Cal Major, Ocean Plastics Campaigner, Paddleboarder and Vet

Cal Major

What do you consider your greatest achievement?

Stand up paddleboarding 300 miles around the entire Cornish coast last year was my biggest achievement to date. Just over 5 years ago, I had my hip operated on - I went from being a karate black belt, captain of my football team and fit as a fiddle to being told I wouldn't run again. I lost a lot of confidence in my body's physical ability, and talked myself down from doing things, believing I was physically incapable. Discovering I could stand up paddle board was a huge confidence boost, and deciding to take on the challenge around Cornwall was a really big step for me. It ended up being as much of a mental challenge as it was physical; I never doubted I would complete it, but some days am still so amazed I did.

What motivates you to do what you do?

The driving force behind my expeditions is the damage that single use plastic is doing to the oceans. Single use plastic is the stuff that is used for a matter of minutes, often packaging, then thrown away. Relatively little of it is recycled, and that which isn't has the potential to make its way into the oceans, where it pollutes the water, kills wildlife and reduces the ocean's ability to sustain life on Earth. I desperately wanted to find a way to show people the harm it was causing, but more to demonstrate simple things we can all do to limit it, such as choosing a refillable water bottle over single use plastic bottles. I wanted to deliver a positive message, so turned to adventure as my vehicle.

What do you owe your mother?

My mum teaches me compassion and unconditional love. She always has so much love to give and I think this has really affected the way in which I treat other people too. Sometimes, when I find myself in emotional trouble, I think of the love and understanding she would show me, and try and direct some of that compassion inwards. Especially if I'm giving myself a hard time, I try and think of what my mum would say to me in that situation, and how she would see the best in me, not the bad bits that I'm focussing on.

Which women inspire you and why?

There are two types of women that inspire me. The first are those who have a passion, work hard and stand strong for what the are fighting for. Sylvia Earle is a huge inspiration - she has advanced ocean conservancy and inclusion of women in the field of marine research, is intelligent, humble and brilliant.

The second is authentic adventurers and sportswomen. I'm inspired by women who are less interested in how their bodies look, and more interested in how they function. Those who acknowledge their potential, train hard to reach their goals, and are calm and humble along the way. I'm inspired by women who understand that we are all a team, and aren't out to spite anybody else, but to encourage and support their team mates. I love Marie Buchanan who is an amazingly strong and determined UK professional SUP racer, and a really lovely, encouraging and genuine woman! I'm also inspired by Izzi Gomez who is a kick ass pro SUP surfer at the age of 17.

I'm a big fan of Anna McNuff who is a female adventurer who isn't afraid to show us the real bits of taking on big challenges!

What are you reading?

I'm currently reading two books - the No 1 Ladies Detective Agency series which are lovely books, easy to read and fun, based around a pretty cool female protagonist, and The Tide Book which was a gift to me and is a beautifully written description of how the tides in the UK work - they are deceptively complicated!

What gender barriers have you had to hurdle?

I am a veterinary surgeon by day, and this has had some huge gender barriers to overcome, particularly when I was a farm vet when I first graduated. The farmers would take one look at this small, young, female vet and in that moment decide I wasn't capable of doing a good job. From the moment I walked onto a new farm I needed to prove my worth to be treated with any respect. However, as soon as I had performed adequately just the once - a successful caesarean on their prized heifer, a seriously physically challenging twisted uterus correction, or saving their youngstock from a bout of pneumonia, they would welcome me back, send me away with fresh eggs, and bring me warm water to wash up in afterwards (I was told by my male colleagues that the boys only ever got cold water!)

How can the world be made a better place for women?

By women believing in themselves and their abilities. There is so much in society telling women that they have to look or behave a certain way. I wish more women would listen to their intuition and believe in their innate ability in whatever it is that drives them. I have recently been studying mindfulness, which has given me a lot of confidence in listening to my inner teacher and trusting that I know what is best for me. I also think the world would be a much better place for women if we had a bit more love for our fellow females, and less competition that can be so unnecessary and damaging.

Describe your perfect day?

My perfect day would be shared with loved ones for a start - it's great to challenge yourself alone but humans are made for interaction! It would be surfing or stand up paddle boarding in the sunshine, then camping on a remote beach, with a campfire and a bottle of wine!

We've noticed there really aren’t many (if any) statues of women around Cornwall - who would you see remembered?

Ooh that's a tricky one! There are so many women in Cornwall at the moment fighting plastic pollution - Heather Koldewey in Marazion, Claire Wallerstein of Rame Peninsula beach care, and Jill Stott of Clean Cornwall. These ladies have all made a huge impact on the health of our oceans, and continue to do so with humility and cool determination.

Give us a tip?

Don't underestimate yourself. You have all the strength and answers you need. They're not always immediately obvious, but if you give yourself space and time, you will figure out what is truly you, and can give up on that which isn't. Go forth and be the most authentic, beautifully vulnerable, unexpectedly strong person you know you are.

Cal Major is a stand up paddle boarder, surfer, ocean lover and vet. Increasingly upset by the amount of plastic waste she was finding in the ocean, she wanted to connect people to the harm that it was causing, but moreover to empower people to make positive changes to help prevent it. So she turned to adventure and last year stand up paddle boarded the entire Cornish coast in a bid to demonstrate the problems surrounding single use plastic water bottles; a 300 mile epic ocean voyage in overhead swell, gale force headwind, fog, rain and treacherous tides. This year she is circumnavigating the Isle of Skye’s 400 miles of wild and unforgiving coastline on stand up paddleboard to show how we can protect our environment from the threat of single use plastic.