Cal Major is a vet, ocean advocate and world-record stand up paddleboard adventurer who founded the UK charity Seaful to reconnect people to the ocean. In this column, she explains what the term 'home' means to her.
What feelings does this word evoke for you? For me, the first thing I think about is walking into my little house by the sea, shutting the front door and knowing I’m safe. It’s a feeling of comfort, knowing everything I need is right there. A feeling of welcome solitude, a place to rest and reset. I imagine taking a deep breath as I sit on the sofa and look out at the ocean, feeling held, like melting into a big hug.
For the last two years I have been living fairly nomadically. It began with many months of living in a tent, a van or friends’ spare rooms as my partner, James, and I paddled around Scotland. This was followed by another few months of living in my van while we completed the filming for a documentary series about it. Having let my own house out for this period and beyond, once our project was over I found myself then living at James’ apartment, a long way from the sea.
For the following 18 months I moved between there, my van, a friend’s caravan and my parents’ house. It’s been a whirlwind, and a logistical jigsaw puzzle, never knowing where ‘home’ was beyond the next few weeks. For one week, ‘home’ was a sailing boat! It’s been wonderful, but also exhausting. I’ve craved ‘home’, but with working in so many different places, all of which mean something different to me, I haven’t always been able to articulate where, or what, that was. But there have been a few times amongst all the moving around that, even without my little house to come home to, I have had the feeling of being at home.
The most recent was about as far away from my house as I could have been – the Galapagos Islands. I had been travelling around Ecuador for a month, a different bed every few nights, and felt an enormous gratitude to have had the last minute chance to go to Galapagos. I could use all the cliches to describe the wildlife there – breath- taking, mind-blowing, out-of-this-world – and none of them would be an exaggeration!
It truly is a phenomenal place that feels like stepping onto a different planet. The wildlife has no reason to fear humans and so you trip up over sea lions in the street and have to watch your step for marine iguanas on the volcanic rocks and beaches. The water and beaches are alive with sea lions – noisy, smelly and clumsy on land, but fast, agile and torpedo-like in the water. More than once we had the privilege of being joined by juveniles learning to play amongst the mangroves. It felt like, to them, we were just an extra bit of fun and intrigue, as they swirled around our bodies when we held our breath and dived underwater. We were snorkeling with the most enormous turtles I’ve ever seen, and scuba diving with hammerhead sharks and eagle rays. It really didn’t feel real, and was an extremely welcome return to flourishing nature that I had been craving after months of work on projects about biodiversity depletion.
But one of the most profound moments I had was on a long beach on Isabela Island where the surf was being blown onto the shore. The waves weren’t surfable, but the water held a familiar kind of energy. I waded into the water and dived under the waves. Each wave that arrived brought with it a new opportunity to play. I felt joyful. But most of all, I felt a sudden, overwhelming feeling of being home. A sense of comfort and safety. Peaceful solitude. A feeling of being held in a big hug.
I don’t get this feeling surfing or paddle-boarding, swimming in flat water or kite-surfing. It is only in the simplicity of just me and my body in the waves. A weightlessness and freedom, a sense that everything is ok, a place to rest and reset.
It’s a feeling I’ve had in other places around the world too, playing in the waves; some closer to home, some far away. But it was that moment on Isabela Island when somehow the word to describe it perfectly just arrived, and I found myself able to articulate that this felt like home. It’s a huge comfort to know that geographical location doesn’t have to stand in the way of experiencing a sense of being home.
I’m really looking forward to moving back into my little house by the sea very soon, and all the comfort and safety that comes along with that. But I know it won’t be long before I’m away again on the next project. When I am, I’ll be sure to seek out somewhere with wave energy in the water and dunk myself in it, knowing that in the absence of my little house by the sea, I can still be home.
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