Growing up on the East Coast of Australia my life has been filled with so much happiness, freedom and good health. Every day the sand beneath my feet connects me to our mother ocean and shapes my day to day life. Whether it’s surfing, fishing, taking the dog for a walk, watching the sun rise over the water, spotting migrating whales from the cliffs or just sitting in the sand with your thoughts. The ocean connects us to nature. The ocean creates meaning to life and a freedom that only those who live by the sea truly get to experience every day. The ocean has given me so many meaningful experiences that have shaped the person I am today and without her, I’d be lost in this world. It makes sense then that one day I woke up and asked myself what have I ever given back for all she has given me?
In the year 2011, my life was turned upside down and I began to lose all sense of happiness and freedom. At the start of the year, my best mate died of a drug overdose and then 6 months later a girl who I had loved since high school was tragically killed. No longer did I wake to happiness and freedom, I was trapped and disconnected, isolated from everything I once believed in and loved. I was completely destroyed and in a very dark place. I stopped working, I started surfing every day and spent many hours on the sand, alone with the demons in my head trying to find an answer, a connection, to find love. Within weeks I had completely changed my views on life, no longer focussed on myself, instead, I focussed on others to wash away the pain. Within just a few months I became the manager of the Lennox Head surf school. I was spending 8 to 10 hours a day in the ocean teaching people about my true love. The ocean once again had healed me and I began to feel happiness flooding back into my body which I shared with others.
One day while doing a lesson with the local kids I noticed a plastic bag float past. I picked it up and put it in my wetsuit. Within 10 minutes I had picked up a handful of plastic straws, a plastic bottle and many different plastic food wrappers, that was now filling my wetsuit. I had to stop the lesson to go to the bin. As I emptied that plastic into the bin I looked at the kids and realised at that moment surfing is more than riding waves, it’s more about the natural environment that surrounds you. It was at this moment I realised as a surfer I have a responsibility to educate others and to give something back for all the ocean had given me.
On July 1st, 2013, I walked away from my home, my car, my job as a surf coach and all that I loved, into an untouched coastal wilderness area near Seal Rocks. I converted a bike trolley, I found at the local tip, into a cart I could walk along the beach and strapped my guitar, a surfboard, a fishing rod and a solar panel to the roof and a few items of clothing inside. I used the solar panel to charge my phone, so I could upload my experience to Facebook, allowing the kids back at home to follow my journey. I took no food or water, no tent, not even a box of matches, as I was determined to survive out there alone, away from everything I’d ever been taught, or die trying. My mum and dad dropped me off on the edge of the national park and for the next few weeks, I struggled through dense bushland and 100-metre-high sand dunes to discover one of the last untouched beaches left on the east coast of Australia. When I pulled that trolley over the last dune onto the beach I collapsed from exhaustion, and lay looking at the sea, completely exhausted but still smiling. As I looked towards the rocky point just meters away I noticed something bright, glowing in the sand and reflecting off the wet rocks. As I sat up I couldn’t believe what I was seeing plastic bottles knee high along the rocks, bags, balloons, straws, lids, plastic pieces, food wrappers, containers, light globes, batteries, plastic pot plants, car panels, fishing line, rope and even believe it or not a flat screen television. All in an area that has no roads, no houses, no people. I broke down and started crying uncontrollably. So how did it get here? Where did it come from? Who is responsible? What can I do?
These questions filled my head as I stood up and although I had not eaten anything for 10 days, at that time, I began picking up the rubbish and walking up to 60km daily with each bag to the nearest bin. I lived on Pigface bulbs that grow in the dunes and pippies I dug from the sand, and occasionally the ocean rewarded me with fresh fish that I cooked on the fire. I found fresh water running off the cliffs and used plastic containers that had washed up on the beach to collect the water. I survived out there for over 80 days alone, losing nearly 50kgs, which is half my body weight, and I removed over one tonne of rubbish by hand that first year.
As I returned to society and entered the small village of Seal Rocks, the locals began asking me questions and within days I was talking at the local schools and being interviewed by surf magazines and the media. However, the questions of how this rubbish had ended up in this remote area still filled my head with sadness and anger. I found myself hiding from the media and connecting and working with marine conservation groups and wildlife centres such as Take 3 for the Sea and Australian Seabird Rescue, to further understand the damage humans are having on our oceans and to answer the questions that were drowning me every day since returning home. Five years later I am regularly doing school presentations about my experiences up and down the coast. Also, I have returned every winter for 60-80 days, to the same area near Seal Rocks, removing rubbish and living off the land, also getting more and more, kids, friends and the local community involved as it is going to take more than one person to remove all that rubbish and to save the world’s oceans. There is no quick fix, no single invention, no miracle, that will save our mother ocean. It’s up to all of us to change our ways by recognising we are all to blame for the rubbish in the sea that directly impacts marine life and shorebirds. We all have a responsibility to do something today before our coastal lives are ruined forever.
So, next time you are looking at photos from your holidays on a tropical island or you are watching the sunrise from the sand before going to work or even as you ride a wave down the line, ask yourself, what have I given back for all the ocean has given me? Do the products I purchase such as food and clothing impact marine life and bodies of water?
Always Remember Earth Comes First!