ONE MAN’S TRASH

Finding this “weird little hobby” of his out of “pure luck,” Joe finds a deep sense of calm as he drifts each day, hunting for trash to haul away on his SUP. Each on the water session is like a treasure hunt of sorts, a treasure hunt that becomes a puzzle once he has to find a way to fit everything onto his board and paddle back to shore. While many would much rather their paddle session be just that—time spent out on the water—Joe prefers to get his hands dirty. “I’m not a marine scientist, environmentalist, or conservation specialist. I’m not a subject matter expert, but I’m fairly certain we shouldn’t expect animals to clean up our mess. It has to be us humans.”

Of course, in an ideal world, we never let trash get to our waterways in the first place. “But that isn’t my mission,” states Joe, adding, “My mission is direct, tangible action because that’s how I’m wired. Understanding my own strengths and weaknesses, I know that my interpersonal skills aren’t suited for campaigning, lobbying, or convincing folks about the importance of prevention. I can only hope my work in the trenches will inspire someone else to take on the prevention challenge.”
But Joe isn’t looking for recognition for being a good Samaritan. His motivations are simple. “I'm collecting trash. No agendas. No shaming. No finger-pointing,” he states. “I do what I do because trash is an eyesore in nature.”

BEAST OF A BOARD

When Joe first began his clean-up efforts, he hadn’t really used social media or Instagram before. “It was very naive of me to think my litter picking efforts would be something new to the world,” he says. But once he started posting under the handle @sup.garbage.man, he realized he was “one of many folks already working to clean up.” In order to stand out from the crowd—and the trash—he focuses on unique images showcasing not only his massive garbage hauls, but also amazing sunrises and the occasional yoga pose amidst a milk crate overflowing with plastic bottles. Of course, also showcased in his photos is his trusty iROCKER board.

Affectionately referring to his board as a “beast,” Joe bought his first iROCKER after realizing an inflatable board was crucial to his work on the water. “Using my hard surfing SUP, I cringed every time I needed to paddle up to a rocky shore. The inflatable board put an end to my cringes for rocky beach landings,” he states. Additionally, “the board’s high weight capacity is essential,” says Joe. “I’ve hauled multiple loads of 250 lbs. or more (large tractor trailer tires, barrels filled with water, buckets of concrete, dislodged and broken buoys, etc.). Add to those loads my body weight of approximately 180 lbs. and I’m paddling a heavy load. And I’m still not afraid of sinking my iRocker,” he says. Joe finds the rear handle especially handy when launching a board weighed down by the day’s haul, and uses the board’s D-rings to keep his crates secure in bumpy waters.

MAKING AN IMPACT

Having spent his childhood on the water, Joe gained an appreciation for the sense of freedom that comes from being afloat. His SUP Garbage Man efforts have become his way of paying respect to the waterways that have shaped his life. “In the end, I enjoy the freedom that comes with being on the water, hunting for trash just adds to the adventure,” he says.
As of February 2022, Joe has collected a volume of trash equivalent to about 3,900 cubic feet. “To give you a visual of what that amount looks like, it’s roughly the same size as a city bus or more than would fill 10 standard dump trucks,” he states. “I firmly believe that any one person can use their passions and interests to better our planet. I always say, ‘Don’t make a drastic change in your life, use your life to make a drastic change in the environment.’”

While he emphasizes that he works solo to showcase the impact just one person can have, Joe is all for others initiating their own clean-up efforts. For those that feel inspired to help, he offers these tips:

  • As with any paddle boarding activity, safety comes first when it comes to cleaning trash out of your local waterways.
  • Only take on what is commensurate with your SUP skill level and experience in/around water.
  • For SUP beginners, start small until you gain experience. Rather than attempt a large-scale clean-up effort, start by grabbing an item or two while out paddling.
  • For those that have some SUP experience, Joe recommends a collapsible bin such as a laundry bin to store trash on your board. That way, should you fall onto it, it will collapse.
  • Buy a grabber stick to reach things in the water.
  • Look in places where you see sticks and leaves bunched up along the shore. If leaves and sticks gather in that spot, there is a good chance trash will too.
  • Have a plan for what to do with the trash you collect. A trash bin near where you launch could be an option but be aware that the trash you put in that can may fill it prematurely. This could lead to others not being able to get their trash securely in the can. Trash stacked on top of a public bin can be blown away by wind or animals and taken right back to the river.

To learn more about Joe and see a list of his most unique and notable finds (a vial of blood!), visit supgarbageman.org or follow him on Instagram@SUP.Garbage.Man