As above so below

The Maldives; a collection of 26 atolls in the Indian Ocean containing of sandbanks, coral ridges and desert islands: 340 km to the nearest land mass (India) and most the lowest lying country in the world.


It is a quintessential tropical surfing destination; offshore reefs, crystal clear waters and a diverse ocean ecosystem home to whales, dolphins, rays, sharks and hundreds of thousand of species of fish.

Yet, this is 2018 and there is no longer a chance to hide the reality of the situation; environmental disasters are impacting natural habitats at an alarming rate; plastic packaging waste, coral bleaching and the rise in sea levels are global threats, which the Maldives are also greatly affected by.

Despite the marketing, The Maldives are not all turquoise waters and palm fringed beaches. Thanks to the exposure by Alison Teal and her TV series Alison’s Adventures (if you’re not check it out here), we are all aware of how the government introduced a waste management system far from the picturesque imagery in the holiday brochures. In order to deal with its plastic waste, The Maldives dedicated the Island next to the capital Male - Thilafushi - to trash, which since the 1990s has morphed into an island of waste; a toxic landfill piled high with discarded, rotting, burning plastic.

Soneva & Baa atoll

As a traveller to the Maldives, I came armed with my natural sun cream, metal straw, reusable bottle and cloth bag, but still felt disheartened by the the amount of single use plastic that plagues many Islands… which in turn sparked a nagging sensation that I needed to do more. The good news is that education is changing everything, and even schools are proclaiming themselves to be “plastic free” as part of the solution to this huge problem.

Waste to wealth: recycled products & eco centro

Another solution it seems, is being pioneered at high end resort Soneva Fushi. Situated in the Baa atoll, it has adopted an exceptional waste management system, where 90% of the island’s waste is recycled or repurposed. Their aim is to reach zero waste within the next 5 years and with this vision in mind, here lies hope for the future of these extraordinary Islands.

Gordon Jackson does a remarkable job running the “Waste to wealth programme”. From growing mushrooms in plastic bottles, bottling its own water, composting green waste and turning glass into works of art - it is a complex system than aims to role out its initiatives to other local islands.

The surfing season is May to October, but even in late November we are finding waves. The tides and wind affect the conditions greatly, and for approximately one hour each day in the afternoon we have scored perfect, waist to head high peeling lefts. Soneva’s sustainable surf programme takes guests to local and remote waves, encouraging the use of their eco products - bureo fins, revolve leashes and timber tech fire wire boards.

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My mission as a sustainability student interning here, is to make a surfboard from recycled styrofoam. With the resident glass blower a former surfboard shaper and one of the kids an accomplished styrofoam sculptor, it’s proving doable. The hope is to one day to create a craft the local kids can ride, something made from waste and sourced entirely from the atoll. Until the prototype is launched, Soneva host community sessions, enabling the girls from nearby Island Eydafushi to sample surfing and the equipment needed to do it.

Community watersports day for girls

During my time the local school bring their year 6 & 7 girls for a “watersports festival”. This is in fact a day of interactive learning where they receive tuition on surfing, SUP, kayaking, sustainability and marine biology. They are quiet at first but giggle as we do some standing stretches and once in the water, are full of laughs and bravado.

Many claim they want to become surfing marine biologists by the end of the event, so its a wonderful sign that they’ve been inspired by this opportunity.

Helping run the community day is surf manager Azoula. Azu started surfing at 18 (2005) in Male, Raalhugandu, she was a competitive swimmer, even representing the Maldives at the Asian games, so was a natural in the water.

She didn’t have a proper lesson, but after some help from local surfers she stood up on a short board. From her first day she was hooked. She found it exhilarating despite it just being “baby waves”, yet gave her the taste and to keep going back for more.

Each day at 5.30am she’d be up and in the water, getting stronger and faster and more confident. Now she’s helping Soneva Fushi deliver surfing experiences to guests and locals, along with helping run the clean water initiative Vitric.

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We talk about the gender divide, here on the local Islands and she tells me there are a few girls surfing, but they are still the minority. She wishes more took it up, and is glad that there are programmes that teach surf to girls in the Maldives, as they need encouragement and exposure to progressive ways of thinking.

The older generation’s perspective about surfing is slowly shifting, and it’s starting to be recognised a sport, rather than an activity for drop outs. Unfortunately, its had a negative association with laziness, promiscuity and even drugs in the past - so it needs an identity make over to heal its cultural roots. For us, it’s a harmless, wave riding activity; a social (or solo), aquatic excursion but here there is much more under the surface. Why do humans have to make things so complicated?

Under the surface

Under the surface of The Big Blue there is a whole world to be explored and the Baa atoll is famed for its manta ray cleaning stations. Groups of reef (4-5m) and oceanic mantas (up to 7m) come here to feed in the plankton rich waters, and with strict regulations regarding the Biosphere reserve, mean a team of rangers watching over them, making sure their waters are clean and tourists remain respectful.

I enjoy snorkel sessions with the guests on outer reef, as well as making my own venture to the drop off, just a few metres away from the shore. It becomes a daily meditation, my mind quietens as I observe this multi-faceted world teeming with life. My favourite surfing session, which will remain with me forever, was a small day, without a breath of wind and with visibility of about 100% - meaning we could see the bottom at the local reef break. In the distance, the smoke from the local landfill dispersed into the atmosphere; a stark reminder, that nothing and nowhere is pristine these days.

And then the epiphany came: A moment of Clarity. I no long enjoy going just surfing… it has evolved to be more than that. I enjoy surfing in small, clean, fun (non anxiety inducing waves) with people who appreciacte the art of sharing; I enjoy surfing in unspoilt waters where I can feel connected to life and become part of its cycle within the ocean ecosystem and I enjoy helping others to feel the joy, presence and empowerment that comes with tuning into this highly complex skill.

The other bits about surfing… Well, you can have them.

