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An Interview With Record-Breaking British Adventurer, Author and Motivational Speaker: Dave Cornthwaite

Dave Cornthwaite

"Solo 1,000-mile pedal-powered kayak trip across Scandinavia"

Dave Cornthwaite is a British adventurer, author and motivational speaker. He is the founder of the exciting potential-fulfilling brand “SayYesMore” and is now well on his way to completing something quite remarkable – Expedition1000.

You may not know of Dave Cornthwaite, but we think you really ought to.  This man’s infectious enthusiasm and zest for life is impossible to ignore. We have no doubt you’ll agree with us and hope that you might be able to feed off his amazingly positive outlook on life, and get planning your next adventure!

Once upon a time Dave was a graphic designer stuck in a typical office but at the age of 25, he realised he wanted more from his life. So he decided to skateboard across the whole of Australia, as one does. This was just the beginning for Dave; over time and after a number of other incredible adventures, the “Expedition1000” project was born. A project that will see him complete 25 journeys of at least 1,000 miles in length. Each of these journeys will be completed by a different non-motorised mode of transport; many of which Dave has never heard of, let alone is familiar with.

In August 2014 Dave embarked on what would be, at the time, the 11th leg of Expedition1000. This next epic was to take him on a solo 1,000-mile pedal-powered kayak trip across Scandinavia, one of Sandgrouse Travel’s favourite parts of the world.

The 48-day adventure would see Dave travel down from Norway’s vibrant capital city Oslo, through the heartland of southern Sweden, out into the Baltic Sea and across to Finland’s dynamic capital Helsinki. We followed the journey keenly as it unfolded and managed to catch up with him to find out more about his lasting impressions of Scandinavia, from its incredibly varied and beautiful landscapes to its mouth-watering cuisine and refreshingly welcoming hospitality.

(Arriving in Sweden's capital city, Stockholm). Click image to enlarge).

Sandgrouse Travel: Hi Dave! Thank you for taking the time to sit down with us. We’re huge fans of your travels and adventures so it’s a real joy to be able to ask you some questions today.

I feel I ought to say now, congratulations on completing your most recent trip leading the first team of paddleboarders on a successful circumnavigation of Martinique in the Caribbean!.  You have only just recently completed this, haven’t you?  This must have been really incredible – you’re getting pretty proficient with a paddleboard.

Dave: You guys are on the money! We literally finished the Martinique circumnavigation earlier today (12th December). I tell you what, don’t ever let anyone tell you that the Caribbean is an easy place for an expedition. We paddled 146 miles in just 12 days and some of the waves and conditions on the north and east coast especially were killer. We spent a couple of days bouncing up and down on 25ft swells, realising just how small we are compared to the world.

I do like my paddleboarding though. In the past I’ve crossed Britain and Lake Geneva, taken on Wolf River in Tennessee and in 2011 broke the distance world record on a SUP by paddling the length of the Mississippi River. In Martinique, my team and I were using inflatable Origin paddleboards. It was the first SUP adventure I’d had with inflatable boards, but they are super strong, really light (around 10kg including bag and paddle) and totally reliable. And now, I know, they’re capable of surviving a good munching by 15ft breakers!

Sandgrouse Travel: Thank you. Well we were following the circumnavigation closely via social media so we had a hunch you may have finished today. I note it was only 146 miles however. Was this most recent trip part of Expedition1000? What’s your driving motivation behind the Expedition1000 project?

Dave: It wasn’t. The Martinique circumnavigation was the first leg of another (newer) series of adventures I’m embarking on called Project Origin, throughout which we’re using adventure to raise enough funds to plant one million trees.

Expedition1000 is less altruistic and more personal. I’d already completed two non-motorised journeys over 1,000 miles by the time I came up with the concept, but simply, it’s a way of keeping me focused and motivated. I think it’s ever so important to set yourself big goals in life and the more you challenge yourself, the more purpose you find, the more able you are to make critical decisions and the more you know yourself and your capabilities. Expedition1000 gives me all of that and more, and the great thing is that as I’ve only completed 11 of these journeys so far, I’m not even halfway to the 25 and SO much has happened already.

