You have no doubt encountered litter on one or more of your SUP outings, whether it be on the beach, along the shoreline, or even in the water. It is sad and discouraging to see but there is something we can do about it! I sat down with Rochelle Byrne, Executive Director and Founder of A Greener Future, and Robin Pacquing, Founder and Community Leader of Lake Surfistas, to ask them for their tips on cleaning up the water while on a SUP board and what we can do to further support the environment. Check out litter cleanup event details, then dive into my conversations with our co-hosts below!  

Get involved: ‘SUP’ With Litter river cleanup event Aug 20!

As avid paddleboarders, we at Thurso Surf love the water. The water is where we play, recharge, move, and explore. Without water, there is no standup paddleboarding. That is why we are proud to be partnering with A Greener Future and Lake Surfistas, along with support by event sponsor ROXY, to host a paddleboarding litter cleanup of the Humber River in Toronto, Ontario, Canada. Cleverly titled SUP With Litter?, the event will take place on August 20, 2021. Click on the link to register. 

Two women paddleboard on Lake Ontario with the Toronto skyline in the background

Rochelle Byrne on her journey across Lake Ontario, accompanied by Talia of Towards the Adventure on her Thurso Waterwalker

Rochelle Bryne, A Greener Future: “I Want to Feel Surprised If I See Garbage in the Lake”

Rochelle Byrne knows a thing or two about cleaning up the water on a SUP board. In 2020, she paddled 430 km across Lake Ontario to raise awareness about plastic pollution and its impact on the water. The idea was born out of necessity; with the COVID-19 pandemic, Rochelle wanted to find a way that she could draw attention to what was happening in the lake within the constraints of the lockdown. Her efforts were captured in a documentary titled SHORELINE: The Paddle Against Plastic, which is set to premiere this fall. The experience was eye opening for Rochelle: “Lake Ontario is way more polluted than I ever thought. From the shore, you see the debris that washes up but when you are out there on the water, there is a lot of raw sewage, algae blooms, and smells, as well as dead fish and birds. It’s really heartbreaking to know that is the condition of our lake and our drinking water.”

Rochelle Byrne of A Greener Future with event participants

Rochelle is all smiles after completing her journey across Lake Ontario

Rochelle has a few tips for those looking to do a SUP litter cleanup of their own, as well as becoming more active in the fight against water pollution. 

Less is More

When doing a cleanup, Rochelle recommends keeping your gear minimal. As you already have your board and paddle, you don’t want to saddle yourself with too much extra gear. A litter picker or hook and a flat bin for garbage is all you really need: 

“Less is more; you don’t want a whole bunch of gear. I have a litter hook on my paddle that acts as a little scooper. But it’s easiest to just kneel on my board and use my hands, depending on what I am trying to pick up.” 

Safety First

During her journey along Lake Ontario, Rochelle had to be mindful of keeping herself on board. You can easily get distracted when chasing down a discarded water bottle, but don’t forget about your safety: 

“Making sure you are staying safe, and not falling off your board when you are trying to grab something is really important. When I was paddling across [Lake Ontario], there were some things that I just couldn’t reach. It’s not worth falling overboard and losing everything on your board. Just being conscious of your environment is really important.”

Beyond the SUP Cleanup

Picking up litter is a great way to start cleaning up our waterways. But what else can we do off the water? Rochelle has some great advice for those who want to take their efforts a few steps further. 

Keep Learning

Rochelle’s top tip is all about awareness. There are so many ways you can be informed and educated about the issues that impact our water and our environment:

“The number one thing that anyone could do is keep learning. If we don’t know about these things, then we really can’t fix them. Read books and articles online and watch YouTube videos and documentaries.  Keep up on current events, new studies and research about the environment, and new inventions and innovations that help combat climate change. Stay in the loop and educate yourself so you know what is going on and are aware of different ways to help.”

Get Involved

Actions speak loudly. There are so many ways you can get involved. Volunteer for organizations doing good for the planet. Flex that activism muscle by attending your local town halls and having discussions with your community:

“Being involved is so important, whether that is going to a litter cleanup or hosting your own. There’s lots of other environmental events, whether it is tree planting or raising funds for environmental organizations. Attend a town hall to get environmental issues on the agenda and have those conversations in your community. Show support by circulating and signing petitions.”

Know That Every Bit Counts

It might be discouraging to take on these problems as individuals but collectively, our actions add up. We can make our voices heard and push larger forces into action:

“Picking up garbage is just one part of what A Greener Future does but prevention is just as important. I think it really comes down to putting pressure on corporations and the government to do their part as well. All these things add up to move us forward. Not everyone needs to be an environmentalist but everybody can do their part to make a little bit of change. I think learning and taking action in your own way, that combo, is one way to really make sure that each individual is pushing the needle forward in a way that is manageable to them.”

A swan sits on the shoreline, surrounded by litter

Litter ends up everywhere and affects the habitats of all living creatures, including those who depend on the water and the shoreline.

Robin Pacquing, Lake Surfistas: “Whatever You Do On Land Affects the Water”

Robin Pacquing is passionate about the Great Lakes, having lived near Lake Ontario her whole life. She is a community leader and an accomplished surfer, co-founding and leading Lake Surfistas, a grassroots group of women who surf and SUP the Great Lakes year round. Robin is a Paddle Canada certified SUP instructor and offers lessons via her business Taga Lawa (Tagalog for “from the lake”). She was recently profiled on Patagonia’s website and Instagram.