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We are all connected through the ocean

Just like surfers, the mantas come to the Baa atoll in specific months however, this year, for both groups, for some reason, the season extended 6 weeks later than usual.

Times are changing, patterns are shifting. It would be easy to label “climate change” as the reason behind everything. Yet as a masters student of sustainability my focus is to challenge assumptions and I believe it is much more complex than that. We are wasting precious time arguing about what is happening and why; when it is it is crucial to listen and respond to changes, instantaneously.

Luckily as surfers, we harness the power to make split second decisions due to our practice and experience riding ocean waves. We are the ones who train our intuition day in day out, to react with integrity, agility and fluidity and tune directly into natures vibrations.

We can breathe in signs from the air, to help us understand if something is not right. We can look for signs in the water to give us information about the state of the oceans. And as we are migratory creatures, perhaps we can even understand the behaviours in other species, also searching for their source.

Unfortunately as a travelling surfer, I’m well aware that I’m treading a huge hypocritical carbon footprint whenever I go jetting off into the sunset to satisfy my wanderlust in the aquamarine and azure coloured water destinations far away from dull Great Britain. But at least I’m aware, I tell myself.

I leave these incredible Islands, reluctant to wear shoes but eager to channel more energy into riding waves in a more sustainable manner… which I guess, means no more trips to the Maldives.

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The Eco Traveller Paradox

I’m so excited to have begun my Masters in Sustainability at Anglia Ruskin University. Not only is it a great course but the set up enables me to stick to my commitments in Indonesia and the French Alps. That’s right, it’s distance learning so I’m currently writing this in the Sumatran jungle. I was meant to be heading on a trek into the Leuser Ecosystem but was struck down with a bug last night and instead am trying to rest and recover. It’s also a good chance to catch up on Uni work, and put down a few thoughts about my latests travel.

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My time in Sumatra has been intense - from the traditional Muslim province of Banda Aceh, the local villages in Nias where time stands still, to staying on a desert Island in the Mentawaiis, completely cut off from the world - I have been immersed in an a society that is worlds away from my own. It’s such a privilege to be able to glimpse into these other cultures and spaces, so foreign to my own. Such an utter privilege to be able to travel freely here.

The tragic Lion air plane crash happened just days ago; my heart goes out to all affected. Being able to travel safely is priority and sure puts tiny delays or annoyances into perspective.

I try to access gratitude and acknowledge my privilege and freedom to be able to do this on a daily basis, but underlying everything is an unwavering sense of guilt. I absolutely love travelling, but as a sustainability student, and someone who cares about finite resources on this planet - it’s pretty hypocritical.

These conflicting feelings are energising me to dig deep into the modules and tasks I’m undertaking, and try to apply methods of systems thinking to my life. It’s forcing me to commit to this learning journey and consider changing my habits and lifestyle if I am to live with integrity and by my values.

Whilst I can commit to surfing, yoga and learning; can I actually commit to something I do not necessarily want to do? Committing to jobs, relationships or places has never been my forte. I’m not sure I can commit to giving up travelling. It’s so integral to my happiness.

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Staying on an Island in the Mentawaiis I am given the opportunity to sample life in a bubble, the guilt subsides as present moment awareness takes over and curiosity, creativity and joy become my resting states.

Wandering through the jungle barefoot, devouring fresh fruits and veggies, observing the reef teeming with life and getting dialled in to new surf breaks become my activities, my mind becomes clear and my heart becomes soft.

I would not be able to have that experience, without a number of flights, boats and cars powered by fossil fuels. But in doing so I add to the problem, contribute to climate change through my carbon footprint and become just another ignorant consumer.

We’re surrounded by art on this island. Everything is hand made and thoughtfully crafted. It is like a paradise that needs no outside influence, all the abundance, materials and inspiration is provided by nature right here. Is it possible to take the notion of art and apply it to our lives, to the world we are creating every day? I know that by combining the knowledge I’m gathering at Uni and teaming it alongside my passion for creativity, that innovation will flourish. I’m hoping that I can understand the complexity of our planet whilst resolving to live a simpler life. My time on the island has changed me. My needs are much more simple than they used to be. I’m attempting to live a life filled with enchantment and wonder. Nature and community provide this, but why does it have to take burning carbon to get me here!?

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On an individual basis, there’s no denying that the impact of a flight is greater than that of several car journeys. However, through careful consideration you can still fly occasionally while maintaining a sustainable overall lifestyle!

A plane uses most fuel during takeoff and landing. You don’t need to be an aeronautical engineer to understand that it’s much easier for a plane to glide than to ascend from 0 to 35,000 feet. Therefore, CO2 per passenger per mile will be far greater on short-haul flights. Overall, it’s far worse to fly from London to Glasgow and back eight times than it is to fly London to Vancouver and back once. If you can, skip a shorter connecting flight for a bus, and for domestic journeys, use alternative means.

PROTECT OUR WINTERS

Of course, along with enchantment and awe, I’ve encountered plenty of marine plastics, even on pristine, empty beaches. So as I continue my travels, collecting trash and saying no to single use, I’m hoping my eco footprint will balance out my carbon one. I’ll be pondering these paradoxes whilst I head to the Maldives for interning at the Waste to Wealth programme at a super, duper fancy pants high end resort.

Whilst my next essay explores economic solutions to combat these issues, I’m glad I’m still a lowly student, as I’m increasingly worried that I most definitely do not have the answers. If you do, please leave them in the comments below!

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Plastic Freedom!

Back in July, I embarked the PLASTIC FREE challenge.

It was tough. Plastic sucks! It’s EVERYWHERE! I couldn’t escape it.

I did better than last year but in order to become totally plastic free I’m going to have to change my whole lifestyle, habits, compulsions and addictions. I don’t know if it’s possible, but it’s a future goal. Did you try too? I’d love to hear how you got on!

The tricky bit was because I live in a van I have no storage or refridgeration for food. Convenience got the better of me and I would buy plastic packed food on occasion, mainly because I’m starving from being in the sea.. I have definitely shifted to shopping at local stores in St Agnes and St Ives and have found thinking ahead and preparing my meals (but not too faring advance!) to be the key.