Sandgrouse Travel: It’s an amazing goal to have - I might be ever so slightly jealous! Thankfully you’re pretty nifty with a GoPro, blogging and posting updates of all your adventures so we get to live them from the comfort of our armchairs. Long may this continue!

Dave: My answer to that is don’t be jealous, just do it! I’m no athlete, I’m just good at doing things. Any fool could do these trips individually, but tying it all together and somehow creating a living from it has been the biggest success of my life. It all comes down to stories and there are so many different ways to tell them these days, with film and social media making adventure accessible to everyone. It’s a beautiful time to be living this life.

(Making headway north up through Sweden. Click image to enlarge).

Sandgrouse Travel: I guess a lot of your new adventurous life stems from your motto, “Do something new every single day”, which we love! But how has this mantra changed your life since you’ve adopted this mindset?

Dave: Ten years ago I was on a bean bag playing Play Station 10 hours a day. I can’t remember a thing from about four years of my early twenties because every day was the same, such a waste! By doing new things you develop yourself, and the more stuff you do, the more memories you have, the slower time seems to travel and more opportunities present themselves. If you take on the mantra tenaciously, it will change your life. There’s no way that it couldn’t!

(Dave's video below explaining his story - we hope it inspires you to seize the day).


Sandgrouse Travel: You seem to be particularly fond of water-based travel, so what keeps bringing you back to the water?

Dave: Travelling under your own steam on water is slower than on land, more often than not. I do like gobbling up some miles on two or three wheels but when you’re taking a road trip, you cede a little bit of your safety to other people on the road and I’m not fond of that. Travelling on water can be just as hazardous but if you get in a sticky situation, it’s up to you to get yourself out. Water makes you feel small but it’s calming and the bringer of life. I’m a more whole person after spending a few weeks on a river or coastline; it rounds you like a coastal boulder.

(Dawn brings a new day full of excitement. Click image to enlarge).

Sandgrouse Travel: Your 82-day 1,000-mile journey on a Stand Up Paddleboard down the Mississippi River passing through nine states of America must have been pretty life-changing as a part of this love affair. What was the most enjoyable aspect of that trip: the changing lands you travelled though experiencing the people and connections you made or the feeling of satisfaction at the end?

Dave: Actually, my Mississippi paddle was 2,404 miles (the 1,000 miles is just the lowest aim of an Expedition1000 trip). I look back at that voyage so fondly. It was super tough in places - the challenges that river throws at you over the course of three months! – but the people I met and the cultures I grew to understand were at the heart of the experience. I still have many friends who I’ve been back to visit since.

Sandgrouse Travel: Kayaking in Scandinavia from Oslo to Helsinki through Norway, Sweden and on to Finland - this really caught our attention! What was it about Scandinavia that captured your imagination as a part of the world to choose for this trip?

Dave: Well, I hadn’t been there! I’d had something else lined up for the summer of 2014 but it fell through and I had a choice: find a bed and cry all summer, or do an adventure. So I looked at my latent list of ways to travel without a motor, figured the pedal-powered Hobie Kayak would be something I could do with minimal training, and during a short visit to Google Maps I ran my finger around Scandinavia, saw there was water between Oslo and Helsinki, and BAM! Twelve days after having the idea, I was in Oslo lowering myself off a pontoon into a Hobie Kayak for the first time. It was beautifully spontaneous as a trip and for me the highlight was that a minimum of planning can produce the highest of joys. Just living and moving, spurred on by a geographical destination, but letting the journey wash over you. Man, it was another tough one, but right up there as a favourite.

Sandgrouse Travel: So after this journey, would you say you have a new-found appreciation for Scandinavia? Is it a place you’ll be excited to return to again and again in the future?

Dave: Absolutely. I’d never been before but the Bohuslän archipelago on the Swedish West Coast and the Finnish archipelago in Åland are absolutely stunning. And the people are wonderful free-living souls, especially in the countryside. I’ll definitely be returning.

