Bahamian kitesurfing around Britain to raise awareness on plastics in ocean
By Royston Jones
Islay Symonette, and her partner, Stew Edge, will spend the next 100 days kitesurfing approximately 3,000 nautical miles to get around the coastline of Britain.
This is a feat reserved for few, but for Symonette, 33, who resides and works in the United Kingdom, this is more than a challenging adventure; it is a way of raising awareness about the amount of plastic ending up on beaches around Britain.
Speaking to The Nassau Guardian, following approximately eight hours of kitesurfing, Symonette explained that the idea was born from her love of the extreme sport and a keen desire to do something about the man-made pollutants that reach the ocean.
As a part of the project, they are also raising funds for two charities in the UK – the Armada Trust Kite and SUP Youth Tour, and the Marine Conservation Society.
Symonette is the daughter of Minister of Financial Services Brent Symonette.
Symonette, a computer engineer and problem solver for an IT firm, explained that Edge has continued to push the envelope of the human experience – from climbing Mount Everest to snowkiting in the South Pole.
Around 800 people attempt to climb the more-than-29,000 feet mountain located in the Himalayas per year.
“When he climbed Everest, I moved onto a 100-year-old barge on the Thames and that was my adventure. It was really fun,” Symonette said.
“And when he did the South Pole, I moved to New York to spend some time there and experience the big city. So, I did my own mini adventures while he did his big ones.
“We were waiting at the airport on a delayed plane and we kind of said, ‘Okay, what’s next in life?’
“And I said, ‘One second, I want to do a big adventure’.
“We actually talked about kitesurfing around The Bahamas because one of my dreams is to see every single island.
“That would be fun and there are a lot of them.
“Growing up, we used to spend all of our holidays island hopping.
“When we discussed it, we said we can do that when we’re 80 and retired because it’s nice and warm.
“I wanted to do something that I cannot do when I’m old.”
According to Symonette, who refers to herself as an “island girl when it comes to the temperature”, the planning for the project took 18 months.
“We have been kiting for around 14 years now,” she said.
“… I run into work every day, so when I was working, for me, that was my exercise.
“It always meant that when I arrived at work, I was bright and ready to start the day, rather than most colleagues, who stumbled in, in need of their coffee.
“I’ve done two marathons; Stew has done similarly, so I think it is just general fitness.
“A lot of the kiting is done with levers, so you use your body as a lever to counterbalance the kite, so there shouldn’t be too much physical exertion.”
Her day starts around 7 a.m.
Before getting in the water, her team reviews the wind and touches base with the Coastguard.
She is in the water by 9 a.m. and wraps up around 5 p.m.
Some days involve waiting for a couple of hours in the water to allow the wind to pick up.
A 45-foot support boat follows them, and doubles as their home for the next few months.
Apart from the physical and mental stamina it takes to kitesurf for up to 10 hours per day, there are logistical and navigational challenges.
In the last week when crossing the Thames Estuary, where the River Thames meets the waters of the North Sea, Symonette and her team were faced with a decision: kite through a large-scale wind farm or veer around it – the latter of which would have meant another two to three hours on the water.
In line with her daring nature, she decided to kite through the wind farm, weaving around the turbines, avoiding the lines and the kite getting entangled.
So far, Symonette said she and her team have been fortunate.
“I think England is having one of its warmest summers ever, so I am very happy with that,” she said.
“On the first 100 km-day, the wind was blowing more southernly, and it was like, wait one second, where is that warm air coming from? It was really noticeable, the temperature difference from the different directions. Obviously, if it is coming from the north it is a lot colder.”
Symonette and her team can be tracked online in real-time at www.glympse.com/!kitebritain.
Her blog on www.kitebritain.com chronicles her progress, inclusive of photos and video.
Symonette and her team were featured in a BBC report this month while harbored in Great Yarmouth.
As of yesterday, the team was near Yarmouth.
Symonette and Edge, who both kitesurf, are supported by two other colleagues – Joe McIvor and Symonette’s cousin, Jeremy Pleydell-Bouverie.
Since April, they have kitesurfed more than 362 nautical miles.
Symonette said when Blue Planet, a British nature documentary series on marine life produced by the BBC Natural History Unit, was released last year, people became more attuned to the issues surrounding ocean pollutants.
Growing up, Symonette said, she was always accustomed to cutting six pack rings, for example, before disposing of them so as not to entrap marine life.
She said there has also been a big push to reduce the use of single-use plastics in recent years.
“Some simple things like bringing your own water bottles,” Symonette said.
“All of my office colleagues now do a coffee round and they all bring their reusable cup.
“We each have a different colored cup and we all know what colored cups everyone has.
“It’s very easy, and we have a dishwasher, so you reuse your cup.
“But, there is so much more we can do as a community and we [need] to raise awareness because a lot of it ends up in the sea.
“Every day we’ve gone out, and some days there are big pieces of plastic that we have to go around even when we’re kiting, and that breaks down, and sea creatures eat it, and it’s truly upsetting.
“Hopefully, through this trip, we’re hoping to kind of raise awareness.”
Pollution prevention and waste management is a critical global issue.
Kite Britain has raised £6,945 or six percent of its £100,000 goal as of this week.
In April, the Bahamian government signed a memorandum of understanding focused on the elimination of single-use plastics and styrofoam containers for food and beverages, by 2020.