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?

Saturday, December 30, 2006

One year isn't enough....

2007 is 24 hours and a couple of dramatic fireworks displays away, and as I sit in a room overlooking a dark Rushcutters Bay in Sydney I know I've just had the year of my life. There are two other years in my past that I can look back on and say, 'yep, just had a real goodun.' 1999 shook my body free of school and introduced me to adulthood, to travel and to self belief. 2001 led me back to Uganda, to a strange few months of waking up under canvas to the rumblings of baby redtail monkeys using my tent as a slide. It was a time when I realised the values I'd take with me through life - some were selfish and dedicated to freedom and happiness, others led me to believe that whatever you were doing and wherever you were, things can end instantly. Five and a half years ago I had long hair to my shoulders and was at my best when a parrot sat on my shoulder, but for all my hippyish actions and appearance I was totally businesslike in my approach to life. Commonsense came first, and logic dictated that if a chance came along and I didn't take it, then I'd be kicking myself too hard not to regret missed opportunities. I wasn't going to grow old with regrets, I wasn't going to rely on the school-university-training-work cycle of life to send me forwards. I'd behave, I'd have ambition, I'd take the little chances that came along and sooner or later something would smack me in the face so hard I'd be an absolute fool not to sit up and take notice.

As a kid I'd daydream about drawing cartoons and making comics. Once in a while I'd take up a pencil and the resulting drawings looked like I'd taken ten dogs for a walk at a time. I couldn't draw. I loved football, I played until I was sore and aching, until I could barely walk home from the park. I dreamt about making it pro: I wasn't good enough. I started to write in '99, a daily diary I kept in Uganda about falling in love with a country and a girl. Later that year and into the next I wrote a book called River Road, based on the area in Nairobi that the guide books warned travellers about. I loved River Road, stayed there every time I visited Nairobi. The book was about following your own instincts, about positivity breeding positivity. It wasn't preachy, it was just a story that I fell in love with. I didn't back up my computer, I had only printed out a handful of pages, I got home and nothing worked. No retreaval possible, it was gone. Hundreds of hours, hundreds of thousands of words. It hit hard. I didn't write anything longer than a newspaper article until my first longboard turned up in the post four years later. It wasn't so much that I couldn't write, it was that I'd lost a little bit of my spirit. I'd simply had nothing to write about.

The hills I used to walk became new again. For two weeks I looked around from the passenger seat of a car or through the window of a train, thinking 'skating that road would be amazing, every road out there is skateable.' I pushed along getting stronger and stronger, physically and mentally. This was it. I woke up, I love this thing. I want to skate all day. I left the job. I decided to skate all day. I skated. I planned.

And in 2006 I skated all year long. The length of Britain. Never been done before. 900 miles of hills and cars and blisters and new friends. No regrets. The skin on my right heel would never be strong again. So what. No Regrets. I'd just found something that very few people ever did and it made me dizzy with happiness! Why the hell should I be the only one to benefit from this, EVERYONE should get a board and try this. It might not work for everyone but it HAS to work for someone.

This is brand new, this is amazing. This isn't a crazy dream, this is unusual reality and that's why it's special. What do you mean you're going to skateboard across Australia. You're never going to make it, YOU'RE NEVER GONNA MAKE IT. It's huge! Do you know how big Australia is? Do you know how hot it gets? Have you heard of the Nullarbor? It means no trees, and that means no shelter. With your pale skin we're taking bets on how many hours you'll make it out of Perth. Do you know what a kangaroo looks like after a road train hits it. Forty metres of red stain on the road. That's you if you try this. That's you.

People wrote these things. Strangers said I would die. Friends said I would fail. Who denies a dream! I'm f***ing doing this!

