The Why Not? Blog

At the tender age of 25 Dave started skateboarding. 14 months later he became the first person to skate the length of Britain. Another 8 months on he had crossed Australia on his board, breaking a world record & raising over £20,000 for three charities. Now, at 27, he's writing his first book, is a motivational speaker and a businessman, and he's only just gotten started on a lifetime of challenges which from the outside look just darn crazy. So, why? You know the answer, don't you. Why not?

Wednesday, November 29, 2006

As the flats begin to incline....

Central Gippsland disappeared in a flash. Relatively flat ground betrayed what lay ahead and I pushed east with a number of things on my mind.

The troubles with the team that riddled our passage through southern South Australia had abated. With future journeys in mind – not to mention a book about the inception of BoardFree – the team is never far from my thoughts. My life is at its easiest when everyone is on form, operating to their full potential and enjoying themselves. Of course, even now, tiffs and moods break out regularly and when stuck in a vacuum it takes a while for the temperature to change again. On the road I mull over every detail of this journey, wondering whether or not I’ll have a team this large for future treks, questioning whether or not glum faces mean they’ve lost enthusiasm for BoardFree or that there’s just a low moment in the offing. Without doubt the more people the better in terms of keeping me mentally healthy, but it adds pressures for a skater who also manages his team and acts as ultimate mediator in disputes. My reading of personalities and how they fit into a pressure-cooker environment has improved as the kilometres go by, my ability to deal with a number of different personalities differs depending on my fatigue but I’d hope has strengthened. How to improve your curriculum vitae in six thousand easy steps!

The flat land separating Melbourne and the Great Dividing Range that lays across eastern Victoria caused my shoes to wear down at the sole, and bit by bit the lack of cushioning beneath my toes started to wear down my feet. As blisters started to form – slowly enough to evade my complete attention: blister pains are a regular feature of my life now – the towns of Traralgon and Sale offered up opportunities to visit Specialist Schools, home to children of various ages and disabilities who have the opportunity to sail with Sailability. On consecutive days I followed a brief talk with a ‘High Five Roll’ along lines of pupils, meeting hands with everyone and realising that Sailability’s work goes far further than just an entry to sport, it’s a chance for people – youngsters especially – to develop a sense of independence and physical individuality. At first glance most people wouldn’t believe what these kids are capable of in a boat, their achievements – not necessarily rewarded by medals or trophies – increase awareness of disability amongst the able bodied. I was happy to hand over contributions to local Sailability clubs at Wellington and Gippsland willing to recognise us, on behalf of BoardFree.

In Sale we followed up a wonderful Channel 7 report filmed at the Latrobe Specialist School earlier that day with fundraising at a local pub. Dim and Pete joined us in their new van, Natalie, and brought with them a new and unexpected guest, my brother! Family support has budged weight from my shoulders throughout this project and to see Andy waddle in with Aviator sunglasses and a familiar cheeky grin was another lift at the end of a great week.

The next day he cycled alongside me for the entire 72km between Sale and Bairnsdale, and then on the following day ran shuttles towards Lakes Entrance, surely drawing lines for the rest of the team as they had a long-time concern confirmed: the Cornthwaite family might be physically fit, but Dave certainly isn’t the only crazy one.

We rested for a day in Lakes Entrance, a beautiful little town beached on the man-made channel between Gippsland lakes and the wide ocean beyond, and were fed by the generous Sheryl and friends from Kickback Cottages. Sheryl had heard one of my radio interviews earlier in the week and hadn’t hesitated in joining forces with friend Jodie and cooking up a feast for us. On the BBQ, of course.

Ahead was a long road to Sydney. One rest day never seems enough when 800km of hills looms ahead. The condition of my feet also stressed that a longer break was needed and on Monday morning – as I pushed north-east under the glare of television cameras which would be responsible for world-wide news reports thanks to the Australian SNTV – the aching in my feet, ankles and legs didn’t bode well. The Great Dividing Range was coming closer, and with it was to come my greatest challenge yet.

Thursday, November 23, 2006

Is that New South Wales we can smell?

Melbourne seems a long way off considering we were still there at 4pm yesterday afternoon. 122km, one tv and three radio interviews later the team - minus Dim and Pete who have remained in the Vic capital on vehicle hunting duty - are sleeping in pink (yes, pink) cabins at the wonderful Park Lane Tourist Park, who have sponsored our stay here tonight.

The team is on funny pills at the moment. Earlier Holly recounted the moment when she randomly drove past the bodyguard of Neighbours star Dylan, whom we met on Monday night for a brief spell before he was ushered away by his enormous Maouri guard. Holly, being Holly, decided to call the guy 'the Kiwi Bouncer', a nickname which totally confused Kate, who in what is possibly her blondest moment yet thought Holly had seen a bloke bouncing fruit along the road.

