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, February 21, 2007

The funny little things in life

I'm buying a mobile phone charger in Swansea city centre. An enthusiastic assistant takes a good look at Elsa and screws his face up in thought. "I'm sure I've heard about you before," he says, pointing at my board, "don't you have one big calf because you skateboarded around Australia?"
"I guess you could say that, mate," I smile at him. Then, just as I thought the moment was over the man said something which summed up why the government doesn't let certain people have passports.
"Woah," he grinned, a bit too insanely for my liking. "I'm not surprised your legs are so big with lions chasing you all the time."
I looked at him, trying to work out whether he was serious. It didn't take much to realise he was, the blankness in his eyes gave it away.
"Cheers for the charger, mate," I thanked him, and left very very quickly.

In London last week, I scoured the Metro for something juicy. I found it. At the back end of the news there was a picture story about a bizarre looking device called the AquaSkipper. Shaped like an oversize, ungainly bike, it had specially designed hydrofoils at the end of its 'legs' which enabled it to 'bounce'or 'aquaskip' over the water. What caught my attention, though, was the fact that there was no motor involved, it took the skill of a single rider to pump the machine along. 'Here's something a bit special,' I thought to myself. 'Wonder whether I could cross the Channel on one of these?'
A few days later, this morning, to be precise, I wrote to Duncan McDonald who imports AquaSkippers into the UK. 'I've recently aquired a taste for the unusual,' I told him, 'could I possibly have a test run with an AquaSkipper?'
We spoke a few hours later. Watch this space.

Post BoardFree plans are starting to come together, although definite details won't be confirmed until the first week of March. I'm crossing my fingers regarding the book, visit Germany in 10 days for rollsrolls business and am a couple of days away from launching a website which will be the online base for an upcoming speaking tour. Finally, for now, the BoardFree homecoming party will see a few team members come together on Wednesday 28th Feb, for what will hopefully be a big fundraiser at Swansea's Sin City club. Oh, and listen in to BBC Radio 2 on Sunday afternoon at about a quarter to five GMT. I'm on the Johnnie Walker show.

Wednesday, February 14, 2007

My study

It's 5:34. I really shouldn't be up this early. Outside the wind whistles down the street, rain patters on the window and a moody orange glow from the street lamps haunts my study. My study where I planned BoardFree's UK and Australia, my study where I once received new faces who were interested in joining me on the expedition. Simon, Kate, Holly, Laura, Dim, Pete and even some others who didn't make it. My study from where I'm writing a book about the period between March '05 and now. My study in Swansea. I'm home.

But home is different now. Instead of preparations for a brave, unknown endeavour, I now face a new future with the long road of achievement behind me. BFUK, done. BFOZ, done. So now what?

Good question. It was asked hundreds of times in Australia but I always remained upbeat. The first two BoardFree projects were life-consuming. For 22 months I thought of little else (apologies to everything and everyone that encountered my solid, wide-eyed stare) and it truly becme a way of life. Now, back in my study where everything was done to ensure that both the UK and Australian journeys succeeded, I sit here happy that everything that could have been done was done. And now it's time for more.

There has been little sitting around since reaching Brisbane. New ideas started to form, new opportunities presented themselves. Plenty of interest in the book - from prospective readers and publishers alike - makes me confident that I'll have a deadline to work to very soon. Soul food has been brought to me on golden platters recently, I feel very privileged to even have a story so full of adventure and good intention and pain and character to tell. It's a warming thought. So many things could have ended BoardFree prematurely. None did.

Media interest in BoardFree continues. Women's magazines have written, the major papers and smaller publications continue to get in touch. The TV is coming out to film my reunion with my parents in Oxfordshire on Sunday, and I'm a guest on a national daytime show this Friday, it's presented by a couple named Richard and Judy, and it's watched by millions. Two years ago I was sat in my study, depressed to the nines, face like a raincloud, life filled with little more than working routine and computer games. Then a longboard arrived in the post and now look!

