Having completed the 52 Hike challenge in 2019, Starboard Ocean Ambassador James Kao was looking for a new 2020 mission. So his 52 Beach Clean-Up challenge was born. This article covers James Kao’s 2020 journey in his own words.

A New Challenge

In 2019 I logged 52 hikes to complete a program called the 52 Hike Challenge. After this success I thought, why not do a 52 Beach Clean-Up challenge? I already had experience cleaning beaches on my own and had even organised a few SUP harbour cleanups with friends.

For any challenge there is nothing more motivating than holding yourself accountable to others and documenting your progress. Sharing my journey via social media with a simple chalkboard allowed me to do this. My goal was to clean once per week for an hour. A task that seemed so simple compared to the weekly hikes I had done the year before.

Expect The Unexpected

I started at a good pace but, as I discovered with hiking, you must expect the unexpected. In April 2019 I sprained my ankle hiking in Patagonia and required three months to recover. In March 2020 coronavirus hit America and suddenly, my local beach was closed and I had to stay home. Despite living steps from the beach I could not set foot in the sand. Was this going to put a halt to my 52 beach clean-up challenge?

Fear was gripping the world. Some scientists theorised that the virus may aerosolise in the surf and pose a risk to beach users. All restaurants were shuttered with only take-out or delivery service allowed. Stores banned customers from bringing their own reusable shopping bags. All I could think of was the impending mountains of plastic waste that would soon be entering the oceans and littering the beaches with nobody to clean them up.

Fast-forward three months and it is now June and nearly summer. The U.S. is cautiously reopening and my state has opened the beaches once again. I am back to cleaning up, now armed with a facemask, gloves and hand sanitiser. I am playing catch up now but am sure to be back on track of achieving 52 clean-ups barring future beach access restrictions or personal injuries.

It also cannot go unmentioned, that during my 52 Beach Clean-up Challenge the USA was experiencing serious civil unrest due to a horrific police killing of an unarmed African-American citizen. Violence escalated to the point where many cities were under curfews. This highlights that now, more than ever, there will be no hope of solving the planet’s environmental problems until we building a society of inclusion and address issues of inequality, racism and social justice.

What Next?

Always on the look out for a new challenge, James Kao’s next mission will take him on a SUP expedition around the famous Lake Atitlán in Guatemala. Alongside an international team, he will circumnavigate the South American by SUP while raising awareness of the lakes growing water pollution crisis that is adversely impacting its indigenous Mayan communities. Throughout their journey, James and his team will document the extent of the social and environmental issues they come across as well as engaging in outreach projects like lake trash cleanups and implementing a recycling project.


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