So I did. And now, with less than 24 hours to go until 2007 I have done it. Sure, another 800km or so separates me from Brisbane. That's to come shortly. But I crossed Australia on a skateboard this year. I skated across the Nullarbor, through Adelaide, along the Great Ocean Road, through Melbourne, across the hills and mountains, up the coast. Into Sydney. Across Australia. People came with me. People who I ddn't know a year ago. People who I did. A select band of people who believe in dreams and wanted to see this one through. Sure, it was my dream, but dreams are infectious. Jobs were left, lives were halted. Income stopped. This new word entered the vocabulary. BoardFree. What does it mean? Subtract Board, add your dream. That's what it means. Just be free. It always takes a risk, but if you make it count then it's worth it. Every time I step onto Elsa, my board, I BoardFree.

Nothing was wasted in my 2006. Despite tears and debt and arguments and strain, I don't think anyone on my team would say they've wasted 2006. Do I regret BoardFree? No chance. BoardFree changed my life, it gave me a new life. Can you get any better than that? The best year of my life is ending. I might just try and do better next year.

Sunday, December 24, 2006

8 Legged Freaks

“Shit! Shut the windows, QUICK!” Dan seizes up, pointing out the front window. I instantly think something has gone wrong with the vehicle, we’re pelting south along the Pacific Highway towards Newcastle and all of a sudden Danny isn’t his usual calm and composed self. “”Huntsman!” he growls, quick!”
A large pile of legs and fur scuttles towards us along the bonnet of Cheech, our trusty Holden Jackaroo. It stops short of the windscreen and maintains its grip despite our 60kmph progress. Half the size of an adult hand, this arachnid has a glint in each of its eight eyes and although I don’t have a big problem with spiders I don’t fancy wrestling with this one. It edges towards the edge of the bonnet and then makes a dash for the passenger side window, which I’d pulled shut seconds earlier.

I can see three of its hairy legs strutting out from behind the wing mirror. On the walkie talkie I’m telling the other two vans about our present plight. They pull alongside on the three-lane Highway and I see Becki and Bev screeching. On the far side of Kylie, the vehicle they drive, I see Laura looking in completely the opposite direction with a hand covering her eyes as an extra precaution: she isn’t a spider fan as we discovered back in Orbost, Vic, when another Huntsman invited itself into our cabin and plunged to the floor web assisted.

Our spider, slightly larger than our pal in Victoria, decides to make a dash for our roof and chooses the front windscreen as the most direct path. Kate screams her usual on-off scream, “ahhhhhhhh, ahhhhhh, ahhhhhhh!” Dan clenches his teeth, one eye on the road and another on the six inch critter which is currently displaying its ugly grey underbody to the unhappy occupants of Cheech the Jackaroo. Simon pulls alongside in George and I see him mouth “OH MY GOD” as the spider finally disappears out of view. Dan’s flicked a switch and the windscreen wipers are swinging furiously but its too late, our little friend has ascended too far.
“If that thing gets in here I’m going to crash the car,” said Dan matter-of-factly.
“Pull over then mate, I’ll get it off,” I told him, with a calm sense of urgency. Dan obliged, finding a dusty sideline with enough space for three vehicles. “We’re pulling over,” I talk into the radio.

The Huntsman had plonked itself right I the middle of the roof, out of reach from either side of the jeep. Simon jumped out behind us and ran across, mini-cam in hand. “Dan, tell us your thoughts, what’s just happened?” he asks the arachnophobic driver, at the same time as positioning him close to the car so the spider, which had by now ventured out onto a side windscreen, was in the background of the shot. Dan relayed the story, always keeping a worried eye on the Huntsman, which by now I was preparing to sweep off the vehicle with the only implement of choice, a metal salad fork courtesy of Bev’s mad scramble in the back of Kylie. “Well that’s going to do a whole lot of good,” I said as she passed it to me. “I’d be quite happy to be the spider right now.” And then it was all too late. Before Dan had finished talking to the camera and as I edged closer with my culinary sword the spider sprinted into the rear wheel well, disappearing for good. Suddenly, we all became aware of just how many spider entrances there are in an old car. The gaps in between doors and frames looked mammoth and god knows how many underground passages there were emerging from the chassis. Kate, Dan and I got back in, slamming all doors shut. Kate pulled her knees up to her chin, Dan looked at me with a blank face. “If that things gets in here I’m going to crash,” he reassuringly told me one last time before starting up the engine.

Sunday, December 17, 2006

Made it!

