Last April Starboard Ocean Ambassador Wim Pyl set off for a 5 day expedition from Hasselt to Nieuwpoort, Belguim. His goal was to raise awareness of plastic pollution. This year, Wim was joined by his sister Tineke, Severine from Watertrek Foundation, Antoine from Surfrider Foundation and his friend Jan who also did this same trip with him 5 years ago. Let’s take a look at the diary entry from Wim and his team for their Ocean Ambassador Wim Pyl’s Belgian River SUP Expedition Against Plastic.
Day 1 of the Belgian River SUP Expedition Against Plastic
Our first day! Early on Monday morning, Tineke, Jan and I prepare our boards and gear. Importantly, this trip is to raise awareness and got gain media attention. Meaning, that we prepare ourselves for interviews each day. Dedicating a lot of time for Media & Press during our expedition.
After some good interviews, it’s time to enter the first river, the Demer. It’s a challenging first day. Some small dams to cross, the low water level on long stretches and the longest distance of the expedition, 46km, to paddle. However, the weather is good and the sun is shining. To help us with the garbage we collect, we have a car following us to take it in. On the first day, we collect at least 60kg. Including some Coca-Cola waste, a chair, a lot of plastic from farmland and some footballs. Our team also found a fridge, however, to make sure we kept it afloat, we had to leave it behind.
Day 2 of the Belgian River SUP Expedition Against Plastic
Today, we are starting at Aarschot to Mechelen.
After climbing over some rocks under a bridge to get on the water, we are ready to start our second expedition day. From here, Antoine and Severine are joining us. During the next few days, they focus on collecting data. We paddle through the river curves and banks for hours. My mind wanders regularly. Before we know it, the river Demer becomes the Dijle. Again a lot of garbage and plastic today. We find a beautiful old children’s carriage. Unfortunately, it is very heavy and we lose it while trying to get it on the very steep bank after carrying it on Tineke’s board for at least 6km. But all in all a good day.
Day 3 of the Belgian River SUP Expedition Against Plastic
A short trip today, starting in the beautiful centre of Kortrijk and heading over to Zulte. Our first day on the Leie. The wind wasn’t our friend today and we lost a lot of time to plastic collecting. We shifted from a straight stretch of the channel where the wind could easily find us, to find shelter behind bushes and reed. On our way we find polluted spots with garbage, that easily fill up to 4 to 5 full bags. PET Bottles were something we were finding a lot of, so we focused on this. Then, we found one spot where I filled 3 bags full with only PET. More could be taken, however, my board has no more room. My friends are ahead of me and I have a bumper, yes a car bumper on my board. So I load up and continue paddling. A few more kilometres to go, with the waste on my board, before day 3 is over.
Day 4 of the Belgian River SUP Expedition Against Plastic
Zulte to Ghent! We are all looking forward to entering the old historic city centre. On our way, we paddle along beautiful gardens and large villas. This is one of the richest neighbourhoods in Belgium. However, it doesn’t mean it’s cleaner here. People make an effort to clean up but there are a lot of unreachable spots. Among the garbage, I find a nest with young coots and their mother. They use the garbage to make their nest. Is that positive?
The day progresses, and we have gathered enough PET to do something special. We make a snake out of the bottles we found. A snake almost 50 meters long made from 400 bottles. It needs the strength of 3 people to pull it behind our boards. An exceptional view. The snake also has a disadvantage. It takes so long to make the snake that we can no longer paddle into the centre. It’s getting dark and we are not allowed to paddle after sunset. Quite a mental sacrifice but we know we have to focus on the snake today.
Day 5 of the Belgian River SUP Expedition Against Plastic
Our last expedition day, Diksmuide to Nieuwpoort. What a windy day! Wind ahead for kilometres to come. The temperature drops from 18° to 11°. We don’t collect much waste today. Not that there is nothing to pick up but our first goal today is to reach the Nordea. Fortunately, after three-quarters of the trip, the river turns northwest. That means the wind is on our right side. This means we can hide behind the high riverbank. Still, a few km to go, and after a while, we see the waves in the distance. It feels amazing to slowly feel the bumps that become waves. It means we are at our finish point. We paddle past the pier. Just one more turn on the waves to let them push us to the beach.
We did it!
350kg of plastic and other garbage gathered. More than 200km paddled. I love to be on the water, on an expedition. I laughed, I cursed, I met wonderful people, and learned a lot. It was mental exhaustion, more than physical. Hopefully, this makes for a little bit of a more beautiful world.
Thank you Luc and friends for the alcoholic warm-up at the beach. It was very welcome!