Simon, who hasn't broken anything in at least four hours, is gaining a reputation as a festidious video editor but an incredibly difficult man to 1) get out of bed and 2) to encourage to write a blog. To put it in perspective, this morning the team had orders to be in the vehicles by 7am and Simon was still brushing his teeth at ten past. But more importantly, his blog couldn't be more out of date despite countless requests from fans of his nonplussed style: I've skated over 3000 miles since he last made an entry, ridiculous!

In five days or so we'll be in New South Wales. State number 4, it's safe to say we have high hopes for our first leg of the east coast of Australia. With another 82km down today I'm preparing for some hard pushing. At some point over the next few days I want to make 150km in a day, watch this space.

Tuesday, November 21, 2006

New friends, another city and most importantly, two more team members!

The kindness of strangers keeps us going. Sat in the St Kilda district of Melbourne, typing away on my laptop whilst sat at what can only be described as a 'power desk', I continue to wonder at the experiences that await myself and the BoardFree team around the next corner. Barely three weeks ago a complete stranger drove along a South Australian road linking Strathalbyn and Wellington. She passed a slow-moving Holden Jackeroo, laden with stickers promoting a skate journey for charity. Peddling in front of the Jackeroo was a chap on a bike, and just in front of him was a skinnier sole who was pushing along on a bizarre-looking yellow skatebooard. "What the hell is all of this" thought the woman, before a connection between this strange troupe and a television story sometime back began to form. She pulls over, waits until the skateboard draws level and asks him, "Are you the guy who has skateboarded from Western Australia?"
"I am" he smiles, dragging his board to a halt.

Her name is Johanna, her boyfriend's name is Jon, and three weeks after that chance encounter J & J have kindly let the entire team descend on their home. We've had a hard few weeks, physically and emotionally, and a stopover in Melbourne is just what we've needed. Fundraising-wise, it's been tough. City living tends to close off most people and it's always noticably harder to exude donations out of the urban bussle, but the money continues to flow in and it wil continue to do so with the team working this hard.

On Friday night Laura Hatwell flew in to Melbourne airport becoming Boardfree's ninth member. After a baptism of BoardFree fire in which the Glasgow girl from Devon has been well and truly bitten by the bug, she has earned her place on this team after organising the first of many BoardFree splinter journeys and raising half a grand in the process. Her 25 miles from Glasgow to Loch Lomond in September may seem paltry compared to the vastness of BoardFree Australia, but think: this girl started skating because she heard about BoardFree. She got off her arse, got organised, trained herself and did it. Bam and Jay from Barnstable are doing the same with a Devon to Spain BoardFree skate in the planning for next year, but Laura's sheer determination (which will likely see her becoming a part of the boy's Beats Walkin' team next year) earned her a place in Australia. We're glad to have her here.

Team member number ten flew in yesterday morning. Pete Coventry, the other half of Badgerboy Productions who had a small part to play in the filming of BFUK, is another welcome addition - a finishing addition - to a team which has been crying out for more hands since we left the lonely bush and began our roll through heavily populated lands. We now have four more hands to take us through to Brisbane, but more importantly we have two more heads to share the load. BoardFree has a new feel to it now, a new drive.

On a personal note I am carrying more burdens than ever but am dealing with these pressures better day by day. As BoardFree grows the responsibilies increase, but my base intentions for this year's journeys remain the same and each day - as Brisbane comes closer and our fundraising total rises - my hunger to fulfill my self-set obligations to Link, Lowe and Sailability and to every member of my selfless team becomes all-encompassing.

Last night was the best night I've had since I founded BoardFree in my South Wales study back in May 2005. To think that back then I'd been skating for less than two months, then fast-forward 16 months and find myself up on stage alongside Neightbours actor Alan Fletcher who is talking to a crowd of hundreds about my skate across Britain and the continued effort across Australia. Fletch, who plays Dr Karl Kennedy in the Aussie soap, was wearing the BoardFree t-shirt I handed him during a Cardiff gig at the back end of 2005, his genorosity and respect for the project has filled a hole somewhere in all of this. Suddenly, the morning after, the permanent aching in my legs doesn't matter so much. I am ready to push on, to put aside the pain and tears and ulcers and get us all to the east coast having left smiles behind on the faces of those Sailability members who have taken the time to appreciate our efforts on their behalf. We have had many disappointments en route so far - it's to be expected having travelled half way across the world plus another 3800km with such great expectations - but they are totally insignificant beyond the moments themselves, because we believe in what we are doing, we know that we're fighting for good, we know that complete strangers understand that and celebrities with schedules to keep can still clear some space for us because of our journey.

We have learnt from experience now that we can't please everyone - there are always shakes of the head when our buckets are shaken nearby, always those ignorant enough to slag us off in writing without a second thought - but we don't aim to satisfy the masses. All we want to do is what we set out to do and now, with three of five cities down, we'll be skating out of Melbourne this afternoon with a renewed vigour, we will continue to push for change.