The bonus part is that I invested in lots of new products, found alternatives and investigated people and organisations doing amazing things to combat this massive problem! Thanks to Sprouts in Newquay and Plastic Freedom, I now have a plastic free beauty/grooming regime! And I feel genuinely hopefully that we can sort our shit out!

Since my first letter to A Surfers Path in 2009, when I called upon the surfing community to wake up to this huge problem, I believe a massive tipping point has occurred. Not only are we aware, but we’re trying to do something about it.

The other week I was having a mooch at the Eco Park market and came across Michelle Costello. She creates art out of plastic she finds on the beach and is such a lovely person! I was stoked to buy one of her little framed whales, which now hangs perfectly in my van. I wanted to learn more about Michelle and what inspired her to take the leap from leaving her job to full time artist, so here’s a short interview with her; enjoy! And if you can make it, get to her workshop at the Eco Park this Sunday 23rd Septmber!

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Can you tell us a bit about your connection to the ocean growing up.

I was always close to the beach, we spent all our summer holiday at Gwithian as my family owned a chalet there. For 6 weeks or more we lived there and we loved it. My family have also always had a yacht, my dad who is in his 70s still sails on the Falmouth river and I have spent countless hours with my family there, rowing, fishing, swimming and sailing.

Where do you live now and how do you feel about your home?

Now I live in lllogan which is close to Portreath. I live next to beautiful fields and open countryside, woods and amongst wildlife.

I adore my home and my environment and I look after it when ever I can. I pick up litter every day from around my village. There is a small stream at the bottom of my lane and l know that whatever litter enters it will more than likely end up on the beach.

I feed the birds and encourage a natural habitat around us for them. I am passionate about saving the last open space in my village from being built on, hoping to create an area for wildlife and people to enjoy.

How did you get into collecting beach litter?

I have always picked up litter from beaches...beer cans and glass etc but on February 14th 2014 my eyes were opened to a real problem. Plastic all over the beach . Not just local litter but plastic that had been in the sea for a long time washed up all along the strand line at Perranporth. There were bottles everywhere.

My husband and I spelled out HELP from them. Also there was lots of small debris. Bits of broken plastic and amongst it Lego and smartie lids, soldiers and vintage toys and hairclips.

I am a treasure hunter at heart. I was hooked on collecting it.

I started to look into to marine debris on the internet and watched the Albatros trailer made by Chris Jordan. It had a profound effect on me. I started to clean beaches in my spare time, often spending 6hrs on the beach with my husband, daughter and our dog.

I soon became aware of the 2minutebeachclean and was lucky enough to meet Martin Dorey with his girls while we filmed with BBC Newsround about the Lego lost from the Tokio Express container spill. We had lots of Lego at that point so my daughter was interviewed for the show.

I set up Smartie lids on the beach on Facebook then later on an instrgram account.

I started making art from the plastic l found and and it had a great response, appealing to people as they started to understand the massive problem of plastic in the ocean.

I also started to use less plastic in my life and encouraged others to use less too. I took my metal straw to the pub long before they were available in this country and was laughed at !!! I now sell them and bamboo toothbrushes.

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How has doing this work changed your life?

I worked at my local school for 9 years as a Teaching Assistant. I started to take my year 4s to clean the beach at Porthtowan and Portreath as part of the surfers against sewage spring and autumn series . Back at school we would then make some art from the plastic we found often creating art galleries in the foyer of the school to get the message out there.

In July 2018 I was able to leave my TA job and clean beaches and make art 24/7. I've made my hobby into my job! I still connect with my school and local community. I will take the year 4s on the Autumn beach clean in October and have a workshop with them. I have also done some work with #loveportreath.


Who are your biggest champions/inspirations?

My first inspiration was Tracey Williams a look beach cleaner who taught me all I know about beach plastic. She is the font of all knowledge on anything lego lost at sea.

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Martin Dorey and his amazing 2minutebeachclean family are another truly inspiring community. His team are so supportive of people all over the world picking up litter.

Then Sir David Attenborough. He has helped spread the word about marine debris to previously unreachable people.


Do you support/work with any charities in particular?

I give £1 to the Marine conservation society for each item I sell. I also sell my art at the National Trust Cafe in Boscastle and on the #2minutebeachclean website, giving them a % of sales.

Another big thing I am a part of is the Cornish Plastic Pollution Coalition. We meet quarterly to talk about plastic and raise awareness and campaign. It is run by local beach cleaners Claire Wallerstein from Rame Peninsular Beach Care and Delia Webb from Friends of Portheras Cove.

What would be your advice to anyone who wants to go down a similar route?

Go to an organised beach clean run by MCS or Surfers against sewage.

Find out all about the safety things to look out for ie needles, tides, glass, cliff falls and learn all you can.

Join groups on Facebook or instagram ie.

Beach combings bizarre and beautiful.

Tregantle trinkets treasures and Trash

Smartie lids on the beach

Lego lost at sea

See what other people find and stay in touch.



When can we next find you at the Eco Park?

At the “roots culture” market on Sunday 23rd September, with my workshop at 2pm.

Thanks so much to Michelle! Check out her website here.

Flowing with the go

Things have been moving at an alarmingly fast rate in my life lately.  I’m not sure if it’s just me.  Perhaps the Universe is having a growth spurt.

For a short time in Portugal I was in a permaculture bubble, where everything seemed a lot slower paced.  Since I left Keela Yoga Farm I haven’t been “going with the flow” but “flowing with the go!”.  Changing location almost as frequently as changing my undies.

But now, here I am at Mount Pleasant Eco Park, having arrived late last night.  I’m trying to do all the things that ground me: walk, drink tea, go in the sea, do yoga, write.  So this is my last port of call, and hopefully by the end of this musing my brain will have caught up with my body and I will know, for sure, exactly where am.

