Kacie Wallace and Kimberley Sutton launched their standup paddleboards on June 9, the day after World Oceans Day, with plans to paddle the length of the North Carolina coastline.
Their mission, in partnership with the Ocean Recovery Alliance and YOLOboard, is “to make a positive change in the health of our oceans” by raising awareness and promoting positive action regarding plastics. As explained on their website: “Plastic litters our oceans, damages our ecosystems, infiltrates the marine food chain, and kills marine life. We are documenting and sharing the beauty of the North Carolina coastline in hopes of promoting its protection and preservation.” They are also encouraging marinas and parks to take steps ranging from offering refillable water sources to posting educational signs about marine debris and the importance of reducing use of, reusing and recycling plastics.
Kacie and Kim started at Little River Inlet, on the South Carolina line, and followed the Atlantic Intracoastal Waterway (ICW) coastal route, between the mainland and barrier islands, to Cape Fear and on towards Cape Lookout, before making a turn and heading up the ICW to Oriental, on the Pamlico Sound. The next leg of their original plan would have involved paddling a 60-mile stretch of the Alligator River with no support vessel and the prospect of spending a few days in the company of alligators and water moccasins, so they instead shifted their route east to hug the Outer Banks, setting out from the town of Avon, near Cape Hatteras. Day eight’s paddling delivered them 20 miles north, to Rodanthe, but small craft warnings the next day prompted a hiatus in the journey, with 225 miles down, about 75 more to go, and plans to resume paddling on June 22.
The remainder of their adventure will entail a 45-mile paddle along the Outer Banks to the town of Duck, and then final 30-mile push up Currituck Sound to the Virginia border. We caught up with Kacie and Kim during their weather-induced break. —Tom Fucigna
SUP mag: When did you come up with the idea for this adventure?
Kacie: Kim and I were driving back from the Chattajack race in Tennessee (a beautiful 31-mile paddle down the Tennessee River) and thought it would be fun to paddle the coast of NC. As we contemplated it further, it became very clear, very quickly, that we wanted to do it in partnership with Ocean Recovery Alliance and somehow tie in our interest in protecting the coastline we both love.
SUP mag: Did anything in particular motivate you on the plastics front?
Kim: Studying Marine Biology in college really opened my eyes to the negative affects we are having on our oceans, and how much of a problem plastic pollution is. Since then, I’ve continued to learn about the problems our oceans face and the efforts being made to address them. I’ve also tried to make changes in my own life, like paying attention to my own use of plastic, and how much trash I generate, reusing and/or recycling whenever possible.
Kacie: I became involved in the plastics issue a couple years ago when I learned of the work of Doug Woodring and the Ocean Recovery Alliance. Doug has been using his interest in open water swimming and adventure, combined with his education and business background, as a means to raise awareness about the increasing problem of marine debris and the need for innovative solutions to address plastics around the world.
I was an open water swimmer at the time and emailed Doug out of the blue to say how much I appreciated what he was doing. I then began to pay attention to my own plastic use, the abundance of it around me, and the trash that litters everything, everywhere. I stayed in touch with Doug, and was soon asked to be an Ambassador for the Ocean Recovery Alliance, which essentially is a fancy title for doing what I love to do – going on water adventures and inviting others to join in the mission to better manage plastics and prevent ocean pollution.
SUP mag: Did you plan the trip and then connect with sponsors?
Kacie: The whole thing has been pretty organic, both in planning and sponsorship/support. We view everyone who has helped us as partners. From the beginning, we wanted to make clear that this paddle was not about us, but about building a community along our coast who cares about the health of our oceans. We also decided early on that we did not want to make it a fundraising campaign, although we did want to figure out how to do it without the cost being prohibitive. We advertised for help from a support boat to carry supplies and one on which we could sleep at night in order to save cost and increase our flexibility in how far we paddled each day. Several people approached us, indicating that they were not able to offer a boat, but would like to help. We continued to have similar offers and because of the generosity of so many who offered goods, gear and money, we decided that whatever money exceeded the expenses of the trip would go towards the Ocean Recovery Alliance. In addition, we had offers from nutrition and gear retailers, and individuals, friends and family who have helped with nutrition, clothing, a 14′ board for Kim (we both wanted to be on 14′ boards and her personal board is a 12’6″), the Spot Tracker, and publicity.