I'm working with Peter and Hagen from rollsrolls in Germany to promote the longboard around the world. I fly to Leipzig in early March to press the 'Go' button on the new, improved rollsrolls. It is a board that thrills. I mentioned soul food earlier, if there was ever a longboard to fill your belly it is the rolls. I will try my best to give everyone in the world a go over the coming years.

And then, to top off the list of schedule-fillers and merely confirm the reasons for my not resting since Brisbane, there's the speaking tour. It begins on March 10th in London at the TNT Travel Show and will continue for over a year, taking me around the UK, back to Australia and perhaps further afield. The aims of the talks are to motivate, inspire and increase donations - they will begin in earnest as soon as the book and DVD are ready to accompany me on my travels. What use is a story if there is nobody to tell it to? Sometimes, audiences can be created.

Finally, another answer to a regular question. Will there be any more journeys? Yes there will. I'm biding my time because of other commitments at present, but I'm planning another world record attempt before 2007 is through. What that is, you'll just have to hold on for a bit to find out.

So, 5:56 now. I'm not up because I like it. I'm up because of jet lag. After flying in Saturday morning to be greeted by a cheering group of familiar people wearing t-shirts bearing the words 'They said he could't skateboard across Australia, but he's only bloody gone and done it,' I've been wandering around like a zombie. Fighting sleep in the middle of the day, waking early, feeling sick, losing appetite. And you know what I think about most when I'm in the middle of this state of bodily disfunction? 'Man, I'm going back to Australia later this year, and I'm going to have to get over the dreaded lag all over again!'

Monday, February 05, 2007

Living with Lowe Syndrome

Connor Gardiner is eleven and a half years old. He stands 4'1" in heels (please don't ask!), walks with his head tilted slightly to the side and wears spectacles holding lenses which, despite their thickness, will never be able to give him perfect eyesight. When he was born Connor, like all boys with Lowe Syndrome, had cataracts. As a consequence, the lens in both eyes were removed, and so begun his life.

When we first met at the 3rd December at the BoardFree event in Rushcutters Bay, Sydney, he was in a strange place, surrounded by strangers and full of agitated energy. Out of his element, Connor clung to two things which enabled him to feel happy. His Dad, Alex, cares for him almost full-time and often looked down to find his son wrapped around his waist. And then Connor met Elsa, my board. The two of them rolled around, colliding into ankles, emitting screams of pleasure and then, when it all became too much, Elsa hit the floor suffering what was to become her greatest injury of the Australian journey. Just a couple of inches of surface covering fell away - I won't deny I had a pang of disbelief when someone handed me the board! - but it revealed another side to Lowe Syndrome which I hadn't seen before.

Tha National Organisation for Rare Diseases defines Lowe with the following description: "Lowe Syndrome, also known as oculo-cerebro-renal syndrome, is a rare inherited metabolic disease that affects males. This disorder is characterized by lack of muscle tone (hypotonia), multiple abnormalities of the eyes and bones, the presence at birth of clouding of the lenses of the eyes (cataracts), mental retardation, short stature, and kidney problems. Other findings may include protrusion of the eyeball from the eye socket (enophthalmos); failure to gain weight and grow at the expected rate; weak or absent deep tendon reflexes; and multiple kidney problems (e.g., renal tubular dysfunction, renal hyperaminoaciduria, etc.)."

In reality boys with Lowe and their families are often a forgotten lot. Relatively few sufferers of Lowe exist (between 300-400 registered boys to date) and this means that the disease often slips through the wide open cracks of the Welfare State. Support, therefore, is not always forthcoming, Alex and Connor are just one example.

Until arriving back in Sydney after rolling into Brisbane, I hadn't spent more than a couple of hours in the presence of Lowe Syndrome. Connor displays the consistent copybook traits of a lad with Lowe. He's affectionate, loving, has a wicked sense of humour. Looking at him, it's easy to forget he's not far off twelve years old. His size alone makes him appear six or seven and his behaviour bounces from shouting and violent to loving and kind. One thing is constant: he never stops. I watch him eat and he can't focus on his meal. At breakfast he takes a spoonful and wanders off, changing TV channels and repositioning his radio, before returning for another bite. He rarely finishes a bowl and I can't comprehend how he maintains his energy levels for eleven hours a day, but for all the constant attention he demands he is a pleasure to be around. When he finds something funny he tilts his head back and gurgles a giggle, now and then he'll sit down beside Kate or Si or Dan and just be still. His inquisitive nature never ceases seeking for information. "Whadilly you do today?" "Where's Shiman [Simon]?" And sometimes he gives you love that you've never had before. On my first night in the house I was heading to bed. Connor held my hand as I walked upstairs and then, before I closed my door, he ran back in without a word, put his arms around me and kissed my hip, then ran away again.

