It wasn’t just a couple of journeys, it was an enterprise.
The HQ was a 4 x 6 metre room with sanded wooden floorboards and beanbags and a few bits from Ikea scattered around. This was to where I scuttled when I woke up in March 2005 with a flash of hope, inspired by my first set of wheels, a Tierney Rides T-Board. The desk where I sat for the following year calling sponsors and building the website was the one upon which I unfurled a map of the world that morning, searching for a route. I’d been skating for all of two weeks but drawing an imaginary line from Swansea to Beijing didn’t seem unreasonable at the time. As the weeks passed the destination changed, but at heart there was simply an urge to escape a dead-end job and truly feel the glorious fury of life on the open road, so whether it was Asia or Australasia I was quite content.
The idea to push a skateboard across Australia appeared utterly barmy, but to me it was the sanest venture in the world. I actually took pleasure from being told it wasn’t possible, because every inch of my soul told me it was. External doubt just became one piece of a jigsaw which ultimately came down to one, simple fact; if you can ride a longboard then all you need to go a long way is time. I was down and out: time was one thing I did have.
What emerged, though, was a project demanding much more than just time and distance. I didn’t just want to ride a long way, I wanted to make a difference. To others, to myself. All very clichéd, but I’d always been impulsive without the satisfaction and here was a chance to create something that I could respect myself for. If all went to plan, maybe there was light at the end of the skate: a new career, a book!? The core of the project consisted of two journeys, but webbing out from the endurance came charities, promoting longboarding, obtaining media coverage, making a noise, sending a message that anything could be done. Just do it, stop talking, act. Everything was chronicled online, it was reality TV without Geordie presenters, and it was frustratingly word-based in the early days – BoardFree was laid on a foundation of gut instinct, but it wasn’t worth a dime until the talking ended and the skating began.
For all the ‘I’m going to be doing this and that’ there was a sense of passion and purpose about BoardFree that I’d certainly never felt before, and if you’ve ever felt like you’re floating on a cushion of air you’ll know it’s the last feeling you want to lose. I was twenty-five when I quit my job, just two months after I stepped onto a skateboard for the first time. BoardFree was my job now, one without a salray, yes, but as glamorous as the adventure might have seemed I wanted the project to carry an air of professionalism and responsibility. If the media was going to sit up and take notice, if companies were going to sponsor us and if members of the general public were going to dig deep and give to our charities, then BoardFree needed to be branded properly.
It was this branding that I spent the first year on. Too much had been sacrificed to let these journeys and everything surrounding them be forgotten on completion, and there was a sense of impending excitement that, coupled with the passion generated by what I guess must have been the sheer audacity yet possibility of the project, began to entice a team together.
Writing this in May 2009, some four years from the inception of BoardFree, it’s easy to converse about BoardFree and easily let the bones of the story slide. You tell someone that you once skated across Australia and it rarely generates little more than mild amusement. And that’s having done it! Imagine what it must have been like before the journey, even before the 900 mile blister-ridden length of Britain warm-up (which I only did to drum up some tangible realisation of what Australia would take and what I had to give), and only then can you comprehend the utter seriousness of BoardFree’s build-up. How else would one bloke who had been skating for only a matter of months convince a group of strangers (plus a couple of friends) to join him on this would-be-epic? So much could have gone wrong before the first push had been taken, but as it is with any expedition – if you can prepare for every conceivable reality and visualise your path through/past/over potential obstacles and all the way to the finish line, then half the job is done, whatever lies ahead.
By the time I pushed out from John O’Groats on Sunday April 30th 2006 hundreds of people had already been involved with BoardFree. We’d dressed up as kangaroos in Hyde Park and I’d met four potential photographers and written hundreds of letters to charities and sponsors and newspapers. There had been messages of support from celebrities, countless sausages and burgers cooked to raise funds, launch parties, television interviews, longboards tested, sponsors found, maps destroyed by pins, 70 year-olds taught to skate, calves sold for advertising space on eBay. I was knackered before it began, but it did begin, and went on and on and on.
There’s a damn good chance small aspects of the project have been missed on this site, but take a look around and you’ll get a firm idea of what was involved from beginning to end. From etiquette on narrow country roads when cars were building up behind the support vehicle to how the Australian team spent their nights in the bush, this website is designed to complement the BoardFree book, which on publication in early 2008 was the full story, beginning to end, good and bad. Although there are some fairly gruesome pictures of blisters splattered around, I hope you enjoy your visit.