A giant red sun has just gone down on another day in Australia, but I'm viewing this sunset from 15 floors above groundlevel with the euphoria of success still present in the air. The remaining five days of the 60km per day push disappeared in a flash. Three days earlier the road to Wollongong finally achieving what the 4600km of road before it had failed to, the skin covering my right heel wearing away to a red mulch of flesh and puss after another day of hard pushing in hot hot weather. It was always going to happen, I'm just lucky we fended it off for so long.

Win TV in Wollongong surprised us on the road as each pound of the concrete wave sent a shiver of pain through my body. Apparently one of the journalists passed me on the road and sent a crew out - they were waiting at traffic lights in the south of the city and the resulting 25 second piece that night showed me looking more than a little bedraggled!

An old friend I met in Uganda in 1999 just happens to live south of Sydney, and she turned up at our campsite all smiles. Carmen has travelled more than anyone I know and despite a fair share of challenges she continues to see life as a chance, not a chore. When we first met I was fresh from school and finding my own feet, she was touring East Africa solo and needed a spare bed - my friends and I had one and we've remained in touch ever since.

Sydney was less than 100km away and one major topographic challenge lay ahead. A giant escarpment rises up from the sea north of Wollongong and there are two ways to the top. I could either ride alongside the freeway up the Bulli Pass or take a 20km undulating route along the coast, over the Seacliffe bridge (a relatively new addition to the Australian road system after the adjacent clif face was destroyed in a botched attempt to widen the old road near Coalcliff) and then up and up and up towards Stanwell Tops. I chose the latter and three hours after pushing out from Wollongong I was on the post-Bulli Pass freeway, moving ever closer to Engadine.

The Welcome to Sydney sign sits 40km or so south of the CBD and it crept up almost too quickly. Passing underneath it - my attention borrowed by Holly and Dim's positioning in the middle of the shoulder I was skating along - I glanced up at the last minute and saw three words that made my day. So close now.

At Engadine I finished the day. Juergen and Colin from the Magic Touch, a company that had first supported BoardFree by providing temporary tattoo logos to advertise on my big calves during BFUK, had kindly offered to put us up for the night in the local Motel. A BBQ came with the offer, as is tradition Down Under and we all sat in the Motel garden as aeroplanes above began their descent towards Sydney airport. This, more than anything, made me realise just how close we were to passing into BoardFree Australia's fourth city.

Shortly before the BBQ a campervan appeared in the Motel carpark. The team gathered round as my parents disembarked and approached. My Dad held it together but my Mum's face was contorted with emotion. "My baby," she cried, "I'm so proud of you." I welled up, holding her tightly. "Thanks for being here Mum, it means so much that you've come all this way."

Simon had began to develop a new habit. A new milestone was on all of our minds, this time not a mere celebration of zeros (the 1000km, 2000km, 3000km marks had all passed way back) but this time a real target. In 2003 Jack Smith, an American skater, had crossed the United states for the third time, a distance of 4830km. By the time I reached Engadine I had totalled 4770km skated since Perth. My aim was to follow up the next day with 59km and then have a 2km parade through Sydney Olympic Park the next. "World Record" Simon mouthed at me not long before we all retired to bed. "World Record."

Up at 5am the next day. My brother Andy and his girlfriend Maddy had joined us the night before and they sat behind as I sped up the freeway into Sydney. Skating a total of 59km meant that an awful lot of meandering through the city suburbs had to be done to amass the kilometres needed - the distance as the bird flies from Engadine to Sydney Olympic Park is barely 30km - so I trawled through back streets and along riverside cyclepaths, finding myself facedown in a puddle at one point after Elsa got stuck in the mud created by the falling rain. An old woman strolling along with music playing in her ear glanced sideways at me as I skated path. "Got a deathwish have you?" she snorted, not giving me a second look. Her naivete stuck with me all day, last-minute paranoia hanging in the air as I thought of the potential consequences of finishing the day 1km short of Jack's record. "We're going to wrap you up in cotton wool," Bev told me, "Wouldn't it by typical if you got run over or shot or something." In the mid afternoon I was closing in on my 59km target and then took a wrong turn. I skated through Rookwood Cemetary, trying to keep the noise of my scraping wheels down as I passed by religion-marked sections of land. Some graves were decorated with flowers, some left to the elements. "Got a deathwish, have you?" The old woman's words from earlier haunted me, and I realised then and there that I didn't ever want to be lying in a grave. I want to be remembered for what I did and who I was rather than where I lay when it was all over. 'I'd hate to be slowly forgotten,' I told myself, hoping someone somewhere would hear me, 'I'd hate to be stuck in a grave which no-one ever visited.'

