This weekend we went to the world’s biggest free beach and watersports festival – and it was amazing.
Set on Hove Lawns in East Sussex, Paddle Round the Pier is an annual festival run entirely by volunteers. It gives charities an opportunity to raise money and spread their message, but the festival also sees scores of people take to the water for either a 2.5km swim or a paddle around the old pier. Surfers, kayakers, paddle-boarders and beach lovers flock to the coast, where food, clothing and watersport outlets set up stalls on the lawns, alongside various marine and conservation charities and live music.
The best bit? The atmosphere. It’s friendly, fun-loving and all about enjoying the ocean – summed up perfectly by their ethos:
‘Spread a little aloha-spirit and have a good time doing it’
We discovered Paddle round the Pier last year and both my boyfriend and I said we wanted to take part next time. Unfortunately, we still don’t have a SUP so we didn’t actually take to the water … next year I swear!!
Despite that, it was still a special day for me. Last week I finally bought my own longboard…
Paddle was its first outing and skating along Hove seafront towards the festival with the sun shining down was an amazing feeling. Plus, I got a lot of compliments on the board too (it’s a Dusters)!
So, one of the first stands we visited at the festival belonged to the Marine Conservation Society. I’ve mentioned this charity briefly on the blog before and I was already a supporter of their campaigns but after speaking to one of their volunteers, I’m even more passionate about the work they do.
Interestingly, the volunteer we spoke to works with woodland conservation – but as he correctly pointed out, ‘if you care about conservation, you care about all conservation’.
Their focus was on plastic pollution and they were highlighting how many years it takes for certain objects to break down.
A plastic bottle for example?
The statistics were bleak, and we began to worry that what we’ve done to our planet is beyond repair. But the MSC team were positive – if anyone can make a change, it’s us and future generations.
Next door to the Marine Conservation Society were Incredible Oceans – the team behind WhaleFest. We met another brilliant volunteer and his passion for the ocean was inspiring– his eyes lit up as he told us about his experiences diving with whales in Tonga.
The Incredible Oceans stand had a number of skeletons on loan from the Brighton & Hove Pavilion museum. From the skull of a bottlenose dolphin to the ear of a sperm whale, as we listened to facts about the creatures theses items once belonged to, I suddenly understood why they’d picked the name Incredible Oceans.
And just like MCS, they also had a focus on plastic pollution. They showed me a little skateboard and told me that it should be my next board. I laughed but then when I looked at the sign next to it, my jaw dropped. The ‘Minnow’ they were showing me was made of recycled fishing nets. It was INCREDIBLE.
We stopped wandering and grabbed a pizza from the Garden Grove Pizzeria. We had a calabrese – which was basically a tomato base topped with cheese (and LOTS of it), sweet red pepper and chilli flakes. The cheese oozed everywhere and we ended up having to roll it like a calzone!
With our bellies full, we continued wandering around. I had stupidly not looked at the weather forecast, and skating into the festival in jeans and a thick t-shirt had left me feeling pretty hot, so we had a browse round some of the clothing outlets.
Passenger, one of my favourite brands, were there and I spent a while ogling their t-shirt dresses and big beach blankets. But then we stumbled across a stand for Gnarly Tree clothing. Cool graphic slogans adorned t-shirts, vests and hoodies and I fell in love with a grey tee adorned with a simple statement reading ‘Single Fin Club’. It looked pretty cool, but then I realised it also read ‘West Wittering Beach’ which isn’t far from where we live. If that wasn’t enough, it was also in the sale.
So I bought it.
After chatting to the guy on the stand, I found out that Gnarly Tree are a local company based in Chichester, West Sussex. They launched just 18 months ago, and all their clothing is ethical and sustainable. They believe that the environment is more important than fast fashion consumption, and that people are more important than profits, while local communities should be valued and supported. As a result, all their clothing is manufactured in sustainable ways and they hand print all their clothing using solvent free inks which have been accredited by the Soil Association. This is DEFINITELY a brand to watch!!
My eyes were also drawn to beautiful jewellery pieces – namely turquoise sea glass necklaces and large shell cuff bracelets. These delights were from Océan Bohème; jewellery designed for free-spirited women who have a passion for the ocean, the environment and boho style. I fell in love with two items in particular – a ring with a beautiful ocean-coloured oval of sea glass, and a long necklace with a chevron shaped pendant. The items just seemed to encapsulate the ocean with everything from their colours to their simple beauty. I had a great chat with the lady behind the brand too – she told me a bit about her work before asking a lot of questions about my longboard, which she loved! I find it incredibly inspiring to meet the people behind small businesses like this – particularly when they are influenced so heavily by their experiences or a passion for the natural world. Océan Bohème is absolutely worth checking out, and I challenge you not to find something you love on the website!