Sandgrouse Travel: I notice you do a lot of your trips alone. Oslo to Helsinki was also a solo trip -presumably it means less complications (although I know your recent trip around Martinique was a team effort!).

When crossing through Scandinavia on your kayak, did you ever get lonely? Talking to your GoPro can only offer so much even if you do pretend it’s another person. How did you overcome this? Did you make any unexpected friendships along the way with interesting characters?

Dave: I don’t think it’s possible to be lonely if you’re comfortable with yourself, your choices and your values. I revel in that thinking time and having full reign over decisions, freedom and movement (something that is very much restricted when travelling with others). I meet more people when I travel solo, and I also have more time to create content for my social media channels, which is a part of these adventures that I adore. It’s wonderful to have the means to share an adventure in real-time – and ultimately see other people go out and do their own stuff because they realise it's more attainable when they see some normal bloke out there doing hard, cool stuff in gorgeous places. Again, anyone can do it, it’s just a decision!

(Dave's private beach and harbour. Click image to enlarge).

Sandgrouse Travel: I bet you wanted to stay sometimes in the places you were warmly welcomed (especially when the weather was rough outside!)? How would you therefore rate Scandinavian hospitality towards the traveller?

One: A big smiley face and thumbs-up.

Two: A nod of the head and noise of firm approval.

Three: A shake of the head and a pouty lip of indifference.

Dave: One, all the way. I’m always looked after by people on my solo trips (maybe I have a face that elicits sympathy, I don’t know…). From the hostel owner in Berg, Sweden, who heard about my trip and left a key for me to let myself in and have a shower and a bed after 14-hour days in the kayak, to an old couple who let me stay in their sauna, to a Finnish lady named Ninni who had been following me the whole way across (on social media, not in real-life) and gave me refuge in her place just as a huge 3-day storm hit the archipelago. Man, I was grateful to her for that chance to rest.

Sandgrouse Travel: Norway, Sweden and Finland are undoubtedly beautiful countries, you’ll agree. Much of your journey would have been in very remote parts of the countries, such as the beautiful archipelago consisting of thousands of islands around Stockholm, or perhaps down the stunning west coast to Gothenburg - did you have any wildlife encounters on your trip that stick out in your memory, besides the world's most friendly duck on Lake Vanern?

Dave:  Hah, apart from the friendly little quacker who jumped up on my board, I had a bunch of seal experiences off the Swedish coast, and always had eagles and egrets circling me for hours. Whether they were offering some kind of angelic company or eyeing me up as the day’s next meal I’m not sure, but it felt pretty cool to share that moment with them.

("The simple act of wonder needs not be reserved only for children" Click image to enlarge).

Sandgrouse Travel: Out of the 24 little islands you managed to camp on throughout your journey, was there a particular island that you wished you might be able to go back to one day and spend more time living on, and why?

Dave: There are 8,000 islands in the Bohuslän archipelago and over 30,000 on the Swedish East Coast, and another 10,000 in Åland and the southern Finnish coast, so I didn’t even scrape the surface. I’d like to go back and find more cool places, but I was holed up for 24 hours on a rock the size of a tennis court with waves splashing all over my tent. I’d go back there in a heartbeat. Special stuff.

Sandgrouse Travel: Your video diaries show you sleeping in a deserted summer house on an island that looks so idyllic! Do small remote uninhabited islands now have a more sacred place in your heart after this trip and if so, why?

Dave: I think it’s natural to have a soft spot for islands; they’re a safe haven in the middle of unforgiving sea, but I think my Scandinavian adventure definitely heightened a love for coastal journeys and sleeping on islands in particular. I took that on to this latest trip around Martinique and slept on a few more islands, too. Always in my hammock. Island, two trees: sorted.

Sandgrouse Travel: We’re huge advocates of Scandinavian cuisine. After a long day of travel on an expedition like yours, I’m sure a ration pack can be surprisingly tasty. However, were there many chances to savour the local cuisine on the expedition? For example, perhaps through fishing yourself, local home-made cooking, or restaurants in any of the towns or cities you passed through?