I found the Victoria Gate exit after 45 minutes of floating through the cemetary and just a couple of kilometres later sat outside Sydney Olympic Park's bicentennial gates, exhausted in a way that only city skating can exhaust, knowing full well that the effort - as always - was more than worth it. With 1km left to equal Jack's record, then 1km more to break it, I knew that as long as the cotton wool was applied I'd be a record-breaker the next day.

And so it was. At 3pm this afternoon I gathered outside the Bicentennial Gates with a group of skaters from the Monster skate park, with Kate and Kelly and Lisa and Jackie from Sailability Australia, with two camera crews from 7 and 10, with an AAP photographer, with a man named Mark who had heard about my journey a month earlier and bought a red rollsrolls because of it. Juergen and Colin representing the Magic Touch and all of the sponsors who stuck their necks out and helped a beginner skate his way across two countries. Alex was there with Connor, who was going to ride through his Lowe Syndrome on a tricycle, my parents were there, my brother and Maddy, my team. My team who helped me here, my team who were mostly strangers a year ago on this day. Kate, who is so much more than just a team member, my personal lifejacket who puts up with more than any woman should.

We started off and continued down Australia Avenue, left for a few hundred metres and then left onto Olympic Boulevard. Kids skating alongside, the team walking, Kelly in her wheelchair, Connor peddling hard. Everyone moved ahead for the last 100m. I walked with the team, arms on shoulders, final words. "We did this together" I told them before they pushed me ahead, into a funnel of people, across the line. 4831km skated, Laura screamed, Holly cried, my parents smiled. I'm sure, even though I didn't see him instantly, that Simon mouthed the two simple words, "World Record."

Wednesday, December 13, 2006

The 60km a day mission

Outside the rain falls heavily, a storm blowing away the excessive heat that has plagued the last two days. Through the mosquito-netted sliding door of our cabin beside Lake Conjola kangaroos bounce around searching for shelter and food. The brightly coloured parrots which earlier fed from the hands of Holls, Kate and Laura have flown away now and an almost eerie calm has descended despite the gusting wind which bends trees sideways beyond our veranda.

I’m exhausted and will likely be tucked up in bed by 8pm tonight. Today was Day 6 of the 60km per day gauntlet, which has so far taken me 381km from Cann River, across the New South Wales border and north up the coast past Eden, Narooma, Bateman’s Bay and Ulladulla. Five more days of 5am wake-up calls should see me roll into Sydney on Saturday and break Jack Smith’s old world distance skateboard record, a target I’ve had my sights on since waking up on a balmy Swansea morning in April 2005.

So, can anything go wrong? In short, of course! After an hour or so of skating tomorrow morning I should pass the 4600km mark from Perth but beneath my socks lie war wounds attributable not to the Nullarbor Plain or Great Ocean Road but to eastern Victoria and the south coast of New South Wales. I have never had to skate hills like those I’ve upped and downed this week, not even during the Scottish leg of John O’Groats to Land’s End earlier this year. Blisters on the ball and Achilles region of my right foot and also blistering on my left heel which was injured in Adelaide a couple of months ago leave me with pain at every push. I’ve been lucky for much of this journey, skating through muscle fatigue and pretty minor blisters but avoiding repeats of the horrific blistering and infection that plagued the UK journey. Prevention is always better than cure when it comes to a journey with little rest-time built into the schedule, but as the prolonged journey rolled into its fourth month my body is struggling to deal with the strain it’s under. My immune system is shot; a small ulcer on my lip has still not healed after more than four weeks and there is little chance that my feet will heal completely before the journey is out. Heading up the BoardFree project may mean there are more commitments than simply skating – school visits and charity events to name but two regular features in the schedule – but be in no doubt, when a Western Mail journalist back home in Wales described BoardFree Australia as an endurance style event he couldn’t have been more wrong. This is one hell of a big country, pushing across it on a skateboard in 73 days is no holiday, but in many ways even I have only just begun to realise just how hard it has been. I dreamt recently about a giant hand picking me up and plonking me down in Perth, just in time to start the journey over again – but this time I knew what was coming. Horrifying!

