If you’ve been out driving on the eastern coast of Australia in the last few months, you might have seen Tom Drury. He would have been hard to miss, a 28-year-old with a droopy moustache and a backpack, cruising along by the side of the Bruce Highway. Cruising, on a skateboard.
What you probably wouldn’t have known was that he was a long way from home, skating alone on an epic voyage of discovery that led him from Melbourne all the way north to Cairns, a 4,000-kilometer route on just four little wheels.
When he set off at the end of October, Drury had no idea what would be possible. When asked on his ‘Gordy Aboard’ Instagram page where he was heading, he responded simply, “As far up as possible!”
But it soon became a daring attempt to traverse almost the whole side of a continent, a grueling but inspiring journey motivated by the global pandemic and the seemingly interminable lockdown.
“I just love skateboarding,” Drury told CNN Sport, “and when the pandemic was happening, I was getting a bit of cabin fever. I started skateboarding longer distances just to clear my head a bit. I don’t know; I was just looking for an adventure.”
Drury’s Instagram page displays his early forays into the Outback from his hometown of Broken Hill in New South Wales, and eventually he plucked up the courage to take his board a little further afield.
“I’m from rural Australia and I haven’t actually seen anything anywhere on the coast before. So, this is all a new experience to me,” he explained.
‘This is so stupid!’
Friends and family were initially skeptical of his early ambitions and — for a brief time – he thought they might have been right.
“I think when I first told them I was going to skateboard to Cairns, it was like, ‘Whatever.’ But when I started this trip, by the third day, I thought, ‘This is so stupid!’ I was exhausted, and my body was broken.”
But with the encouragement of his loved ones back home, Drury found the resolve to continue.
No stranger to hard work, Drury was an offside diamond driller in his hometown mine, working 1,400m below the surface of the earth. Among the numerous jobs he’s had, it was physically the hardest work he’s ever experienced.
“Hard and dirty, in really hot conditions,” is the way he described it. “I knew if I could work there 12 hours a day then I could skate 12 hours a day in the sun!”
Treating his skateboarding challenge as just another job proved psychologically key for Drury.
“I knew it’s going to take me a few weeks to adjust to. After that, I’ll get into the rhythm and that’s exactly what happened. That’s when I was like, ‘Holy shit, I’ll be able to do this!'”
In a WhatsApp exchange with Drury along the route, he catalogued some of the occupational hazards of a trans-continental skateboarder: “Fallen off twice. Severe chafe three times. Nearly stepped on four deadly snakes. Ran into the police five times. Nearly had heatstroke six times.”
He skated anything from 50 to 100 kilometers every day. On one occasion he was on his board for 15 hours as he traveled 115 km.
“The traffic’s been really hard on the highways here,” says Drury. “We just have loads of double-trailer semi-trucks that are whizzing by me. And I’ve constantly got my eyes out on the road for rocks and sticks and snakes and traffic.”
‘Idiot on a skateboard’
Some of the drivers who’ve encountered him have called the police referring to Druray as “an idiot on a skateboard” and he’s then had to talk his way out of trouble.
“I would just ask them for money for a fund raiser and they’d leave me alone,” chuckling as he shares this life hack: “If you ever need anyone to ever leave you alone, ask them for money and they will go!”
He’s changed the wheels and bearings on his board numerous times and worn through half a dozen pairs of sneakers along the way, sometimes walking as much as boarding on the upslopes of Australia’s Eastern Highland range.
He’s won many new admirers for his good-natured tenacity, and he’s been interviewed by journalists from as far afield as Germany, Norway, Iceland and Dubai.
Speaking to CNN Sport from a stopover in Townsville, Queensland, Drury explained that the topography he’d experienced was a welcome challenge.
“I’d get bored if the road was flat the entire way. When I started the trip, I hated hills but now I’ve grown to love them because it gives me a break off the board. And then, you know, I love flying down the hills with my music on! I’m having so much fun doing it.”
While detailing the more challenging aspects of the journey, he makes no attempt to sugarcoat the intense heat of the Australian summer, which could easily have scuppered the whole thing.
Drury estimates that the average temperature throughout his journey was around 33 degrees Celsius, or 91 degrees Fahrenheit. But on the stretch between Gin Gin and Miriam Vale in Queensland, the temperature was much higher.
“It’s really hot, it was dry, and the sun was just screaming at me. My body was just shaking violently, and I was thinking that if I didn’t find shade, I’m going to be in trouble. I’m out in the middle of nowhere by myself.”
Drury’s Instagram post for that day in early March reveals the true emotions he was feeling.
“I was nauseous, my body and mind were so stressed, I burst into tears. I laid on the grass and sipped on water, contemplating what I was doing and if I should continue.”
He pushed on though, reaching his destination with blood-shot eyes and recalled the feeling of triumph upon reaching his destination: “At the end of that day, that beer has never been sweeter!”
Remarkably, Drury says his 100kg frame has basically stayed the same as it was when he first embarked on his challenge — he blames beer and his poor diet for the lack of weight loss.
However, he has noticed one tangible difference in his appearance — he thinks one leg is now bigger than the other, while he boasts “the best tan in all of Australia.”
‘We live in fear’
Drury’s experiences have been detailed on his Instagram page and the sights and sounds of his travels are laid out in a presentation of kaleidoscopic wonder; much of it is small-town curiosity, mixed in with breathtaking vistas and the countless strangers that he’s met along the way. He’s stayed with many of them and now considers them to be friends.
“We live in fear, not just of people but of the elements,” he said. “My mental health has never been better since I’ve started this trip; I’m feeling so clear and I’m feeling so in touch with nature and also in touch with people in general.
“I’ve blown everyone’s minds by coming up here on my skateboard, [so] I’ll never tell myself that I won’t be able to do anything, ever again.”
In a year when skateboarding will gain new-found attention by becoming an Olympic sport for the first time, Drury has done his own little bit for the growth and expansion of the sport on a global scale.
He’s been raising money to help build the first skate park in Laos; his GoFundMe page explains that Laos is the only country in Southeast Asia without one.
A week before he reached Cairns, the initial target of 25,000 Australian dollars ($19,000) had already been met. Additional donations are gravy and will support classes and maintenance.
Nonetheless, Drury admits that he’s been homesick and can’t wait for life to return to normal. He plans to head back to Broken Hill in search of a new job and though he’ll never try anything like his marathon skateboarding trek again, he’d certainly recommend the experience to anyone.
He believes that he’s the first person ever to skateboard so far north in Australia but doesn’t think it’s a record because others have skated greater distances in other places, but he’s not worried about setting landmarks.
“I won’t be in the Guinness World Record book,” he noted. “To be honest. I don’t really care about my name in the book.”
He says he doesn’t even want the skateboard that has carried him so far, explaining, “I don’t really have any attachment to things in general.”
But he’ll always treasure a lifetime of memories, and not least for this skater from small-town Australia: “I’ve definitely got the street-cred around the skating world, so I’m pretty happy about that!”