Paddleboarder sets two world records in coast-to-coast plastic pollution challenge

Lucy Purdy

A vet has travelled more than 1,000 miles on a stand-up paddleboard in a bid to draw attention to plastic waste

A woman from Devon has paddled her way from Land’s End to John O’Groats, setting two world records in the process, in an attempt to highlight the challenge of plastic pollution.

Cal Major, a vet, completed the solo mission in just two months, setting world records as the first and fastest person to cover the stretch via stand-up paddleboard.

After setting off on 4 May, she crossed the finish line on 2 July, calling the challenge Paddle Against Plastic. The expedition saw Major regularly spend up to 12 hours a day on the board, paddling between 20 and 30 miles every day without a support boat. The longest period she spent paddling in one stretch was 18 hours, covering 65 miles.

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“My journey has been a rainbow of ups and downs; fear and panic, joy and elation, pain, suffering and marvelling at the beauty and the length of the country that we are so lucky to live in,” she told Positive News.

“I have been overwhelmed by the kindness of strangers along the way who have given me accommodation, food, cheered me on, supported my fundraising or simply offered kind words during the hardest days.”

From her paddleboard, Major saw plastic piled high on beaches, floating in the oceans and littering the canals – with plastic bottles the most common cause of pollution.

I have been overwhelmed by the kindness of strangers along the way

Major said that the worst affected inland area appeared to be Wigan, where she found 691 plastic bottles in just one hour of paddling. On beaches in Scotland she found thousands of cotton bud sticks that had been flushed down the toilet. (Scotland has now proposed a ban on the manufacture and sale of plastic cotton buds.)

Major, who describe herself as being passionate about ocean conservation, is urging people to ditch plastic in favour of refillable water bottles. As well as collecting and recycling hundreds of plastic bottles, the 29-year-old spoke to schoolchildren, carried out beach cleans and advised business owners along the way about how to operate more sustainably.

A Surfers Against Sewage Plastic Free Coastlines ambassador in her own community, Major added: “Don’t be overwhelmed by the problem, look at the positive things that we can do to make a difference, such as switching to a refillable bottle or coffee cup.

Don’t be overwhelmed by the problem, look at the positive things that we can do to make a difference

“Start noticing the plastic we are using in daily life, and that which is littering our natural spaces. Add your voice to the growing number of people demanding change from the companies – consumer pressure is working and it’s important to keep that momentum going.”

Her route took her up the Cornish coast through huge swells and dangerous tidal races, up the Bristol Channel across shipping lanes, under the Severn Bridge, and on to the canals to Blackpool.

Continuing north, she paddled around the Mull of Galloway, a notoriously dangerous area where nine tides meet: crossing this spot in the middle of the night as it was the only weather window available.

She then paddled the 20 miles of open ocean to the Isle of Arran in gale force winds and overhead swell. Major also battled fog, calculating tides, changeable winds and wild camping, she said. She was sponsored on the expedition by Klean Kanteen, a stainless steel re-useable bottle brand.

Paddle Against Plastic was also in honour of Major’s “closest friend” who died last year after battling depression. Cal has been raising funds for VetLife and The Samaritans and also hopes to raise awareness about the value of spending time in nature to physical and mental wellbeing.

She has raised more than £4,000 so far.

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Photography: James Appleton

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