I wanted to write about the realities of living in a van and although I try to live a multi dimensional life, that is not based on good/bad ego based judgement indulging in best/worst scenarios or drama.  For the purpose of explaining van life… it’s pretty handy.  So here’s the top 5 best and worst things about living in a van.  Yoga reminds us to change what we can and accept what we can’t.  Van life is like yoga on steroids.  

Lets start with the darkness… the shit bits about having a rolling home:

Fuel

I can’t help but apologise to mother earth every time I put Diesel in Eric the van.  I know where its come from and it hurts.  Not enough to stop doing it but I definitely wince.  I plan to plant lots of trees and one day hopefully be so happy in one place I never have to drive again.  But I can’t face it right now.  I can’t wait for the day my wanderlust is powered by renewables.  

Cold

This is going to be tricky and all depends on if it’s a warm summer or not.  Last year was pretty bad.  I was very grateful to be living in a house after spending the day working on the beach being exposed to gales force winds and hail storms.  Fingers crossed this year will be milder, although this does not mean I am wishing for global warming.  Just a decent summer.  In case of emergency during a chilly night I add in some or all of these: Hot water bottle, gas stove, winter Pjs.

Space

I have 4 surfboards, a paddleboard, a bike, a non negotiable need for a large, memory foam mattress and countless clothes, shoes, wetsuits and bikinis plus a massive batch of home brew kombutcha.  I don’t need all this “stuff” but it definitely makes life more fun! The problem is keeping it all in my tiny home… and making sure its all strapped down if I need to move.  I’m learning what are necessities and what just gets in the way, but I’ll tell you this: minimalism is the way forward and all the junk in my trunk does not bring me happiness.  The memories I create on the road are what matters.

Parking

I have a long wheel based citroen van.  It’s a beast.  But my Dad has already put some dents in it so I’m not precious about the external aesthetic.  Although I aim to uphold my record of never being in a crash.  And I just prefer to avoid small car parks or one way systems, like in St Ives.  Instead I park 30 minutes out of town and cycle or walk to work.  It’s healthier for me and cheaper too.  I refused to get stressed driving, this refusal can sometime be stressful, but I think its worth it to avoid the stress.

Elimination

I’m going to have to go there: POO.  We all do it and it’s perfectly natural.  But holding it is in is not.  I’m very lucky to live at the Eco Park which has great facilities so haven’t yet had to embrace any other options.  I don’t plan to either. 

And the light at the end of the tunnel… the rainbow after the rain… the best blimmin bits about Van life:

Nature on your doorstep

I have probably watched more sunsets and moon rises in the last month than the rest of my life.  And this is one of my defining aspects of general contentment.  If I am outdoors, with enough time and space to appreciate the day starting or ending I am in a good place,  Being in a good place every day is a great place to be.  It’s not what tickles everyone’s fancy, but I’ve dipped in and out of enough things in this life to know this is one of the small, simple pleasures that makes my heart sing.

Back to basics

Just like being immersed in nature, van life has reaccustomed me to the foundations of human functioning: eat, sleep and shelter.  Food and water are essentials, along with a good nights sleep and a place to hide if the elements are feeling wild.  On top of that are things like cleaning, working and playing, which in my book are pretty essential too.  (I haven't yet ventured into procreating but I have had guys give me their numbers in car park!) But what is key is that my priorities have been put in the right order.  Nourishing my physical body and mind is first and foremost.

Design

I loved creating my own van, because it was truly personalised.  This has maximised space and every time I function I look for ways to live more efficiently.  The van is continually evolving as I spend more time in it and figure out how I can make the design work better for me.  I'm incorporating permaculture principles of course - "observe and interact" & "apply self regulation and feedback" providing great guidance on how to do things.

Instant community

People get super excited about vans, they LOVE having a sneaky peak inside… and I love giving them a glimpse into my world.  It's happened every time I park to go surfing, so it's also good incentive to make sure my home is looking ship-shape, rather than like a bomb's hit it!  I can offer cups of tea as post surf refreshment to new water buddies and this truly makes me very happy!

Freedom & security

Core design feelings: Danielle La Portes work calls us to think about what we what to FEEL rather than what we want to achieve.  It’s a soulful approach to goal setting.  These two CDFs appear to be a paradox.  But hey, aren’t we living in a world with many dichotomies and paradoxes?? The van works for both: I am free to travel or remain stationary…AND I have the security of always having my little home.  I feel safe and that for me, is so intrinsically important… even more so than being happy.  

So it works.  For now.  And just like life’s dichotomies there’s shit bits and incredible parts to living in a van.  I’ll take it all, thanks very much.

One final muse: I often set myself mini intentions when I become aware of something that is mildly limiting in my life… Like only being able to go right on a surfboard, or hating forward folds in yoga (which still need work)…along with the big ones like: love more, forgive more, be less self centred (which are probably a lifetime’s work.)

I was privy to one of my little quirks recently and that is my relationship with the wind; it's tumultuous to say the least.

One of my first sentences was: “Wind blowing daddy” and now from my adult perspective I see I must have been proclaiming to Mr. Fox “there’s this strange force in the air and I don’t like it!”.  In my 20’s I discovered surfing which is so dependant on wind, making me rather picky on certain conditions i.e. 2-5 knots off shore (which is perhaps rarer than a NW 14 second period swell on a sunny day in June)

And after discovering in my 30s that my “very vata” dosha temperament can make me flustered and exacerbated in high winds, things began to make more sense.  But it didn’t really allow for our relationship to blossom.  I would just stay indoors and do yoga when it was windy… 

So I put it out there this year, to find a better understanding and appreciation of the wind.  We didn’t have to fall in love… just to come to some mutual agreement not to extensively piss each other off.

And just as those tiny miracles serve to restore our faith fraction by fraction that the Universe does indeed have our back, I pulled into my new van spot directly under a wind turbine.  