We had about one hour until the big paddle so we began to make our way to the Surfers Against Sewage lecture towards the far end of the festival site. We didn’t get very far before we found ourselves stopping again.
Big classic looking SUP boards were lying in the sunshine, a simple glossy wood design with black rubber grips, adorned with a classic looking logo – Neptune.
We got chatting to the guy at the stand who was super friendly, telling us about taster sessions they run in Eastbourne. Our faces must have fallen because he also said that they’d be happy to meet us ‘at any beach’ if there was a board we were particularly interested in trying out. We lifted one of the boards up and were surprised by how light it was.
But the best bit? The price! For both a board and a paddle, we were looking at less money than some of the basic inflatable SUPs we had been browsing. Neptune boards have definitely caught our attention…
We carried on wandering, and had a quick try of an Indo board on our way to the talk – we’ve seen these so many times now and there were a lot on show at Paddle Round the Pier so we had to try it for ourselves. Luke was pretty good at it (needless to say), but I was glad the bar was there for support!
We finally made it to the Surfers Against Sewage talk, and once more we found ourselves listening to messages about plastic pollution. I wrote about marine litter on the blog not so long ago, but I have always been proud in our beaches along the South Coast. I thought that we had quite clean coastlines.
The regional rep from Surfers against Sewage showed us how much rubbish four volunteers picked up from Hove beach in just 15 minutes the day before. It was shocking.
But looking at things on a wider scale, litter really is a problem. There are 311 mega tonnes of plastic being produced in the world each year. I wonder how much of this actually gets recycled…
In Brighton, one of the biggest problems are plastic straws – handed out with drinks at cafes and bars across the city. Just saying no to a straw would obviously help – reducing the amount we use and also the amount we waste, but actually binning things would solve so many problems! One regional rep has launched a campaign dedicated solely to this cause with the pretty catchy #strawsareforsuckers.
But the biggest thing that has stayed with me, was finding out how long it takes one piece of chewing gum to biodegrade.
One MILLION years.
It’s actually put me off the stuff…
It’s not all bad news though. The 5p plastic bag tax has worked wonders. In 2014, before the tax came in, we were using about 8 billion single use carrier bags. In 2016, (the tax was implemented in October 2015) we used 500 million.
I’ll revisit Surfers against Sewage in a later post and write more about their campaign, but it’s definitely worth checking out their website if you’re interested in more stats.
And finally, it was time for the event of the day – the paddle. There were loads of people in the water, on paddleboards, kayaks, surfboards, body boards – you name it.
But the best thing about it, was that everyone was doing the journey at their own pace. We saw surfers coming out having just completed the paddle, while others were clearly still mid-route. I’m determined to take part next year!
Back on land, we noticed that loads of kids were trying their hand at paddle boarding too – but in a huge pool set up by a local SUP and kite-surfing school. It looked so much fun and I was actually pretty envious that it was just for kids…
So now this brings me on to the last two organisations we spoke to.
Sea Shepherd were showcasing an array of t-shirts and merchandise and we very quickly got chatting to one of their volunteers. I felt really proud by how much we already knew about their campaigns but talking to them made me realise just how big the problems facing the ocean are – from the dolphin drive in Taiji to the horrific ‘traditional’ slaughter of whales taking place in the Fjords, there are so many cruel practices that need to end. These campaigns desperately need more press coverage but this is one time we can be thankful to social media. The volunteer told us that social networking had helped them spread the word about a lot of their campaigns recently, particularly the dolphin hunt in Taiji. The support online can sometimes catch the eye of those in power, and that’s when change can happen.
Last but not least, we spoke to a lovely lady at The Wave Project. I got caught eyeing up their stall, so she beckoned me over. I was amazed to find out that not all of their volunteers have to be competent surfers. Beginners are welcome, as long as you have a passion to help and time to spare. Each group will of course have a trained and competent surfer and swimmer, but it’s mainly about getting children into the water and having fun.
So, I signed up to find out more about becoming a volunteer! Due to my job and my commute, I don’t currently have that much free time, but once we’ve moved into the flat, things might be easier. And even if I only have one day in a fortnight, or in a month, that might be enough to help make a difference.
Because what Paddle round the Pier showed me, is that when people come together and unite for the same cause – whether that’s fighting plastic on our coastlines or working to protect marine species- amazing things can be done.
But equally, when people come together to celebrate something they all have in common – a love for the ocean and the beach – you can have one hell of a brilliant day.