Many of us putter along through our lives searching for meaning, wondering if there is more to do out there. We put off our dreams and travel plans, referencing careers and responsibility as reasons to not achieve our potential and our ambitions. Several weeks ago I watched a talk by Dave Cornthwaite. Dave had decided to stop waiting to do what he wanted to do and set about fulfilling his dreams and creating new ones, whilst making a life that is both sustainable and fulfilling. Starting with skate-boarding the length of Britain, and then the breadth of Australia, Dave has developed Expedition1000, a challenge as ambitious and impressive as any I have heard of. But what makes Dave such a compelling and fascinating individual is that he didn’t know that being a “Professional Adventurer” was what he wanted to do. He had a career, a mortgage, a long-term girlfriend and a road-map of life that would be familiar to many of us. But starting with a single crazy idea, a strong will and hard work, he has created a lifestyle that constantly brings him new opportunities, challenges and adventures. I’ve been lucky enough to get to know Dave since I saw his talk, and I’ve asked him to write about his life, his ambitions and what it’s like being a Professional Adventurer. So, without further ado good readers, I present to you Mr Dave Cornthwaite, Professional Adventurer, in his own words.
Written by Dave Cornthwaite
Hello, I’m Dave, but you can call me whatever you like. Once upon a time I was a newspaper editing graphic designer, but these days I make a living from adventure and doing new things. I blame the longboard, a plank of wood on two wheels procured to improve my quite chronic snowboarding skills. Turned out I was a natural skater, assuming skating is all about going in a straight line for a long way, because in a jiffy I had quit my job and become the first person to skate the length of Britain from John O’Groats to Lands End.
I am not going to lie to you, that first journey was both the most beautiful and painful experience of my life, not bad for just a warm-up. In August 2006 I left Perth, Western Australia, and skated east to Brisbane. That trip took five months, was the longest skateboard journey in history having covered over 3600 miles, and made me realise that just because you cannot get a degree in adventure does not mean it is impossible as a vocation.
Since then, I have been trying new things, writing a lot, learning how to film and edit, and generally working quite hard for very little money to create what I call The Model of Adventure. Simply put, it was a way to make expeditions and Projects a sustainable career, even without a big book or TV deal. Fortunately, it has worked. During the four years since I finished skating I have mastered the ancient (not really) art of the human-powered hydrofoil, walked and kayaked from Source to Sea along Australia’s Murray River, written a book about attempting to Date 100 Women in 100 Days, and amongst other things I have stand-up-paddleboarded across Lake Geneva and from Bath to London, in preparation for a world record-breaking 2400 mile journey along the Mississippi.
My adventures are now summed up by an ongoing project called Expedition1000, which involves me undertaking twenty-five separate journeys of 1000 miles of more, each using a different form of non motorised transport. Along the way I aim to raise at least £1 million for selected charities, as well as encouraging people to jump off their sofas, get fit, care a bit for our planet and do some good for people less fortunate than us. Next up for me is a tandem bike ride between Vancouver to Vegas with my good buddy Sebastian Terry. I’ve also got journeys by Paraglider, Bicycle, Wheelchair, Velomobile, Freecross, Rowboat, Skis and a few more in the pipeline. Frankly, I couldn’t be happier, and just so you can dig a little deeper into the psyche of a bloke who makes a living from doing this stuff, here’s what I call my Philosophy of Adventure.
Dave Cornthwaite’s Philosophy of Adventure
I’ve never believed in a ‘career’, as such. Even as I went along the traditional path of education at school and University I spent more time trying to improve my non-academic skills; by setting up football leagues, editing newspapers, managing annual charity events, anything but the perceived ‘right’ thing.
This approach stood me in good stead once a quarter-life crisis presented me with a skateboard and the idea of riding it across Australia. To many, this was a bizarre notion even to consider, let alone practice, but personally I had never been faced with a larger opportunity. It wasn’t crazy, it couldn’t have felt more sane. For the first time in my life, I felt I had purpose.
Five years on, I still wrestle with the nature of what I do. Thus, explaining it simply isn’t easy. From the outside, you may see pretty pictures, a life of travel and adventure, images of what basically appears to be an everlasting holiday. Oh, the cheek of selective storytelling! It is a menial, everyday, in-between-expeditions life. It is a chipping paint-off-the-walls, cereal-pouring, email-writing, bill-paying, ‘what next’ wondering, food-shopping life.