Dave: I do like to stop off and learn a skill or watch a master at work, and I found an oyster farmer named Per in north west Sweden who ran a business called Everts Sjöbod. The dude taught me how to crack open an oyster in double-quick time, and then served up five of them alongside a platter of strong cheeses, all washed down with some oyster beer. I was totally pissed after one pint. That’s what paddling in the ocean will do for you.

Another lovely tradition the Swedes have is the fika. Basically, it’s coffee and biscuits, but it’s part of culture and sharing - people actually meet up, have coffee and talk to each other, rather than do it via Facebook. I honestly think the fika is responsible for the Swede’s more refined society.

(Sunset on an island in Scandinavia. Click image to enlarge).

Sandgrouse Travel: What was your favourite local dish?

Dave: I’m a coffee hound. Give me the coffee. Swedish coffee rocks.

Sandgrouse Travel: I know there’s a certain feeling from travelling through Scandinavia that you don’t find elsewhere in Europe. It has a unique and special feel about it, remote, isolated and pure. Did you feel this and witness any noticeable changes between the three countries of Norway, Sweden and Finland that you travelled through?

Dave: There are lots of discernible differences between those three countries, but what they share is a love for the outdoors. The public right to access policy allows anyone to camp anywhere they like (as long as it’s beyond acceptable distance from a habituated property), and this connection with the wild is so valuable. Then you’ve got a gorgeous, almost haunting light which makes even the crappiest photographer seem half-talented, and the mystery and option of the thousands of islands.

Sandgrouse Travel: I imagine the saddest part of your journey was leaving behind the friends you made along the way, but what was the most fun experience you had on your trip?

Dave: I used to get really sad after meeting friends and saying goodbye soon after, but I now know it’s part of a trip, and it’s easy to stay in touch and meet up again further down the line. I live right here, right now, and when you say goodbye to someone, there’s a new hello just around the corner. And that’s what I loved about this expedition, so many cool people all willing to play a small part in this roaming Englishman’s journey. Fun? I just loved rigging up my hammock in a new place each night, sleeping and waking with the sun, hitting the water and pedalling my way to a new island. Every second was fun, even getting tossed around in cauldrons of waves in the Baltic and North Sea. That trip taught me that even if you were in high anxiety because of the conditions, it’s still possible to be mindful and totally present. I’d find myself in the biggest storms in a tiny kayak, just thinking about the fika I’d had that morning or something that made me laugh, all the while letting my muscle memory keep the boat upright. It’s nice knowing that you’re not too far from a pretty ugly situation, but still keeping fairly chilled about the whole thing. Seriously, 10 years ago had I done half this stuff I’d be with Davey Jones right now.

(Yes! #SayYesMore. Click image to enlarge).

Sandgrouse Travel: Would you recommend Norway, Sweden and Finland as destinations to travel to for others and if so, why?

Dave: Yes. The people are welcoming, the land is about as beautiful and varied as you could hope for, and if tens of thousands of islands to kayak around doesn’t take your fancy, hit the Norwegian fjords, or Swedish Lapland, or have a Finnish sauna. One of my favourite places on the planet.

Sandgrouse Travel: Finally, your fantastic attitude of "SayYesMore" naturally leads to you participating in an array of great adventure activity. For others out there reading this, would you say that by doing as many new and exciting things in the world of travel and adventure can somehow slow down time and make life more fulfilling?

Dave: That’s exactly what I’d say. Listen, if you’re been twitching with the idea for an adventure but don’t know where to start, you’re thinking too much, just start. The rest just happens. Each year I commit to helping 200 people #Begin by offering my experience and encouragement to get them to the start line of their first big adventure. If this sounds like something you’d be interested in, check out #Begin on Life’s too short to let it pass blandly; live some memories and take some stories into your later years. Without that, what's the point of being here? 

Please feel free to retweet this interview via the Twitter link below. Maybe Dave will inspire someone you know to do something great! 

(Arriving in Helsinki, Finland. Click image to go enlarge).

(Dave's daily video blog was something we thoroughly enjoyed watching during his amazing journey)


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