Cal Major: The Ocean Sweeper

Cal Major is the first person to stand-up paddleboard (SUP) from Land’s End to John O’Groats, completing the epic 1,000-mile journey in just under two months to raise awareness of plastic pollution

"I love the sense of freedom that comes with standing tall above the water."

What's SUP, Cal?

SUP, or stand-up paddleboarding, is basically just balancing on a glorified, enormous surfboard, with a single-ended paddle, and propelling yourself along! There are lots of disciplines within the world of SUP, but my favourite by far is expedition paddling and exploring.

My SUP is 12-foot long, and I can strap all my camping gear to the front and head off on an ocean adventure to places I otherwise wouldn’t be able to access. It’s a little different to kayaking in that on a SUP you’re really vulnerable to the wind, as there’s only a fin anchoring you in the water. But I love the sense of freedom that comes with standing tall above the water.

Standing up also gives you a vantage point that you don’t get from a kayak, enabling you to see the underwater world unfold beneath you as you paddle along. In the UK I’ve seen kelp forests, lobsters, seals, crabs and all sorts of jellyfish underneath my board as I’ve paddled along. It’s a truly magical way to experience the ocean.

Ocean calling

Although I’d been surfing since a teenager, I first properly fell in love with the ocean when I was 18 and learned to scuba dive in Australia, on the Great Barrier Reef. I was mesmerised by the underwater world, blown away by the peace and joy I felt at being there. I was fascinated by the ecosystems and organisms living there, and knew from then on I wanted to dedicate my life to protecting the oceans.

Since then I spent every minute I could learning about the creatures underwater, surfing, wakeboarding, scuba diving, sea swimming - everything I could to be near or in the water. It was the place I came alive.

" People protect what they love - for me it’s the ocean and its animals and there’s very little I wouldn’t do to protect it."

Paddle Against Plastic

In 2015 I visited the remote island of Tiree in Scotland on a surf trip with a friend, and was horrified to find one of its remote beaches covered in plastic. I went home to Devon and found it on every beach I went to - even the tiny remote coves that I could only get to on my SUP. I was horrified, mostly because the answer to all this destruction and devastation seemed so simple – so much of the plastic on our beaches was avoidable, single-use plastic, and there’s something we can all do to affect that – use less.

This is of course a very simplified message, and I appreciate how much more complex the situation is, but I wanted to empower people to make one small step to protect our seas and wildlife, so began Paddle Against Plastic to ask people to choose a refillable water bottle over single-use plastic alternatives. People protect what they love - for me it’s the ocean and its animals and there’s very little I wouldn’t do to protect it.

©James Appelton
"it’s important not to push your limits too far or too quickly and to accept that we all have our own individual comfort zone, but to acknowledge that that comfort zone can be nudged and expanded"

The ocean, and taking on big expeditions, have taught me so much about what I'm really capable of. I think in our society we’ve lost touch with our own limits, and instead are too quick to accept what we think we’re capable of.

Time and time again I’ve been thrown into situations on the ocean, alone, that I’ve had to battle my way out of, think creatively and make decisions on the spot. If you’d have told me about half of those situations before getting on my board I probably wouldn’t have even pushed off from land!

And yet when in them, with nobody to help, no option to fail, it’s incredible how much strength and resilience, decision-making ability and calmness is waiting there to be accessed. I think it’s important not to push your limits too far or too quickly and to accept that we all have our own individual comfort zone, but to acknowledge that that comfort zone can be nudged and expanded, and when we do we can open up incredible new worlds of ability, well beyond our previous perceived limits.

It takes time, but that feeling of empowerment is so fulfilling and expanding my comfort zone has led to being able to enjoy some of the most wonderful experiences on the water. That empowerment has helped me not only believe in my physical abilities on the water, but in my abilities to create positive change for the planet too. I wish we all had a little more confidence in ourselves in that regard.

©Will Copestake
"It’s very, very rare that I don’t come out of the sea with an enormous grin plastered over my face, and a renewed determination to protect this place that gives so much to us."

I'm a vet for my day-job. Being a vet and ocean adventuring both require you to think creatively on your feet, remain calm under pressure, and to communicate effectively. I think they both also require a high degree of emotional intelligence, particularly towards yourself - it’s very easy to burn out as a vet, and similarly if you push too hard on an expedition - being kind to yourself is too often one of the first things to slip when you're exhausted.

But the main thing that being a vet has nurtured in me is compassion. I became a vet because I care deeply for animals and nature. That’s still what drives my campaigns today. Getting in the sea is also what keeps my fires stoked. I do a lot of cold water swimming, sometimes even just for a quick dunk, and I surf, SUP, kitesurf and freedive when I can. It’s very, very rare that I don’t come out of the sea with an enormous grin plastered over my face, and a renewed determination to protect this place that gives so much to us; not just pleasure and play, but it literally sustains our life on this planet.

I have a real drive to reconnect more people to this amazing environment so they’ll want to protect it too and I’m currently setting up a charity to hopefully do just that!

SMALL WINS EVERY DAY /
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