Yes, sometimes I have tried things that not many (or sometimes, nobody) has done before, but this doesn’t come because I was blessed with trailblazing genes, a fat wallet or a bionic physique.
So where does it begin? I haven’t recovered from a life-threatening illness, nor been born into wealth. I simply took an opportunity to improve myself. My life is gloriously uneventful unless I decide to make it otherwise. I don’t expect to win the lottery, but I live (if not spend!) like my numbers came up.
As a teenager I was an unhappy, friendless soul! I couldn’t relate to anyone and didn’t know what everyone my age was talking about, because when you’re young you don’t have much experience to draw on. This translated into my first incentive to travel; I guess I wanted to become more interesting, even to myself.
As a young adult I made excuses to avoid testing myself. We all delight in being comfortable; Brits would rather burn themselves than pull themselves from the sand and find some shade on a beach holiday. Our desk at work becomes our abode, a family photo smiles back at so many of us as we wonder exactly why we’re at that desk in the first place. It’s hard to drag yourself out of a warm bed on a winter’s morning. You feel less like seeing your friends when you’re in the blossoming early stages of a relationship.
Comfort feels good, but it also stops us from reaching out and possibly doing what we should be doing. Only we are at fault if we continue to make excuses, for excuses are not reasons.
I’d always understood that when fun meets work, then it becomes a chore. Now, we’re never going to have everything our own way, but I manage my own life and am so privileged to do so. Sometimes I don’t want to get on a train or go through my taxes, but even if your life is shaped by chasing passions the hard things makes the good stuff taste better. By making our passions a priority, everything else has a meaning and its own place. Whether depressing, un-enjoyable or mildly boring, if you live for your dreams nothing else can bring you down for long, because you know there’s far better to come.
When I began my first big adventure project, BoardFree, I knew I was in it for the long haul, I just didn’t know what that meant. A few years on, I have a much better idea.
I know that if I don’t believe in myself, nobody else will. Nobody else should.
I have chosen a lifestyle that is rewarding in its difficulties. My income fluctuates, I earn from a variety of angles; writing, book sales, design work, video editing, expedition consultancy, speaking. But everything revolves around my expeditions and projects. Within these journeys I am presented with a world from a series of angles, I wake wide-eyed, I am tested physically and emotionally, faced with self-set challenges, destroyed by headwinds, my grip fails, I sleep. Another day comes and the sun shines. I know the value of sleep, it replaces so many ills. Rest is more important than money.
We form our own circumstances, just as a decision to be successful is rewarded by success. If we think big, we aim high, we achieve much more than if we deny ourselves ambition. If I’ve ever faced an opportunity and thought I’d regret turning it down, then I’ve taken it. Of course, we all have obligations and commitments to family, work, the new things life throws at us – these all hasten or delay our plans. If only ourselves are at stake, it’s much easier to take risks, but whatever our situation, only we can judge our own costs of failure.
I have learned more from failing than I ever did from succeeding. But despite numerous failures I wouldn’t consider that I’ve ever been unsuccessful. Knowledge is far more useful than any certificate, treat everything as a lesson you grow from and you bounce into the next opportunity like a wagging dog!
My driving force is that I believe it is possible to make a living by doing something I love. I work more hours than if I had a full-time job elsewhere, but whatever we do it’s our attitude to life – not towards our circumstance – that defines who we are. Not everyone is cut out for gallivanting around the world making themselves sweaty, but we all have room for new experiences.
The very essence of life, for me, is testing and teasing the boundaries of my comfort zone. We don’t improve by completing easy tasks, we only grow when we try new things. With this in mind, I live according to what stretches me in all directions; this way, being suitably stretched, I can attempt to fit more inside.
Dave is currently engaged in Expedition1000: a ground-breaking (and somewhat crazy) adventure in which he plans to raise £1million for charity by doing 25 journeys, each in excess of 1000 miles, each by a different form of non-motorised transport. His next trip as part of Expedition1000 is in April: riding a tandem bicycle with his good friend Sebastian Terry from Vancouver to Las Vegas.
Dave’s adventures have also extended into the realms of romance, as he’s currently finishing off his book about the ultimate challenge: dating 100 different women in 100 days! Look out for it later this year.
To learn more about Expedition1000 and the rest of Dave’s inspirational work and journeys, go to Dave’s homepage.