Despite his affectionate, cheeky nature, he is hard work to live with, and I've just been here a week. His dad, Alex, loves him wholly and has the patience of a saint. Kate and I have tried to take some pressure off him, preparing Connor for school in the mornings, dressing him, getting breakfast down, standing hand in hand waiting for the bus. The bus arrives, Anton the driver gets out and leads Connor around to the sliding door. Other pupils are inside already, all suffering from some mental or physical disability. One of them, a girl wearing a wide brimmed black hat, waved to Kate, Si, Dan and I as we stood in the driveway bidding farewell to Connor. Connor was sat behind the girl and pounced on her arm. We all laughed. "He doesn't want anyone else to wave," Alex told us later. The next morning the same scenario, except Connor was now sat in front of the girl. She waves cautiously and then Connor turned, sensing some movement. Instantly the girl pulled her hand behind her head and feigned a scratch. She learned well! Connor stuck his arm out of the window and waggled it until the bus disappeared.

Kate offered to cook Alex and Connor dinner tonight. "Let me ride in the Ude [Ute]!" Connor asked, his hundredth request to take a drive in Cheech, my once on-the-road support vehicle. This time, he got his wish. Little eyes just peeking over the dashboard, he directed Kate to the supermarket in Strathfield and helped her pick out a parking spot. Walking to the shops, every car was a new interest, "what make is that one?" he pointed, then after passing a new car, he got cheeeky, "why would anyone buy your ute, it's old?!" Inside the supermarket, the fruit shelves gave Kate some headaches as Connor picked up each different fruit and veg, sniffed it (his poor eyesight means all new objects are sniffed to gain some familiarity) then offered a final assessment, either "Yum" or "Yuk!" A few grapes disappeared into his naughty little mouth, and Kate couldn't help but snigger when he grabbed a carrot, took a bite and then popped it back on the shelf!

I'd often wondered how I'd feel if I had a child with a disability. Completely removed from the reality of this - I'm not in the game of having kids just yet - I suppose the thought was based on an inate selfishness and love of freedom. How would I react at the birth? How would I deal with things? Would I put the child up for adoption? Seriously, I asked myself these questions from the safe vantage point of distance. Then, leaving Kate in bed to get some much needed sleep, I found myself dressing Connor, a half-hour process as he struggles and pretends to be a dog and cries and runs away. Right there and then, as Connor lay on his back and pounded the bed with fists and feet, it suddenly occurred to me that the questions I'd once asked myself were folly. Nothing really mattered, I realised. As I chuckled at Connor refusing to allow socks onto his feet, it struck me that if I had a child I would love he or she, no matter what. I love this kid with his thick glasses which he swaps for mine now and then, this lad who loves TV and has a brilliant fascination for his portable radio which he carries around the house and plugs in so people can listen to it. Admittedly, living with a boy with Lowe Syndrome probably isn't the best way to recuperate from a five month skateboarding journey, but I wouldn't have had it any other way. I'm going to miss the little fella and his Dad, and I'm looking forward to standing with Connor for one last time in the morning, holding his hand as the School Bus approaches over the hill, waiting to see what happens as everyone waves goodbye.

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Friday, February 02, 2007

Give us a wave, Australia

11 days on from Brisbane sees six members of the team in Sydney, two on a plane back home and another two in the UK already. Becs, Bev, Dan and Si leave on Sunday, Kate and I a little later in mid Feb. The feet have been resting, although the occassional skate has been allowed and oh my goodness it's nice to roll around just for fun, knowing that I don't have 70km to commit to. BoardFree Australia's major engagements officially ended on the 31st January with a reception at the British Consulate in the City, a marvellous affair which brought together faces from the past six months, all to chat and reminisce and stare gawping at the stunning view through the window, the Opera House and Harbour Bridge majestic despite gloomy, grey weather. All quite English.