Robin Pacquing stands behind the Thurso Surf Waterwalker 120

Robin after trying out the Waterwalker 120 on some Lake Ontario waves

Here is what Robin has to say to all the paddleboarders looking to clean up their waterways. 

Pick Up Every Time You Go Out

Robin has made a habit of picking up trash whenever she goes out for a surf or SUP session. She keeps it manageable by picking up what she can and not getting overwhelmed by doing a full cleanup. Get into a routine of picking at least one piece of litter every time you get out on the water. Small actions add up:

“I keep it as simple as possible.  I only have two hands, so I can’t pick up everything. But every time I walk along the shore, I just pick up some trash and recycle it where there is the closest receptacle. When I’m out on my SUP board, I try to find bits that will stay on the board. If I’m surfing, it is harder. I don’t want to say I pick up stuff all the time, but I pick it up 90% of the time.”

Know When to Leave it 

Sometimes Robin will encounter something she can’t pick up, due the amount of trash, size, or the hazard involved. Fortunately, there are solutions for this:

“Be prepared to not throw away [some] stuff. There are days where I’m just like “I can’t deal with this right now” because there is so much of it. I try to be as realistic as possible. If there’s a site on a beach with a lot of garbage I will call the city to come pick it up, especially if there are hazardous materials like needles.” 

A plastic bag floats in Lake Ontario

Single-use plastic bag found floating in the water

Beyond the SUP Cleanup

Robin also shared what she does to support the environment when she is not on her SUP or surfboard.

Bring it Home

Sometimes your park or beach or launch spot doesn’t have the necessary trash receptacles. Instead of leaving it behind, consider taking it with you:

“Ontario Parks are at capacity and overwhelmed with maintenance. Every time I go to these parks, I incorporate the “in-and-out”; I never throw out stuff at the parks. Rather, I bring it with me and it gets disposed of at home. And I never litter. I get so mad. I am that lady who yells at people. I will see people toss their single-use coffee cup on the ground and I’m like “Hey! What are you doing! Get it back!””

Make Conscious Choices

Our everyday choices and actions add up. Robin does her best in her day-to-day life and encourages others to follow suit. Remember, it’s about progress, not perfection:

“I never buy water bottles if I don’t have to. Bringing my own forks, straws, and reusable water bottles and containers [instead of using single-use items] has been part of my daily life for a long time. Having a house of children, it’s hard to not have single-use plastics in this house. It’s a struggle for many families and it’s a struggle for this family. Convenience tends to take over, especially with busy schedules. I just try to do my best to make sure whatever single-use plastics are purchased for the house gets recycled accordingly. I try to do as much as I can.”

It Is All Connected

Whether we are aware of it or not, how we live on the land inevitably affects the water. It is something we need to be conscious of. Smarter choices lead to cleaner water:

“Whatever you do on land affects the water. Your choices on land and what you do here most certainly flows and seeps back into the water. What you consume and how you communicate and how you dispose of your stuff will affect the water. It may not affect it directly, but your example here will help and set it to others.” 

Microplastics found along the shoreline

Microplastics found on the shoreline


We hope you have found this post helpful and have picked up a few tips you can incorporate into your own SUP routine, along with ideas for your day-to-day life. Join us for ‘SUP’ With Litter? on August 20th if you can, or use Rochelle and Robin’s suggestions to organize a cleanup in your own area. We hope to organize more of these events in the future, so stay tuned! 

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About the Author: Jordan-na

Jordan-na Belle-Isle is a Toronto-based SUP instructor, lake surfer, and writer. Born in Montreal, she has been sporty her whole life and discovered stand-up paddleboarding in 2013. Since then, she has been active in the SUP scene, paddling and surfing the Great Lakes year-round. Jordan-na is a patient and encouraging instructor. She obtained her first SUP instructor certification in 2017 and has been teaching ever since. She has worked with Surf the Greats and Toronto Island SUP, running everything from group classes, to one-on-one training, to winter SUP safety clinics, to team-building events for clients and partners such as Google, Brown Girl Outdoor World, L’Oreal, Swim Drink Fish, and Ryerson University. She currently holds an Advanced SUP Instructor certification with Paddle Canada and is Bronze Cross certified with the Ontario Lifesaving Society. A recognizable face in the Great Lakes SUP and surf scene, her image has been used in a national campaign for Tourism Canada and she has been interviewed by several media outlets such as SUP Connect, Breakfast Television, Daily Hive News, and the Toronto Star. She was also the subject of a short documentary film titled ‘In Winter.’ A skilled writer with a masters degree from the University of Toronto, her work has appeared in Explore Magazine and she is a regular contributor to the Thurso Surf blog and Surf the Greats Journal. She is a co-organizer for Lake Surfistas, a grassroots group that connects, empowers, and educates women who surf and SUP the Great Lakes year-round.


  1. Sumalia December 29, 2021 at 9:21 pm - Reply

    Great post. I will be experiencing a few of these issues as well..

    • Matt G. December 29, 2021 at 11:31 pm - Reply

      No doubt! Unfortunately, waterways everywhere need our help. Hopefully we can all make a difference in 2022!

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