Sophie Hellyer is a surfer, environmentalist, public speaker, wild swimmer, journalist and yoga teacher. Growing up around water, Sophie has seen plastic waste increase and pollute our coastlines. To help protect our oceans, she has changed her lifestyle to reduce her plastic use and impact on the environment. We caught up with Sophie to ask for her advice and thoughts on plastic-free living.
Photography provided by Sophie Hellyer | @sophiehellyer
Tell us a bit about yourself. What first inspired you to become an environmentalist?
I grew up in North Devon and started surfing in my early teens, I competed for a few years, travelling the world - that’s when I noticed the pollution in our oceans. First, it was sewage that I was aware of most, but in the last 5 years you just can’t avoid seeing plastic everywhere.
I have seen first hand what pollution is doing to our marine life. The ocean is my playground and has been my whole life, it is the place I love the most and the place I call home. I knew I had to protect it and promote its wellbeing. Now, for most of the decisions I make I consider the environment first, in my work-life and home-life, whether it is buying chemical-free sunscreen, a plastic-free deodorant or local, organic fruits and vegetables.
You are very open about your own sustainable lifestyle, including the difficulties and the stumbling blocks you’ve had along the way. What do you hope your community will learn from this approach?
Nobody is perfect. Even those on Instagram who seem to have zero-waste life dialled down. Do the best you can with the time and money you have. Maybe this month we can’t afford to buy plastic-free shampoo, or we miss the farmers market and have to buy our groceries at the supermarket. Perhaps our surfboards are made out of toxic chemical plastics and we can’t save for an eco-friendly alternative right now.
We don’t have to be perfect, we just have to do our best - and that is going to look different for everyone. As long as we are aware, we are trying.
You’ve been active with beach clean-ups for a while now - how did you first get involved?
I just started picking up plastic when I was out on a surf. I’d carry it back up the beach, throw it in the boot of my car and take it home to recycle. Now I can’t go to the beach without doing a two-minute beach clean. I find it quite meditative and calming to walk along looking at the ground picking up little bits of plastic - knowing every piece I pick up won’t end up in the belly of a fish or bird
As a surfer, how do you minimise your plastic waste when you are out on the ocean?
Recently, I wrote an article about the ethical conundrums of being an environmentalist AND a surfer. There are a lot. But to help there are a few things I do.
I use Revolwe leashes (made from Yulex and recycled plastics), eco-wax from We Are Others, all my swimwear is by Ecoynl (made from recycled fishing nets and plastic bottles). I quit buying new boards a couple years ago, saving up for a wooden otter board and riding second hand or rent boards in the meantime. All my skincare and haircare is chemical free. I’ve drastically reduced my air miles… but I still fly and I still drive (an old van and I imagine it will be a long time before I can afford an electric vehicle). It’s a journey but I’m doing what I can.
For those out there who want to minimise their plastic waste, or go plastic-free, what one thing would you recommend?
Reusables! I take my water bottle, coffee flask and bamboo cutlery set everywhere. I also take my lunch box now. It’s amazing how much plastic you avoid by carrying the essentials. And it’s so easy to say no to items like disposable drink bottles - especially living in countries privileged enough to have clean drinking tap water.