Trash for treats

Photographer Richard Nixon meets the paddle boarders who are trading their time cleaning the canals for local food

stand-up paddle boarding


When I first step off the train at Hackney Wick, early morning in August, the East London streets seem empty and dilapidated. But as the day wears on, the canal running alongside the Olympic Park becomes a hive of activity as kayakers and paddle boarders take to the water, and craft beer drinkers begin to line its banks. Amongst all the bustle, Kiko Matthews from SUPKiko is cleaning up the waterway one beer can at a time.

Stand-up paddle boarding or ‘SUP’ has recently exploded in popularity as a way to explore virtually any body of water owing to a very accessible learning curve. “With a basic sense of balance you can be stood up paddling within 15 minutes. You’ll be fine,” Kiko assures me as I debate on bringing my camera out for the first lesson. “Halfway in most people relax into it – enough to enjoy the sense of calm that paddling down a river or canal offers, while remaining dry.” I bring the camera.

I’m here to meet Kiko and photograph her Trash4Treats campaign, in which paddle boarders take to the canal to fill buckets with litter then exchange the bounty for food and drinks at the nearby Café boat, The Milk Float. “Everyone gets a large bucket to perch on the front of their board and most will manage fill it within the session with cans, toys, even fire extinguishers. Then we do it all again the next week!”

The Milk Float

Trash4Treats is a joint initiative between Kiko’s charity, The Big Stand, and fellow canal residents Moo Canoes and The Milk Float. “Charlie Head and I run The Big Stand, focusing on delivering education on health and environment issues through SUP activities. I’d spend all weekend paddling up and down the canals and I just couldn’t ignore the litter,” she explains. “Plus once you’ve fished out your first bit of trash it can get surprisingly addictive testing your SUP balance.”

The campaign is going well so far. “Within two hours, participants have learnt a new skill and done their bit for the community who often shout their thanks from the riverbank. It makes for a rewarding afternoon out. Not to mention Trash4Treats paddle boarding lessons are discounted and it’s all topped off with something to eat afterwards!”

It’s not always peaceful paddling however. “A lot of the litter comes from residents of the area, which leads to the occasional standoff when we catch culprits in the act. The campaign’s next step is to develop options to provide preventative education to those in the area on the impact it has on the waterways. It’s their back garden after all.”

Kiko also runs SUP pub runs from Richmond on weekdays. “The motivations are less noble during the week – people just want to unwind after work with a easy paddle down the Thames for a well-earned beer.”

Find out more and book your first SUP lessons with Kiko in Hackney Wick or Richmond.  You can follow the campaign at

Canal & River Trust are hugely grateful to the hundreds of volunteers who take to the towpaths each month to help keep our waterways clean, safe and accessible to all. Join the Towpath Taskforce by signing up to an upcoming event near you.

Richard William Nixon