Ah ha! The energy that is powering this laptop comes from the wind.  Genius!!  I’ve developed a new found respect for those gusty days and cannot help smile when I see the turbine going.  It’s harnessing and harvesting an invisible energy source, that is completely free and will never deplete!

For any of you that are still in the “but they’re an eyesore and hurt wildlife”, I can tell you that I saw with my own eyes a bird fly right over the top of it.  Yes, this bird could sense that the arms were moving and changed its flight path accordingly.  I guess birds are pretty smart.

There you have it, a mini story about how I became friends with the wind, why renewables rock, and how van life is flipping awesome!

 BLOWING AND FLOWING WITH THE GO IS ALRIGHT REALLY!

BLOWING AND FLOWING WITH THE GO IS ALRIGHT REALLY!

Talking about sustainability

A few months again I received a random email through my website asking to interview me about sustainability and fashion.  Never one to miss an opportunity to talk about my passions, I went on to rant about consumerism and our plastic addiction.

At the time I was organising Plastic Free Peaks, and was surprised at the synchronicity.  However, I feel like we are at a real tipping point, with sustainable and ethical values beginning to influence consumer choices.

Thanks to Chloe for her questions and the article that went up on Lyst, it gave me some insights into new eco brands and filled my heart with hope that these conversations are taking place in industries all over the world now.

Read the whole article here.

Check out the whole interview below.

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You’re currently a WDC ambassador, what first made you want to get involved and speak out about environmental issues?

I was teaching surfing in Morocco in 2010 and became aware of a lot of plastic washing up on the beaches.  This was in the early days of social media so I struggled to find support or guidance on how to deal with these issues.  I managed to hunt down a French recycling firm, so our surf camp could deal with our plastic waste and ran a few beach cleans.  Then I became involved with Surfers Against Sewage who began lobbying against raw sewage run off in the 90’s, and who have since turned their efforts towards plastic pollution and marine debris, check out their #plasticfreecommunities initiative and their success with the bottle #depositreturnscheme.  

As a surfer I feel at home in the ocean, and it frustrates and saddens me to see the amount of trash that has ended up in there.  The ocean currents know no boundaries or borders and we need to understand the magnitude of the problem, without getting too overwhelmed.  It is a massive lesson that we are a global community and need to work together to develop fast, tangible and long lasting solutions.  Health needs to our top priority, and that goes for the health of our waterways and the health of other species we share the planet with.  I have always felt an affinity with wild whales and dolphins; from swimming with blue whales in California to spinner dolphins in Costa Rica I have no doubt that these sentient beings are hyper intelligent and soulful creatures, and feel honoured WDC have asked me to help raise awareness of how our habits on land affect marine mammals. Plastic is #notwhalefood!

As an environmental activist and ambassador, why do you think is it important that other surfers become involved with foundations like WDC?

Personally, I think it’s quite boring to just go surfing, yes, I like the physical aspects and how it challenges me mentally, but it is about being truly immersed in an environment that is teeming with life (and also pollution) which fascinates me.  Every time we surf we are given the gift of entering the ocean and experiencing the joy of being truly present.  The sensations it provides are addictive, yet there is a deeper connection to be explored - our dependency on our breath, our development from the womb to individual, our evolution as a species and most of all sharing that stoke with others.  A lot of people use surfing as a way to switch off, escape or have fun - but honestly, how can you just ignore a beach full of plastic waste and then get on with your surf?  Surfers are able to read the signs and symptoms that something is not right in the ocean habitat, they are exposed first hand to environmental changes - discovering what were once pristine, remote beaches are now covered in plastics.  Encountering plastic waste in the sea is massively frustrating because it causes so much damage.  Just one plastic bottle takes about 400 years to breakdown and even then remains as tiny microplastic pieces, which will be mistaken for food, eaten by marine life and be responsible for poisoning it.

Thankfully I have learnt to channel that frustration into passion.  Passion is the fuel for action.  Yes, you can channel that passion into surfing more and surfing better, but without the waves, without a healthy ocean, there is no surfing.   

Why should people be concerned about this issue of plastic and the effects it has on the environment? 

People can choose to remain in ignorant bliss or they can wake up to the reality of the situation.  I am concerned because we only know a fraction of the truth of this issue, we can only see the tip of the iceberg.  And I am also concerned that we are not doing enough, that before we know it, it will spiral out of control.  We need to reduce plastic pollution at source and then we need to do a global clean up effort.  We are all connected by water, by food.  If you eat fish, chances are, you are eating fish that has been contaminated by plastic.  Studies already highlight this and the “pacific garbage patch” a swirling mass of plastic soup is getting bigger.  A big problem is being disconnected from where our food comes from, so switching from processed, packaged food is a good start.  Food grows in the ground, start getting it from as close to there as possible.  If people still feel disconnected, then I suggest educating themselves.  Watching videos or reading articles isn’t enough - immerse yourself, do a permaculture course!  I help run environmentally focussed surf and yoga camps in Jersey, UK and Indonesia (www.driftretreat.co.uk), we run beach cleans and schools presentations, forage for food and learn about local wildlife, come get involved!

Do you have any tips on how consumers can reduce the amount of plastic they use?

Begin by waking up to how much plastic you use in your day to day life.  Yes, disposable is easier but single use, plastic packaging has a massive design flaw.  Designed to be used once, yet lasts for 400 years!  It’s insane!  Take pride and time in preparing home made meals and nourish yourself, rather than thinking you’re saving time.  You deserve time to stop and eat.  

Take a moment to breathe, and appreciate the moments when you don’t actually NEED anything.  Being constantly bombarded by social media and advertising is a sure fire way to deludedly believe we need more stuff.  Step outside and appreciate nature’s beauty.  Realise that you’re probably addicted to consuming and have the courage to get to the root of why.  Don’t be a mindless consumer.  Start a mindfulness practice so you can get a grip on what your internal “monkey mind” impulses and reactions are, and only respond to your true needs and wants that benefit your wellbeing - good food, ethical clothing, quality equipment.  Make conscious consumer choices and buy products from companies that practice environmental ethics, or find an alternative.   