Monday, November 13, 2006

Riding the Great Ocean Road: heading to Melbourne and leaving behind tension

Writing in the early morning from possibly the quaintest town we've passed through on this journey, Apollo Bay is glorious in its simple sweep of a blue bay surrounded by a comforting wall of green rolling hills. Saying all of that, the rain is falling heavily this morning, echoing the poor conditions we’ve faced for much of the last week. Victoria, for all of its beauty, has given us a wet greeting, reminding us all of home as we left a dry South Australia – our transitory residence for a month and a half – behind.

Almost immediately we had new troubles to deal with. Since our enforced rest in Adelaide team squabbles had broken out, often leading to lengthy and it has to be said, immature silences. The mental support I’d received from the team in the first weeks – something so vital to the continued success of this project – had all but vanished. I was sick to death of everyone, and I dare say everyone else was sick to death of everyone else. Something had to change, so I woke up on that first morning in Victoria and packed a rucksack, telling the team to sit down together and sort out their differences, think about why they applied for their positions and whether that initial enthusiasm still applies, and ultimately decide what they needed to do in order to regain some social decorum. In the meantime, I told them, I’d skate on. It would be harder and it would take me longer, of course, but I’m getting to Brisbane whether they are with me or not.

So I left.

It rained hard, the wind was fiercely gusting in my face and enormous log trucks roared around tight bends blowing me off balance and leaving me drenched in thick spray. Progress was slow and the 5 kilometer markers I was so used to became menacing, they passed all to infrequently and Portland, 70km away when I set off from Nelson, seemed untouchable. In the late morning I was remonstrating with myself, running every incident from the past weeks through and through, thrashing my arms about as I skated and screaming into the lonely pine forests which lined the road. From behind came two familiar beeps of a horn. Cheech sped past, followed closely by George and Kylie. For the first time this journey I saw my three vehicles travelling in convey ahead as I skated. They pulled over one by one and everyone piled out, converging on the roadside as I wearily pushed closer. With rainwater dripping down my nose everyone put their arms around me in silence. I couldn’t help but whisper, “The roads are shit around here.” A knowing chuckle came from all sides. Kate read me a poem out loud, It was called Don’t Quit. The team led me to Kylie and we all crammed inside. Kate spoke, “We’ve all been talking, telling each other what was bothering us and getting everything out in the open, but then we went around and told everyone what we loved about each other, and the only person we haven’t done this to is you.” So they did, one by one the team told me what they loved about me, Dan called me an inside-out armadillo, Si referenced me to part of a cheesecake (I think I was the dish the cake was on), it was obvious that things we going to be ok and I cried in Kate’s arms as the rain fell outside and I shivered away the efforts of the morning.

Since then things have been better. The team are dealing with one-on-one issues head on without needing me to step in. Everyone is back on it, playing each day out with enthusiasm, raising money like never before and helping me cover ground that was inconceivably far away at the beginning of this escapade. We’ve flown over the 10,000 pound mark and are now closing in on 11,000, still a long way to go until the big 50k but all signs are positive, not least because we’re now rolling towards Melbourne and some very populated areas.

So, at the end of a tumultuous first week in Victoria I’m happy to report that the dust has settled, we’re pushing on towards 4000km and, just as I finish off this blog the sun is pushing through the clouds, hopefully leaning towards some good weather this afternoon as I push along one of the most beautiful stretches of coastal road in the world. The 45km between Apollo Bay and Lorne winds and dips and climbs and winds some more, keep your eyes on the photo gallery to see some of the most breathtaking scenery ever skated. Rolling on towards Brisbane with renewed vigour and only a couple of blisters!

Monday, November 06, 2006

Another day, another border

After a wonderful last night in South Australia (which we spent in a Mt. Gambier home belonging to Doug and Jill, who bumped into us at the Caiguna roadhouse on the Nullarbor some seven weeks ago) I jumped on Elsa this morning with newly stickered vehicles (thanks to Doug's son Andrew) at the ready, and set off for a final 30km ride into Victoria, our third State. Shortly before noon I rolled past the Thank You for Visiting South Australia sign, handed Elsa over to Dan who continued in line with BoardFree Oz tradition and changed Elsa's wheels and bearings right there on the border, and then pushed a mere 3km more to the small seaside town of Nelson, where we've been resting for the afternoon.

Tomorrow we continue east, heading towards Portland and then towards the magnificent Great Ocean Road. Another city, Melbourne, beckons in less than ten days, which begs the question, 'where the hell is the time going?!!!' One answer comes in the form of political clock changes. When we flew into Perth in mid August we were a mere 7 hours ahead of the UK. Now, with a 45 minute change at Caiguna, another 45 minutes lost at the SA-WA border, then some daylight saving chucked in for good measure and a final 30 minutes forward when we crossed the border today, we are now 11 hours ahead of UK time (they lost an hour when we gained one last week) and are contemplating driving back west at the end of this just to get four hours of our life back!!!!!

The team is tired and weary, a rest day should be on the cards soon but the clock, funnily enough, is ticking towards early December, when we're due into Sydney for some Sailability events. Long days and furrowed brows ahead, not to mention some incredible scenery and marble-sized blisters. Lucky buggers, aren't we!!!!

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