Words by Lottie Lewis. Photo credits end of page.
Interview: Surfing with Steph Rogers
Steph Rogers has always been environmentally conscious, with a keen interest in the negative effects of fast fashion, but since moving to Cornwall and joining the sustainable crew at Finisterre, her values have expanded to our oceans and leading a more plastic-free lifestyle in order to protect them further. We chatted to Steph about the way surfing has changed her mindset, the people she admires who are pioneering a cleaner, greener world, and the accessible ways in which she leads a more eco-friendly existence.
Tell us a little bit about yourself, why you love surfing and what the ocean means to you…
I guess I’ve always admired surfing but I grew up in Somerset so surfing wasn’t really an accessible sport for me when I was younger. I would give it a go when we visited Devon or Cornwall but those were quite frustrating sessions because you never saw any improvement.
I properly started surfing two years ago when I moved to Cornwall to start an internship with sustainable outdoor brand, Finisterre, who are based in St Agnes. Once I started getting in the water consistently and seeing improvement, I was addicted.
Fast forward two years on, surfing has become a major part of my lifestyle. Surfing is unlike any other sport I’ve done before, once you’re in the water, your life on land almost becomes non-existent, I’m not thinking about anything other than being in the water, any problems are left on the land.
I’m unbelievably lucky to have a strong circle of female friends and surfing is what connected us and made us so close, it’s because of them I love surfing so much. There’s nothing like getting an amazing wave and seeing your best friends waving and cheering you on as you paddle back into the line up.
Do we do enough to protect our seas?
I think most people local to a coastline are really aware of the environment we live in and that it needs to be protected. But there needs to be more education in other parts of the country that might not have such an immediate connection to the ocean, particularly those that come to visit the ocean during tourist season. The amount of rubbish, bodyboards and cheap wetsuits that get thrown away or left on the beach is unbelievable and I genuinely believe that a reason this happens is that some just don’t realise where that rubbish will end up and how catastrophic this pollution is for our oceans.
Has surfing changed your perception on eco-conscious and sustainable living?
I was quite environmentally aware before I started surfing but I was definitely more interested in fast fashion and the negative effects that was having on the environment.
However, since surfing became a part of my life I’m definitely more aware of ocean plastics and more passionate about protecting the ocean.
You’ve spent time surfing in Sri Lanka, Africa and Mexico. What’s your opinion on plastic pollution across the globe, and how does it compare to Cornwall?
The biggest shock for me was when I was surfing in Morocco and we were just paddling out and with every stroke, a new piece of plastic would somehow end up attached to me. I ended up with this small mountain of plastic on top of my board and no idea what to do with it. One of the local surfers paddled over to me and said that he always carries bin bags with him whenever he comes for a surf so that he can take some of the plastic back out of the ocean and I could put my rubbish into one of his bags. I think he saw that I was getting really overwhelmed and a little bit emotional and he just said “you can’t let this ruin your surf otherwise you’ll never have a good time, you just have to enjoy the waves and then collect what you can on your way out, otherwise you’ll be here forever!” By this point my mind was just imploding and I asked him where it came from, he said just behind the hills where we were surfing, there’s a huge collection of landfill because their country just doesn’t have the facilities to cope with the amount of waste they were producing, the rubbish usually stays put but when there’s a large rainfall or a lot of wind, it all flushes straight back into the ocean. I think my heart broke a little bit then and there.
It was the same in Sri Lanka, the amount of plastic pollution was just like nothing I have ever seen before. I asked a friend who lives out there why nothing is done and it was pretty much the same reason as Morocco – these countries just don’t have the facilities to deal with this amount of waste. The alternative that some locals were choosing was to burn the plastic on bonfires which is horrendous because the local community were inhaling these toxic fumes and this will affect their lives later down the line with serious illnesses.
So, I guess in the UK we’re lucky that we do have facilities to dispose of our waste. However, I still think there’s a lot of work to be done and it’s really important to be super aware of how much you’re throwing away. It’s now known that the UK were exporting a lot of waste to China and some other countries like Sri Lanka and Morocco that cannot deal with that amount of rubbish and it ends up being dumped in oceans and rivers.
What do you do personally to help look after the world? Do you have any tips for anyone looking to reduce their plastic waste?
I try really hard to reduce my plastic footprint. I’ll go to the local greengrocers to buy my fruit and veg because it’s nearly all package free, I’m really into refill stores too and doing these small actions just makes me feel good.
I’m also really hot on recycling and I try to make it as easy as possible for the collectors and for when the waste gets to recycling centres. I think a lot of people are under the illusion that all plastics can just be chucked into the plastic recycle bins and it will be dealt with but it’s so much more complex than that. Crisp packets, chocolate bar wrappers and the film plastic that often covers fruit and veg is really hard to recycle and a lot of people chuck this into their plastic recycling thinking that it’s fine – when it’s really not and actually causes a lot of issues in recycling centres when they finally get there. Some of those types of plastics have special deposit centres which need to be sought out rather than just chucking them in with your regular recycling.
I work in sustainable fashion so I’m also really conscious with what I buy, what fabrics its made of and who made it. A really good rule of thumb before you make a new purchase is “am I going to wear this 30 times?” so I always ask myself that before I buy new items.
Female environmental activists such as Belinda Baggs and Leah Dawson are incredible examples of eco-conscious women in surfing. Are there any other female surfers who influence your life?
Easkey Britton is another amazing example of an eco-conscious woman in surfing and she’s one of the only surfers that has been actively working to make surfing more diverse and accessible to women in more conservative countries.
They’re not necessarily environmental but when it comes to female surfers in general, Steph Gilmore really inspires me, she’s such a powerhouse and her style is just so effortlessly beautiful. I also really love Lola Mignot and Honolua Blomfield and the next level that they’re taking female longboarding, they really inspire me to get in the ocean more and to always try and improve my surfing.
Is there anyone else who you think we should be following to help inspire a more eco-friendly lifestyle?
I think Venetia LaManna is a great person to follow on social media. She’s really switched on when it comes to sustainable fashion and she has lots of great tips for alternatives to fast fashion. Her husband (Max LaManna) is also a zero waste chef and she occasionally posts some of their amazing vegan recipes too!
Which environmental charities and companies do you admire that are working towards a more plastic-free world?
eXXpedition (led by Emily Penn) are AMAZING. They’re an all female crew that go out into the field to try and find out more about plastic pollution. They’ve done some shocking research on how microplastics are affecting the human body too, particularly in women.
I think that there are a lot of small companies that are on the way to moving mountains towards a plastic-free world. Bower Collective is one of my all-time favourites – you can purchase everything from natural package free skincare to bin bags to reusable dispensers but I think my favourite feature is that you can purchase laundry detergent and washing up liquid which is sent to you in a plastic pouch but they provide you with a free post returns envelope so you can send that pouch back to them and they reuse it!
I know I work for them but I have to say Finisterre too. I admired their stance on the environment before I worked for them but since being a part of the company that admiration has only grown. I’ve seen first hand how much everyone within the company cares that we do what we can to make our impact on the environment as minimal as possible and being part of that is really special.
And lastly, where’s your favourite place to slide? (Unless it’s a secret!)
Too many!! I really enjoy surfing different spots and I don’t really have a spot that I go back to religiously but recently, I have been enjoying the banks at Gwithian the past couple of weeks.