Pretty much everything comes in plastic these days, so for a start, buy less.  Secondly, buy things you only truly need, want and will treasure.  Thirdly, understand that nature works in cycles, when we throw away, it’s not “away”, it only gets transformed.  We are part of nature yet we have become grossly misaligned, thinking that we live in a linear world.  There is power in transformation, so become an alchemist.  Finally, know that you do not need to consume to be worthy.  You already whole. 

Are there any sportswear brands, whose ethos you respect and are inspired by?

Well, unfortunately the retail industry is based on a consumer, capitalist model designed to decimate natural resources and operates on a unsustainable foundation.    

Some brands have made some nice gestures including Adidas’ recycled fishing rope trainer and the development of eco-nyl or repreive, who now sell to major clothes labels and manufacturers.  There are some more ahead of the game like Picture Organic Clothing or Bureo, who use recycled fabrics and materials.  My favourite are Patagonia who are actively encouraging customers to keep their old gear and repair it.  Their “work wear tour” recently came to our town and people could get garments fixed for free. 

But until we rethink the model of consumerism as well as delve into the socio-psychological reasons we are so locked into it, we have a long way to go.  However, because of all these hurdles, it is extremely exciting to be part of a movement, which is advancing toward healing our toxic ways and overcoming our plastic addiction.  It takes a lot of thought and courage to make changes, but I believe there is a very natural survival mechanism kicking in, within many individuals and communities being inspired and people are simultaneously waking up to our responsibility to look after our home.  We have a deep bond to the earth that is strengthened through activities such as surfing, snowboarding, hiking and climbing; igniting our true potential in becoming caretakers of the planet rather than the species that made a massive mess at the party, left and didn’t clean up afterwards.

Mountain Meditation

My time in the French Alps is coming to an end.  There’s been lots to learn and experience this winter season.  When I arrived in Morzine I felt like a tiny fish in an infinite ocean… everything appeared new and unknown… now it feels like home.

“The power that lurks in the heart of all mountains will flow into you while their essential beauty reminds you that you, too, are a creature of the earth.  The strength and sturdiness evident in the rocky crags and smooth slopes of peaks around the globe have from time immemorial inspired creativity and kindled courage.”

This arrived in my inbox today courtesy of Daily OM, so true!  I needed the mountains so badly… after countless years of hiding from winter, chasing the sun and running from darkness I realised that natures cycles was what I was craving.

The winter has enabled me to stop, reflect, start afresh but most of all sleep.  

I can always remember waking in the night as a child.  Having a troubled sleep pattern was just one of the indicators that I’m a sensitive being.  There was always something that stirred me as i tried to rest and switch off.  And this permeable night sense has filtered into adult life causing many a problem, until I decided to listen.

Without the stimulation of noise and light, the mountains hold a dark energy that is not scary but soothing, like being cocooned.  The quiet, the dark, the stillness… is oh so deep.  And it is here where I encounter deep deep sleep.  As a HSP a good nights sleep is so crucial to me.  A deep sleep is pure heaven.

After chasing the swells for countless seasons I have been reminded I am, indeed, a creature of the Earth.  Winter is liberation time.  But with fresh air, big views and grand perspective.

Social media hiatus

For the months of January and February I took a break from my iPhone and social media.  Gone was the device constantly in my right hand; at last I had two hands free again.  But it felt awkward, like something was missing.  It was soon replaced by j.o.m.o. - “joy of missing out” - life was happening in other places and I did not care, did not know about it.  It was liberating and suddenly I had a choice, to keep my awareness attuned to the shit that really matters.  Now I am aware.  SO aware of how social media fractalises our attention.  In our hands we have access to the whole universe - we can feel inspired, guilty, jealous, desireful or bitter in a flash and we are not even conscious of that emotional process.  And one thing is for sure I was happier, more accepting, more peaceful and more present without it.  

Is it possible to feel that way while still connected?  I’m back online and still figuring it out...

Full of care not careful

I sincerely think that many of humanities issues stem from lack of knowledge, skills and experience on how to care.  For ourselves, for each other, for natural habitats and other species.  What is needed is conversations about what we need to feel cared for.  As I guess its different for everybody.  We're sent so many mixed signals right from birth, but it seems that many of these are the fear of adults projected onto us.  Be careful = don’t hurt yourself.  Don’t get injured.  Don’t learn.  Don’t fail.  So many untruths.

What I've truly understood is that: We heal.  We grow.  We succeed (eventually).  

What does it mean to truly care for ourselves and others?  It means listening, being selective/discerning about what we listen to (even our own thoughts and well meaning guidance from others can be fickle), respecting boundaries and sometimes going out into the unknown.

Grounding

I have stayed in the same place for nearly 5 months.  It’s been good for me.  Unable to run or escape challenging emotions, being faced with loneliness and boredom and desire and exhaustion.  Oh the joy of suffering like a true human!  

But aside from the difficulties, the most important thing I have experienced is feeling connected to the earth.  In the simplest form of sliding down a mountain, I have learn to respect gravity and embrace being out of control.  Such a simple, yet profound process... and through it I've found the kind of strength and stability and BALANCE I have never had before.

Magic of Mindfulness

There’s a short film I’m involved with and because of this was gifted a session with the incredible neuroscientist and author of “What is mindfulness” Tamara Russell.  The session blew my mind… we covered mindfulness practice, trauma, ego-mind traps, psychosis, the joy of siding down mountains and finding the balance between sitting still and sliding down mountains.  She taught me the three C’s:  courage, curiosity and compassion…

The Power of Yoga

Yoga is not about how strong you can be, how flexible you are, how taut you bum looks in funky patterned leggings, or how zen your facial muscles appear for 1 second while a photo is snapped.

Yoga is not that.

