easkey Britton, surfer and founder of Like Water, is a marine social scientist at the National University of Ireland Galway. The work of Easkey explores the relationship between people and the sea, using her passion for the ocean to create social change and connection across cultures. Currently resides in Donegal, Ireland.
What stories would the waves tell you if you knew how to listen to them?
As a surfer, my life is lived in intimate relationship with the ocean, exploring the power of the ocean to help us reconnect with ourselves, each other and nature. In the crises we face, the loss of our emotional connection with the more-than- human world, especially the ocean in all it’s wonder and aliveness, is of deep concern. To restore our connection requires a deeper form of listening; to reflect and reconnect with what matters most, to allow for new ways of noticing to emerge.
Part of my reflective practice has led me to explore more deeply the relationship between the surfer and the wave and how that might translate into living a more attuned life. It’s a journey that focuses on the process, not the product – that shows how relationships of reciprocity amplify everything.
I’ve been learning to listen to waves my whole life. I live by their whisper, rumble, roar, hiss, crash, slap and swish. I’ve been following their story from the moment they were born, thousands of miles off the western coast of Ireland in the North Atlantic, on the edge of the Arctic circle where the cold surface water of the sea is met by the heat of the sun, creating wind.
The wind passes her energy through the water causing it to move in a circular motion, the beginnings of waveform. At first a chaotic choppy mess of ‘fetch’ with no discernible pattern. Until, if the wind blows long and steady enough, these waveforms sustain themselves becoming swells, radiating outwards, a cosmic pulse formed by the union of fire and water.
Birthed from the unseen, they move beyond their source, carrying the energy of the wind with them. Travelling together in groups, unimpeded across a vast ocean they grow in power and speed. The frontrunners moving as fast as 60 nautical miles per hour towards the wildly indented and rugged coastline of home, Ireland.
These oceanic waves become surfable only when they meet the seabed in shallower coastal waters where they begin to slow down. The wave’s ultimate form determined and shaped by the contours of the coastline, geology, tides and local elements. The wavelength, the circular motion beneath the surface, shortens and crests, the wave appearing to rise up out of the water.
This is when the surfer moves to meet the wave. She chooses this one over all others… making herself available to possibility. The take-off is a moment of total commitment and letting go. Fully present to the intensity of dropping into the wave’s embrace. No two waves are the same, this wave will never be ridden by another.
Intuition matters – the feeling of lightness on water, learning how her body moves with the wave, connecting with breath – a water dance where timing, positioning and patience supersede strength and force. It’s impossible to know what the wave will offer… The surfer can only respond moment by moment to what the wave gives her. Feeling the wave through all her senses. Not focused on the outcome, yet fully present, surrendering to something much greater.
There is a reciprocal exchange of energy. An interdependence between wave and surfer. How the surfer rides the wave gives expression and meaning to the nameless wave. This moment of union, creativity, aliveness and intimacy, is the wave’s final moment before it collapses in on itself, crashing onto the shore. The wave’s energy transmuted into sand, rock, and surfer. In the words of poet David Whyte, it is a moment of luminosity, because it is shot through with loss.
At times the surfer may become overwhelmed by the wave, swallowing her whole. And yet no judgement is passed. This ‘wipeout’ moment counters any tendency for a wave to overwhelm her from the inside, the wave of self-deception, of the need to control the story of the world around us. The surfer knows the wave cannot be controlled. Meeting and surfing the wave is an active, reciprocal exchange, coming into deep, visceral contact with the touchable essence and pulse of life.
How we meet the wave matters. To borrow from David Whyte, the wave is the invitation to be borne away, reformed, revealed by the powerful flow. Although the surfer is a performer, with the desire to be seen, she also fully inhabits a world of raw, wild intensity and wonder, subject to the elements and tides. The wave’s face acting as a mirror where the surfer comes to meet herself.
Note: This column was first shared via Easkey’s Ocean talk at The Great Wave.
For more information, visit: https://thegreatwave.house
This column appears in ISSUE 15: Big little lives of Oceanographic Magazine
Beautiful ocean stories straight to your inbox.
Join our community.