A 300 mile ocean voyage by stand up paddleboard, from Plymouth to Croyde, with beach cleans along the way.
In 2016, I set out to stand up paddleboard the entire Cornish coast and beyond into North Devon: a 300 mile open ocean voyage, running beach cleans and collecting plastic along the way.
I was outraged by the amount of plastic I was finding on beaches I was surfing at. A huge amount of it was plastic bottles. How could it be that we are using 38.5million plastic bottles every single day in the UK, and less than half of them are recycled? Many of the bottles I was finding were plastic water bottles: With clean, safe, abundant drinking water from our taps, the simple solution was to choose a refillable water bottle over numerous disposable plastic water bottles, and to commit to using it.
I used the Cornwall expedition to deliver a positive, actionable message, and encourage people to choose a refillable bottle.
A bit of background on SUP: it’s basically standing on a glorified enormous surfboard, with a one-ended paddle, balancing to stay upright and propelling yourself forward. It’s an incredible feeling, standing on water, like a warrior, while you glide through the blue. But the slightest breath of wind, the smallest wave and the game changes completely. Any wind that isn’t directly behind you renders paddling indescribably tedious, hard work, and downright painful. Chop, waves and, worst of all, standing waves, result in a complete loss of momentum when paddling, and require serious belief and balance.
But this was going to be Cornwall in the summer - perfect right? Wrong. I naively faced head high waves, countless tidal races, and headwinds that some days, despite paddling so hard I was hyperventilating and dripping in sweat, meant I was going backwards. I paddled through beach breaks, sometimes taking an hour to get off the beach, just about getting out back to be washed in by the next set. As an amateur paddler, I had never experienced the ocean in all her power and fury like this, and my respect for that environment was cemented.
I was nearly smashed against a sheer cliff by 6 foot waves and onshore winds, I tore muscles in my back, I didn't sleep from the pain of chilblains and excruciating shoulder muscle burn, I was chased by seals, and I accidentally came ashore in Newquay through an international surf contest, on a 12 foot SUP, with a bright orange survival bag full of plastic bottles, bursting at the seams, strapped to the front of my board.
But despite this, I saw sunfish, dolphins, seals, huge shoals of mackerel, saw every shade of blue, green and grey in the ocean, was soaked to the bone by a storm one day to paddle in a bikini the next. I revelled in being surrounded by the ocean, and soaked up everything I was learning about tides, waves, wind, navigation and how to survive in this unforgiving and perfect environment. I thrived on pushing my body and mind to its limits, and discovered I was strong, resilient and determined.
I also found completely inaccessible coves piled high with plastic bottles, plastic bags floating in the sea, deserted beaches covered in discarded fishing gear, and wildlife; beautiful, vulnerable wildlife.
I learnt a deep and unbudging respect for the power of the oceans, how powerless we are to their strength, and yet how vulnerable they are to our actions.