Team spirits are in some kind of limbo at the moment. We haven’t had a proper rest since Adelaide and everyone’s completely whacked, we’re going through the motions everyday and barely have the energy to carry out an argument, let alone solve any lingering issues. Nothing too serious is going on, the core of the team is excited about getting to Sydney and reaching the record, but a big mention needs to be given to the girls recently. Fundraising and feeding is their forte and they haven’t stopped for weeks. Drooping eyelids are symptoms but not excuses and hundreds of donated dollars to go straight to Link, Lowe and Sailability have been extracted from unknowing but willing locals on our route.

To end, I hope that the record-breaking push into Sydney lifts our spirits just enough to keep us going until a week-long break from Christmas Eve onwards. We all need it, we’re all looking forward to it. God help us, my feet are begging me for a rest!

Wednesday, December 06, 2006

What a Weekend! Sydney in Style...

Regrettably little time recently to blog, so I'm going to zoom through the last week and paint a picture of the next week as quickly as I can.

The Great Dividing Range took it's toll on my feet. And shoes. If only I could get a foot sponsor. After a 78km day from Orbost to Cann River my right foot looked like a tennish ball. No choice but to call a halt to skating and start the Sydney fundraising break early. Heart-breakingly, stopping two days early meant that I was 60km shy of the New South Wales border and 110km short of the east coast. I sat up front as the hills whizzed by so much quicker than they usually do and felt like crying when I crossed into New South Wales for the first time. Not, as hoped, on Elsa. But in a van. Horrible. The drive up the NSW south coast is not easy, hill after hill, bend after bend. As the hours went by (and in total it took over ten of them to reach Sydney) I became more and more depressed. There is nothing worse than driving a road I have to skate later - and not even in Scotland did I face roads like this. Forget the Great Dividing Range, my biggest challenge yet was to follow the fundraising weekend.

Spirits were lifted though by the hospitality shown to us by Sailability clubs at Illawarra, Kogarah Bay and Rushcutters Bay. Each holding an event on consecutive days between the 1st and the 3rd meant that Sailability ended up well over $8500 better off by the end of the weekend. Another one of our charities, the Lowe Syndrome Trust, had a presence in the form of the Brady and Gardiner families and as young Connor ran around scaring the crap out of everyone by testing microphones and making full use of Elsa as a transportation device he served as a timely reminder that although Sailability is obviously a focus of this journey, finding a cure for Lowe Syndrome is still very much at the forefront of BoardFree Australia’s aims.

The next day was the final break most of the team were to have for a while. Spread around Sydney in various accommodations half of them sat back in the afternoon and tuned into Triple J radio, probably the biggest national station in Australia and defined by many as ‘cool’! They tuned in for a reason – finally, after five or six telephone interviews with good old Robbie Buck for the afternoon show I’d made it to Sydney and could visit the studio. A fair few people listen to the show – the closest equivalent in the UK would be Radio 1’s Colin and Edith or Chris Moyles (don’t even know if there shows are still on it’s been so long!) so it was a privilege and a coup to visit the Triple J hideaway, tucked away in the ABC somewhere in Sydney central.

And then the drive back south. I lay in the back of George, sleeping for most of Tuesday as Cann River drew ever closer, stretching my body out and resting up in preparation for the biggest test it would ever have to face. Sure, Elsa and I have rolled 4200km from Perth so far, but the next 600km are the closest thing a skateboarder gets to hell. BoardFree Australia is heating up…

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