Dave Ludgate: Cork’s eco-SUP warrior

I have been a member of my local clean up group for a few years, and as we do monthly clean-ups on the public walkways that are adjacent to the river and harbour – it made sense to combine the two and start removing some of the floating debris in the water on my board.

Words & pics: Dave Ludgate

Cork-based Dave Ludgate loves a sweep around his local patch. Even better is if he can be doing some good at the same time. Utilising his trusty FatStick stand up paddleboard, Dave (aka Subowti on social media) has taken it upon himself to clean up Irish waterways. We caught up with DL to find out more.

As far back as I can remember, I have always been fascinated with water. We need it to survive, it covers roughly 70% of our planet, and we are made up of over 50% water. What amazes me about it is that when no forces act on it, it is so peaceful and serene; who doesn’t love paddling across a mirror-like surface and creating the only ripples on the water? However, when forces such as wind and gravity act on water, the effects can be devastating – like giant waves and all-destroying floods.

That being said, I was terrified of the sea when I was younger. I can remember my first trip on a boat outside of our harbour and being clung to the mast and wanting to go back to dry land. A local beach we used to spend our summers at had a small river to cross to get to. I used to get “the feeling” when crossing the river (about a foot deep) and insist that one of my parents come and carry me, even though they were already laden down with cool boxes, toys and windbreakers, all to keep us happy! My family still like to remind me about that decades later.

Through my parents, I learned to love the sea, with a healthy fear and respect, of course. My parents were water people; they loved the beach and boating. We actually spread their ashes in the sea, strengthening my bond with the sea further. My Dad windsurfed back in the 80s, and I can still remember his gear back then – a giant longboard, triangle sail, and an over the shoulders trapeze harness. My Dad got me into windsurfing when I was a teenager, and through that, I discovered SUP years later as a perfect alternative for when the wind doesn’t blow… I was hooked!

I have been a member of my local clean up group for a few years, and as we do monthly clean-ups on the public walkways that are adjacent to the river and harbour – it made sense to combine the two and start removing some of the floating debris in the water on my board. It also gives me the perfect excuse to spend more time on the water, and there’s no shortage of things for me to find.

Strange finds
Condoms, needles, sanitary products, nappies – all used – are just some of the things I have found floating in the water. I have found bikes, wheelie bins, political posters and gas cylinders. I have found a baseball cap from a yacht club in Sydney, a plastic packet of crisps from decades ago and even one of those cool reflectors for your bike that you used to get free in your breakfast cereal. I once found a brick-shaped object wrapped in many layers of duct tape and – after watching far too many crime shows – thought I had found my retirement fund… it turned out to be newspaper wrapped in tape; who does that?

The range of items is endless, and each holds a story. For example, the pregnancy test kit I found, I’m guessing that the person who discarded that item had bigger things on their mind than worrying about litter; I hope they got the result they were looking for from the test. Again, I imagine that all of the beer bottles, cider cans and empty bottles of spirits come from someone for whom littering is down the list on their priorities. The hypodermic needles speak for themselves. Everyone’s got their cross to bear, and deeper societal issues play a part in some of the litter I find.

Take-out food and drinks
However, the BBC recently reported that when more than 12 million pieces of litter found in and around rivers, oceans, shorelines and the seafloor were studied by researchers, eight out of 10 items listed were made of plastic. Of that plastic litter, 44% related to take-out food and drinks. We’ve all seen them; plastics bottles, single-use coffee cups, burger wrappers, cans… the list goes on. This type of litter I tend not to be so understanding about. There is NO excuse for this; if you can carry your takeaway food and drink somewhere, you can carry the empty wrappers back, and if there’s no bin – you bring it home. 

According to the Plastic Soup Foundation, an estimated 3% of all plastic produced in the world ends up in the ocean. Over time, this plastic breaks down into smaller and smaller pieces. Some sink to the bottom; some are suspended in the water column and, there is also a portion that remains afloat. Gyres in the oceans have a high concentration of plastic waste, but these are not islands of floating plastic as some may think. The vast majority of these plastic particles can barely be seen with the naked eye because they are microplastics (smaller than five millimetres).

‘Leave no trace’
Surfonomics is the value that surfing brings to an area. When surfers (or SUP boarders, windsurfers, kiteboarders etc.) frequent an area to pursue their hobby, the local economy will benefit. Local businesses will benefit from the extra custom. Those who visit these areas are responsible not to degrade the area and adopt a ‘leave no trace’ mentality. Some take it a step further and organise clean-ups at the local put-in.

The good news is that there are things everyone can do. Although the most impactful steps we can take to avoid a climate disaster must happen at the governmental level, you have the power to effect change as a citizen, a consumer, and an employee or employer. The market is ruled by supply and demand, and as a consumer, you can have a considerable impact on the demand side of the equation.

It is essential to remember that, while individual actions are crucial to change the mindset and to realise your power as a consumer, all of these actions will be futile if governments and corporations do not change in the right direction also. A report published in 2017 showed that 100 companies were responsible for 71% of global emissions between 1988 and 2017.

In the meantime, next time you’re out on your paddleboard, take inspiration from Lizzie Carr and Cal Major and grab a few bits of litter. Personally, and from a selfish perspective, it’s a great excuse to spend more time on the water, and I sleep like a baby at night!

What you can do…

As a citizen

  • Green investment – if you are fortunate enough to have a pension, check what it is investing in.
  • Join a local conservation group – SAS – Surfrider – Save the Waves – Clean Coasts – Sea Shepherd – Greenpeace, there are loads, or you could start your own.
  • Lobby local councillors/national government to install greener initiatives. It may sound old-fashioned, but letters, emails and phone calls to your elected officials can have a real impact.
  • Rewild your garden (I call it lazy gardening!) – add bird boxes, bee hotels, pollinator-friendly plants and/or grow your own veggies.

As a consumer

  • Shop local.
  • Reusables – keep cups, water bottles, lunch boxes, cutlery, straws, flasks, a Kelly kettle etc.
  • Travel – electric cars – ride share – walk or cycle (the most efficient form of transport).
  • Power – try to use renewable energy suppliers – install a smart thermostat – buy efficient appliances.

As an employee or employer

  • At work – encourage bosses to buy/invest green – companies buy many things, from vehicles for corporate fleets to the materials used to build and renovate their buildings and the electricity to run them.


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