But what is yoga?  The question that keeps on giving.  Every day I go on a little journey on my mat as I try to feel the connectivity firing up from my nervous system and the dissolving of my external graspiness.  What’s going on INSIDE.  Accepting and loving everything that arises.  Staying put when it gets a little tense and uncomfortable.  Breathing into it.  That’s what yoga is for me these days.  Ah I just bloody love it.

Next steps

Waves. Off grid in Portugal.  Festivals and freelancing in Cornwall.  And I'm excited to announce I received an unconditional offer to study a Masters in Sustainability at Anglia Ruskin University.  Another step toward the paradox I am looking to live out in my life, personally and professionally: Freedom and security.  With Mother Nature as my boss.  

I'll leave you with some words from Vandana Shiva.  Who's also a boss.

Soulla Soulshine

Why is Yoga so good for the mountain lifestyle?

Yoga is the perfect practice to wake up the body for a day on the mountains and stretch it out at the end of the day. Focussed poses and a regular practice can build strength, flexibility and endurance to maximise time playing on the mountains and avoid injuries. With a focus on the breath, Yoga can also help to maximise the body’s ability to perform at lower oxygen levels found at altitude. 

Bringing awareness to the breath, the moment and the body can help enhance calmness, concentration and clarity – helping to maximise performance and focus on the slopes and bringing peace throughout the day. 

Yoga also helps you feel greater connection to the moment and the space you are in. When practicing in the mountains Yoga and Meditation can bring a much greater connection to the magnitude of nature, bringing a presence to that experience which is both humbling, beautiful and gratitude-inducing. 

And finally, bringing an attitude of mindful compassion can help us strike the balance between finding our edge to improve our performance and letting it come from a place of kindness and compassion, taking care of ourselves rather than being driven by a strong inner critic. Letting go of what we feel we ‘should’ be doing and instead listening to our heart and what it is we actually need in each moment. 

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How do you make your living in the French Alps?

I run Soulshine Retreats offering transformational, healing and empowering retreats in Ibiza, the Alps and pop-up locations around the world. During summer we run retreats in our home in Ibiza and in the winter we head to the mountains for the season to run our Soulshine Snow Yoga Adventures. 2018 will be our 5th winter in the mountains running seasons of Yoga, Skiing & Snowboarding Retreats.

What brought you to the slopes?

I’ve been skiing since I was six and have always been a lover of adventures with a passion for adventure, travel, nature, the mountains and a healthy dash of adrenaline! Before setting up Soulshine Retreats my plan was to start a retreat company combining extreme and action sports with Yoga. As I went deeper into the healing and transformational aspect of Yoga this became more of my focus for the retreats, but the dream for combining the mountain sports and Yoga continued and so I began the Snow Yoga Adventures to chase the dream of winter fun. 

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What do you love about living / working here?

I love being surrounded by the overwhelming presence of nature and feeling it’s ever shifting nature. I love how my breath can be taken away each day by the natural beauty. I love that I get to do what I love teaching Yoga and facilitating beautifully empowering, transformational and fun experiences and then get to play on the mountains. I love the view from my office. I love the freshness of the air. I love having an aching body from using it so much to do the things that I love.  I love how the mountains is made up of people living a dream and willing to work hard to do so. I love how alive I feel in the mountains. 

Ski or board?

I’ve been skiing since I was 6 years old. I dabbled (fairly unsuccessfully!) with Snowboarding one winter but returned to skiing. 

Summer or winter?

I’m definitely a sun and ocean-loving girl – that’s my first love. I feel so lucky to have created a life that allows me to enjoy summer in Ibiza and winter in the French Alps and to travel the world with pop-up Soulshine Retreats and personal adventures throughout the year. 

Favourite yoga move?

Just one is impossible! All restorative heart opening poses, a cheeky Astavakrasana and I love Wild Thing to get the heart opened and the energy flowing.

Tell us about Soulshine Retreats

The entire ethos and dream for Soulshine Retreats and all that it encompasses, is to provide healing, empowering and utterly digestible life-changing skills and experiences that allow individuals to embrace positive transformation and live to their greatest, healthiest and most joyful potential. All Soulshine Retreats are an ongoing expression of this desire to take people on this journey. A journey back to all the vibrant brilliance that exists in every moment, within each and every one of us. To shine bright!

www.soulshineretreats.com

Charlotte St Jean

Why is yoga so good for the mountain lifestyle?

The mountains represent an incredible reminder of the strength, magnificence and power of nature. They command respect, they quietly stand in the beauty and strength and provide an incredible back drop for meditation and yoga practice. Yoga is all about union and harmony – the inner & outer balance, the marriage of strength and flexibility. What better way to practice than with nature’s reminder permanently infront of you.

What brought you to the slopes?

Initially my love of skiing, then I fell in love with my ski instructor with whom I had two children and although we are no longer married we are still great friends and still share a love for this region. I was a sales director in the IT industry based in London and even when I moved to Val d’Isère in 2000 I commuted between the world of ski slopes and city scapes. 

How do you make your living in the French Alps?

I used to work outside of resort but for the past 15 years I have been teaching yoga up here.

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What do you love about living / working here?

The non routine my day has, the ability to ski or run in this amazing environment in between classes. You opening the window in the morning and going YES! I live here. It is a total Disney land here. We work hard to stay here and the lifestyle can be hard core particularly on the Winter months – long hours, snow clearing, the influx of tourists and seasonairs – but the upside of our lifestyle here is “here” – the mountains, the fresh air, the wild side of this region.

Ski or board?

Ski & telemarking – not a great boarder but love my skiing on and off piste and have telemarked a lot over the years

Summer or winter?

I used to just be here in the Winter and spent the Summers in the Ardèche but for the past 3 years I have lived here all year round. It is even more sporty here in the Summer and so beautiful I love it! The Winter is so busy with people and work and although I get out and love my skiing the Winter still represents a kind of working environment for me whereas in the Summer the Alps are just my home and playground and I adore the freedom and the space here for me and my children.

