Interview | Sian Sykes founder of SUP against SUP
You may have seen our post about her on our social media early in the year. A true inspiration, Sian took on an impressive expedition, spending 2 months paddle-boarding the circumnavigation of Wales. She also did this completely plastic-free, to raise awareness about single-use plastics and the damage it's causing to our oceans. And she took our English Peppermint Toothpaste around with her.
G: You circumnavigated Wales on your paddleboard and did this entirely plastic-free - an incredibly admirable feat. We’re so honoured you chose to take some of our products around with you. What was your biggest challenge in taking this on?
Sian: The trip around Wales had never been done on a stand-up paddleboard (SUP) before, it was a 1000km journey along canals, rivers and sea. Paddling one of UK’s most dangerous stretches water, avoiding 8 firing ranges, fishing traps, shipping lanes, busy ports, complex water conditions, all on my own. It took considerable planning and I'm stoked it was a successful trip and I managed to do it single use plastic free. I wanted to highlight the epidemic we face and to inspire others to make a pledge against single-use plastics. It was frightening to see so much single-use plastic bottles floating on our beautiful waterways. The hardest part was carrying all the plastic bottles I collected and finding somewhere to dispose of them, sadly not many recycling bins around!
G: Tell us a bit more about what you do and campaigns you are involved in.
Sian: I used to work in advertising, working 18 hour days in a fast paced environment, I loved it but it wasn’t fulfilling and I had the yearning to be back home, close to the sea and mountains and reconnect with nature. That's why I slammed on the breaks and changed career. I now run a stand-up paddleboarding business in North Wales called Psyched Paddleboarding, inspiring people to get out onto the water and to appreciate the surroundings. With the business, we ask all our customers to bring a reusable bottle on sessions rather than single-use plastics. We are a member of Surfers Against Sewage, donating annually and try to be single-use plastic free with running the day to day business. This includes sourcing loose tea for when we make cups of tea from the paddleboard and having homemade flapjacks. We also go the extra mile and wash all clothing in Ecover and use Guppy Bags to collect any microfibre to prevent it from going into the water source. Lastly, we encourage our customers to pick up any litter we find whilst paddleboarding and it is a feel-good factor for them too, protecting where they are paddleboarding.
G: What sparked your environmental activism? And when did it start?
Sian: I love being around the sea, whether its paddleboarding, swimming or walking my dog on the beach with my mum. I was saddened to see so much plastic pollution washing up on the shore - especially witnessing things like plastic cotton bud sticks tangled up in the seaweed. That's when I wanted to do something about the plastic problem and raise awareness to highlight the issue. We have a bit of a disconnection from our day to day lives, commuting to work with no second thought about using single-use plastic, disposable goods. Many of us don't consider what actually happens to it when it leaves our hands. I wanted to bring the connection to the coast to highlight what is washing up on our beaches. 8 million pieces of plastic enter our beautiful oceans and 15% of it washes up on the beaches, 15% of it floats on the surface and 70% it's on the seabed. This is alarming and things need to change, that's why I volunteer to be a regional rep for Surfers Against Sewage in Anglesey where I live, helping with beach, cleans, educational visits and encouraging the island to become single-use plastic free.
G: Are there any specific pieces of waste or litter that you find time and time again when cleaning up around beaches?
Sian: Along the beaches, I see single-use plastic bottles, cotton bud sticks, sanitary waste, balloons, ghost fishing nets and other gear, straws, sweet wrappers and polystyrene
G: Why is it important that we all start taking responsibility for cleaning up our coastlines?
Sian: We are all responsible, we all have a vital role to look after our environment, whether it's adopting a footpath, stretch of canal, river, beach or cove. It makes a difference. If we all picked up a handful it will help however it will make a huge difference if everyone made a pledge against at least one type of single-use plastic and shift away from being a convenience society.
G: What challenges have you faced trying to be plastic free/zero waste in your everyday life and how have you overcome these?
Sian: It is tricky, it takes an effort to research and find alternatives, however, there are plenty out there such as your good selves! I struggle if I am hungry going into a supermarket, I often just end up walking out with a banana! But it is great to see some supermarkets up the game due to consumer protest and finding alternatives or reducing their unnecessary packaging.
G: In your opinion what can everyone at home be doing to make an impact and help reduce the amount of litter that goes into our ecosystems?
Sian: I would ask everyone to make a pledge against at least one type of single-use item which they use daily, such as shifting from disposable coffee cups to reusable ones, plastic cotton bud sticks to cardboard, metal straws instead of plastic. Also if you do buy something plastic really think about whether it can actually be recycled, for example, black plastic cannot be recycled.
G: And what about businesses?
Sian: Businesses are all responsible and need to be proactive to find alternatives, it can be done and if consumers don’t have any other choice then we can gradually move away from the reliance of single-use plastics.
G: What are three plastic free switches you’d recommend to anyone starting out on their #zerowaste journey?
Sian: Avoid single using use plastic bottles, coffee cups and change a toiletry item such as moving towards a bamboo toothbrush
You can follow Sian's campaigning on Instagram @SUPAgainstSUP and Facebook @supagainstsup and find out more about her plastic-free paddle boarding business at @psyched_paddleboarding and www.psychedpaddleboarding.com.
Photo credit Ian Finch