22 days. 24 miles. That’s how long Lizzie Carr, a survivor of stage 2 cancer, had to face on her endeavour to become the first person ever to paddle-board solo across the English Channel in order to raise awareness around the subject of plastic pollution.
Paddling from Dungeness in England to Boulogne in France, camping outdoors and gathering samples of microplastics along her route to be analysed by Plymouth University, Lizzie involved thousands of people in her impressive journey. And this was not her first heroic adventure. Last year Lizzie paddle-boarded 400 miles across England, launching her nationwide campaign to rid our waterways of plastic pollution.
It is not secret anymore that microplastics are polluting our oceans, impacting our health as well as the wellbeing of marine species and entering our food chain. These are a few of the reasons that pushed Lizzie to get out there and take concrete action to tackle the issue and inspire others to do the same.
As soon as I read Lizzie story over my cup of coffee on a rainy morning, I felt that overwhelming feeling of excitement and joy I only feel when I am hugely inspired by something incredible and I just knew I wanted to share her story. So I reached out to her, asking her to tell us more about what she did, how she prepared, and what we can all do to get involved (with or without a paddleboard).
How did you prepare for the challenge? Anything you missed along your cruise you wished you had taken with you?
L: I always try and prepare for the worst – both mentally and physically – so I’m in the best possible shape to take on challenges. I did a lot of gym work focusing mostly on strength and core exercises but also mobility. I also tried to pack in as much time on the water as possible to replicate the conditions which really helped me. If there’s one thing I wish I had with me but didn’t it would be sea sickness tablets – I completely overlooked that!
Which were the best and the worst moments of your journey through the English Channel?
L: The best moment was seeing France in the distance for the first time. After paddling for so long without anything but blue horizon it was very motivating to have a landmark to aim for and measure progress by everything ahead getting bigger as I got closer.
The worst moment was when the blue skies and calm waters changed to rain and strong crosswinds. The swell increased and every stroke of the paddle was a real effort, but finally reaching the finish line was incredibly rewarding.
What inspired you to choose paddleboarding and water pollution specifically as a goal to tackle?
L: I started paddle boarding three years ago after an illness on a short break in the Isles of Scilly. It started as a low impact way to restore my health and fitness, but it also had wonderful meditative qualities that I didn’t expect. I was hooked immediately and started trying to find somewhere to paddle back in London. I realised I could SUP on the canals and river and spent a lot of my free time on the water – and that’s when I first experienced just how severe the issue of plastic pollution is. It wasn’t just an eyesore and inconvenience for me but I witnessed, first hand, the detrimental impact it was having on wildlife. I wanted to do something to highlight the issue and help protect the animals that aren’t able to protect themselves.
I left Dungeness with two dolphins dancing round my board and finished in Bolougne with a sea lion staring me in the face – if that’s not the sign of a great day then I don’t know what is!
What did this experience teach you above all?
L: It taught me that we can achieve anything we put our minds too, but, more than that it showed me that there is immense power in the actions of one individual fighting for something they are passionate about.
How can anyone get involved in this great cause?
L: There’s lots of ways people can get involved. The #PlasticPatrol app (available for IOS in the app store) works all over the world and enables people to share their plastic finds on an interactive map, helping to create a clear picture of the problem on a global scale. There are a lot of people passionate about this issue and want to make a difference – crowdsourcing data to identify hot spots and pressure points across the world – like a heat map. As the data can be drilled down at a very local level too it creates a powerful tool to lobby and campaign for change and push for additional resource or funding in key areas.
What’s next for you?
L: This summer I’ve got my biggest challenge yet – I’m visiting 14 locations across the UK and organising #PlasticPatrol clean up events (www.plasticpatrol.co.uk). I’m bringing the paddle boards and litter picks – all people need to do is register on the website and volunteer to come along and get stuck in.
You can follow Lizzie’s story on her blog Lizzie Outside to find out more about her upcoming endeavours – we sure know we will.
Photos courtesy of Lizzie Carr