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Favourite yoga move?

Hanumanasana – the splits. I am not naturally flexible and it took me many years to be able to get into the splits and I have to say it has become a favorite of mine – the power, the openness, the achievement. Love it!

Tell us about .... The Val d'Isere Yoga Festival...

The festival was a vision, a dream for many years. When I started yoga here there was none! No teachers, no classes, nothing. Big round eyes when I mentioned it so 15 years ago – and even 5 when the first festival happened – they didn’t quite get it. I was looking at the States and what they were doing. These fabulous weekends of yoga, music, wellness. Of brining people together to share, to be, to meditate and practice together. To have amazing teachers teach classes and in this fabulous resort of Val d’Isère I mean who wouldn’t want to!

We are now in our fifth year which I find staggering and I am deeply proud of myself for creating this event and thankful to Val d’Isère for supporting it and to my friends, family and teachers for being there for me each year for the three days of incredible energy. Yoga, martial arts, meditation, dance, Pilates as well as massages, conferences, nutritional advice, a healthy café and a fabulous little market. Outdoor sessions, live music, something for everyone.

www.yoga-with-altitude.net

Balance Bec

Why is yoga so good for the mountain lifestyle?  

Mountain culture and lifestyle is uniquely charged. We experience a powerful exchange from the interplay of human endeavours in these skyscraping landscapes.

We are inspired to challenge ourselves daily with endless activities. We dig out our paths when the snow falls, we chop wood for our fires, we hike, ski and snowboard, rock climb, mountain bike and so much more.  A whole lot of fun, challenge and adventure to be had but all of which takes its toll on the body and mind.  

Yoga is the counter-balance.  Yoga prepares and repairs us for the mountain lifestyle.  It keeps us physically able while developing a mountain mindset.  And a mountain mind brings a sweet quality to our endeavours and a deeper connection to ourselves, each other and the environment around us.  

Here in the French Alps the mountains are so immense forcing an enlivening impression on us.  We are empowered and improved by the challenges of the mountain lifestyle. Likewise we are empowered and improved from the challenges on our yoga mat. 

I think that collectively, both yoga and the mountain lifestyle bring to us a sense of freedom, respect and joie de vivre that enables us to feel truly at home in the mountains and in ourselves.

 Photo by Philip Volkers

Photo by Philip Volkers

What brought you to the slopes? 

True love!  

Might sound cheesy but Mr Black brought me to the slopes almost 20 years ago. He’d been skiing the Scottish ski- hills from age 10 and was mad into snowboarding when I met him in the mid 90s. Clearly I had to try it and share in the stoke of this relatively new sport.  

I took my first turns on an August day in 1998 on the glacier in Tignes.  I quite literally felt like I was on top of the world. The views were incredible, the snow was soft and the sun was blazing. Amongst those endless horizons my outlook completely changed.  

With a one track mind I dreamed of making the mountains our home.  8 years later we honeymooned for the winter in Les Arcs. That was my first snowboard season and the start of a new lifestyle that redefined ‘winter’ to mean ‘mountain time’.

How do you make your living in the French Alps?  

I teach yoga in the mountains.

There's a great appetite for yoga amongst the mountain community for all the reasons mentioned above.  Over time we have formed a lovely yoga community with a schedule of weekly classes around Bourg St Maurice and Les Arcs.  I also teach private group sessions, workshops, events and yoga retreats.

I never set out to run a yoga business – I was always motivated to let it unfold organically without any particular business strategy as it was less about making money and more about sharing an authentic mountain yoga experience in compliment to our mountain lifestyle.

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What do you love about living / working here? 

I love:

that it’s a simple life

that nature is boss.  We keep it real.  That’s a welcome detachment from the man-made pace we experience in our cities and towns.  

That we drink wine at lunch time.

The camaraderie, the connection between people with a common love of the mountains and mountain culture. 

Cheese! I love cheese. Especially locally produced by happy mountain cows and goats.

The French language – so sultry, so quirky and so seemingly impossible to master. Teaching yoga in French is a fun way for me to learn. And if all else fails there’s always Sanskrit ….  ;)

I love that we can do yoga outside with such powerful and engaging backdrops - the mountains make the best yoga studios. 

Ski or board? Snowboarding!

Summer or winter? Gah... Both!... I’m probably more a summery kind of girl but I’m going to say winter because winter in the mountains is un-missable.  Where-as I can embrace all the qualities of summer wherever I am.

Favourite yoga move? I don’t have an all-time favourite move. I like to pull shapes that challenge my balance and perspective and I love to play with the feelings that come from being in a yoga pose. In particular the feeling of freedom or float that comes from balancing poses or being upside-down.  These are all in the favourites bag….

Ardha Chandrasana (Half Moon) 

Salamba Sirsasana (Headstand) 

Urdhva Padmasana (Upward lotus pose) 

Adho Mukha Vrksasana (Handstand) 

Astavakrasana (8-angle arm balance) 

Urdhva Dhanurasana (Wheel) 

Also in the favourites bag is a very simple but energising sequence called the Five Tibetan Rites – I was introduced to it in North India in 2006 and ever since it’s how most of my days begin.  It offers a balanced physical warm up with an energizing buzz – my favourite way to start the day. 

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Tell us about .... "SNOWGA"

SNOWGA is a style of yoga that I’ve developed to compliment skiing, snowboarding and the mountain mindset in winter.  The aim is to Move better, Feel better and Slide better by blending teaching points derived from my 3 main passions - Snowboarding, Yoga and Nature.  It’s a dynamic yoga style that integrates movement with breath to create a feeling of flow – much like the flow we vibe with when riding the fall-line in our mountain sports.  

SNOWGA is also a multi-national mountain community. For me it’s all about the people-connection.  Another kind of après-ski.  Another way for locals, foreign residents, seasonnaires and holiday makers to mingle, stretch, decompress and detangle together. To be challenged and inspired by each other.  

www.balancebec.com