We also sent messages to marinas, asking them to share with us any initiatives they were taking to manage plastics. The first response was from River Dunes Marina, near Oriental. They are part of the North Carolina “Clean Marina” program, were excited about our mission and offered us to stop and stay along the way. We had similar offers from other marinas to connect us with boats, and supportive messages from owners and dock masters.
At every turn, individuals, paddle shops, kiteboarders, marinas, boaters, paddlers, friends and strangers have offered meals, stopovers, boats, publicity, beds, and encouragement.
SUP mag: How long have you been paddling SUP, and what’s your water-background?
Kim:I grew up on Trinidad, in the Caribbean, and spent a lot of time in and around the ocean. I’ve loved being in salt water for as long as I can remember. I swam on my school’s swim team as a kid, and learned to surf (kinda, more like, I dabble) in college. I first got on a standup paddleboard in the summer of 2010, when friends offered to let me try one after their son came back from a vacation where he first tried it. Immediately I loved it, and I’ve been hooked ever since.
Kacie: I have been paddling since 2011. I was a competitive swimmer since age four through college, had a brief stint as a triathlete (or better said, I did a few triathlons) around 2007-2008, and then began doing open water swims. I competed on the east coast and around the island of Bermuda, and did a SwimTrek around the islands of Gozo and Malta.
In November 2010, I had a dream where I saw myself on a paddleboard, paddling across a channel in Hawaii, although had never seen a paddleboard. A random conversation three weeks later led me to YOLOboard. I emailed Jeff Archer, the founder/owner of YOLOboard, and told him about my dream. He welcomed me to come down to their headquarters in Florida to try out SUP. I flew to Florida, paddled at three YOLO shops, and was hooked. I spoke with Jeff on my way home and he invited to me to be on the YOLOboard race team. When I asked what would be expected of me, he said that all I needed to do was to live my life on and off the board with the “You Only Live Once” philosophy, and to smile every time I crossed a finish line. Done. Two months later, YOLO brought my first board, a teal green Predator, to the 2011 inaugural Carolina Cup at Wrightsville Beach, and I have been very happily, and proudly, part of the YOLO family since.
SUP mag: It sounds liked you’ve encountered great support during your journey.
Kacie: I have been overjoyed by how connected the water family is. From the YOLO family to Kim (who I met paddling in Wrightsville Beach last summer), and all the insanely generous people we’ve met along our coastal paddle, it’s as if no words are needed. It’s simply a universal family of people who open their hands, hearts and homes to anyone who shares that connection to the water.
Kim: I agree. The community of people tied to the water is incredible. We’ve seen examples of this over and over again during our paddle. I’m so thankful to be a part of it.
SUP mag: Do you feel this approach is working to raise awareness?
Kacie: Yes. As this paddle has unfolded, we have both been overwhelmed by the number of people who have shared anecdotes of personal changes they made regarding plastic use, committed to taking on their own water adventures, or said that weren’t aware the problem was so big, and those who are already advocates and want to partner. It has been a really fun opportunity to both raise awareness and build partnerships with other ocean advocates.
Doug shared a post on our Facebook page saying, in part, that, “An ocean advocate is a self-dedicated ambassador for the sea” who “motivates and inspires members of the community to be part of the ‘ocean team,’ sometimes without them even knowing it.” Kim and I both feel fortunate to be part of the “ocean team,” and even more fortunate to have found so many other teammates along this journey.
SUP mag: Do you want to keep going?
Kacie: Absolutely. What that means will likely be similar to this rest of this adventure – organic in nature. We have talked a lot about what it means to “keep going.” The options are wide open. We hope to keep the Facebook page going as a forum for the growing “ocean team” to learn from and share posts about ocean health, adventure, and managing plastics. We will do whatever we can to support others as they take on their own adventures and challenges. We want to promote the NC Clean Marina program and enhance the plastic management piece of it, and we want to be better in our own lives in how we use plastics.
We will continue to be grateful for the opportunity to live in North Carolina and have such a beautiful coastline on which to paddle, and we will continue to be open to whatever opportunities present themselves.