The post-Brisbane vacuum hasn't had much chance to suck the life out of me. Physically I crashed and burned after the 22nd, nausia and lack of appetite punishing me for five months of hard pushing. Still, rest was needed and a haven was provided, I rested up with Kate, Dan and Si on the Gold Coast with our new extended family: Chris, Nat, Tyla and Kye Cleator, enjoying fine company and warm Queensland swimming pools. But underlying everything, however relaxing life was for those few days, was planning. Typical Dave, there's no time for a week's holiday when there's a future to plan. Work work work, think think think. And the ideas start to form. Fundraising events in Sydney and back home, a homecoming gig in Swansea on the 1st March. BoardFree the book, title still to be decided, is in the formative stages. The chance to capitalise on Elsa's fame is handed to me by Peter Sanftenberg of rollsrolls, who wants me to market the board to a wider audience. His dream of being "rich in life" is one I share, I have found few things more satisfying than seeing the beam of delight radiate from the face of a person who has just ridden a rollsrolls for the first time - I remember how I felt and I still feel the same after all this distance. Of course, I need to eat and the money is helpful, but I would spread this board around for free if business wasn't an option. It's more than a big toy, it's a lifestyle. Skate to work, skate to school, skate and roll and ride. Life feels good.

In Sydney, we've been staying with Alex and Connor Gardiner. Connor has Lowe Syndrome, and sharing a house with him deserves a blog of its own, it's on the way....

It's just passed midnight, some complimentary tickets from the English Cricket Board via the British Consulate gave, Kate, Dan, Si, Becki, Bev and myself the chance to witness a strange thing tonight, England beating Australia!!! What an occassion, my first live cricket match, the realisation that watching cricket is a drawn-out social meeting with plenty of sub-plots. The cricket itself was great, but the day's main headline was farcical. On the news this morning it was announced, "No Mexican Waves Allowed at the SCG tonight." And they were deadly serious. Recent mexican waves led to the unforgivable sin of spilt drinks and soggy suits, and therefore they were off the agenda for today's game. But, and here's where it gets good, that didn't stop the crowd. 30 overs into the first innings, England were 170 odd runs for 3, and a bellow of cheers reverberated around the ground, gaining momentum as a beautiful cascade of colour rippled around the stadium, forging laughter at the ridiculousness of it all. "We're not allowed to do this, but we're going to do it anyway! What, exactly, are they going to do? Arrest us all?"

The police moved in, offered the 34,000 a double-take, and then started to wrestle man after man out of the Barmy Army contigent and out of the stadium. It became apparent that the instigators of the deadly wave were to be evicted, yet the party pooping continued. Mexican waves are great at sports games, they're harmless, make people happy and improve on the spectacle, so they continued through to the end, everyone present grinning goofily at the fact that they were having fun and breaking the law at the same time. Every time one of the poor sods in the stalls was frogmarched out of the ground for having fun the crowd turned and boo'ed the police, often offering a parting farewell to the brave heroes who had once led the placid rebellion in the form of a small, breaking Mexican Wave. Cheers around the stadium, brilliant! And then, once the fun could have dissipated, it began again in an even more foolish style. 'Beer Snakes,' I'm going to call them. Empty plastic cups, slotted into each other, will eventually become long and impressive. Across the stadium, short white lines were held aloft by proud cricket fans, drawing cheers and applause at the inventiveness of it all, and inviting a torrent of more empty beer cups from surrounding supporters, which prompted the line to disappear for a few minutes and then be held aloft again, longer now thanks to the extra cups. Just brilliant. By the end these Beer Snakes were popping up all over the ground, more eyes on them than the cricket, some of them over 20 metres in length - just how many plastic cups would it take to make them? - and the whole situation, with poor blokes still being led away for starting a wave, became a wonderful pantomine, topped off by the simple fact that England, after all of their rubbishness in past months, finally pipped Australia to the post.

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