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Whitey 1



Harty tells us why Dave ‘Whitey’ White, 2 years after a stroke, takes resilience to a new level.


I’m sat here in my garden, chatting with Dave White, former multi speed world champion, record holder and colossus within our sport – almost 2 years to the day since he suffered a near fatal stroke in the massive waves of Mauritius. When he arrived back in the UK three weeks after the stroke, he had no movement at all in the right side of his body and couldn’t speak a word. “That’s not true,” interrupts Whitey, “I could still stay ‘f**K!” (The only surviving sound was his favourite profanity – that is SO Essex). The hospital in Colchester were about to transport him to London to a unit for acute stroke cases who had minimal cognitive function, until his amazing wife Sally (who has a spookily telepathic relationship with her man, in that she knows everything he’s thinking) put her foot down and told them bluntly: “you do realise, he can understand everything you’re saying?” And from then on his progress has been steadily upwards. “Well that’s not true;” he interrupts again (he’s always interrupting): “I have days when I get tired and everything gets worse – but the general trend is upwards.” On cue, he offers me a glass of his sickly sweet apple and raspberry cider. Sadly this recovery process has done nothing to improve his drinking habits.

Glorious independence
But the main reason for this update is that Whitey has started windsurfing again. Did I think this would happen? With any normal human being definitely not, but since this is Whitey, of course I did. But as to how, that’s another matter. I knew things were taking a turn for the better when he came over to stay with me in the spring. It was his first solo outing away from Essex in his adapted car, loaded with his new favourite toy, an electric mountain bike. I had the strictest instructions from Sally not to bust him up. On day one therefore I led him along the ‘Billy’ trail, a dead flat 3 km path from Langston to Hayling Island. Halfway along he cried “Harty – this is effin’ boring! Can’t we go somewhere else?” So pleading with him to be careful I took him up the Sussex downs. But telling Whitey to go easy is like trying to tell a Rhino to stop charging. On the way down he shot past me. At the bottom he came to a halt, but couldn’t get his weaker right leg off the pedal in time, so fell and broke his hand. Thanks mate.

The windy return
As for windsurfing: “I tried last year in Vass. My boys Reece and Aaron put me on the tridem MegaSUP with a rig – but it was way too early for me and I wasn’t really windsurfing. It wasn’t good.” But back in Vass this year, he really meant it. I was busy taking a clinic up the road, so the Club Vass boys led by Max Rowe became his ever present rocks and guardians. They were brilliant. There’s a huge amount of love for him there. Initial trials were held in the swimming pool. The main challenge is still his right arm. He can lift it a little but only to chest height, which makes getting on the board very tricky. On the sea, he could clamber on in the shallows. If he fell, he’d just swim back in. After two weeks he was going across the bay in the light morning winds and he put in two tacks.
I talked to him every evening about what went right and wrong and realised that his approach was the perfect template for everyone trying to learn windsurfing or achieve high levels.

A goal. Even when he could barely walk or talk, he declared that he would windsurf again. A definite goal can be very motivating.

Process goals. But when you have the big goal, the best thing to do is to park it and focus on small process goals, which are going to get you there step-by-step. Unusually for Whitey, he did not charge at the challenge, but instead, by practising in his garden and monitoring his motor improvements worked out at which point he could realistically add water.

Drilling. There are few shortcuts in sport; the only way to master a skill is through drilling, repeating and constantly tweaking the desired sequence. At home one time I caught him staring at a finger on his right hand and moving it again and again. “I couldn’t do that yesterday” he said.

Right kit and setup. You really have to work out which kit combo and setup suits you and what you want to do. For his first attempts, he set his boom comically low. He wasn’t imitating the latest wave riding setup, he needed it low so he could lift his right arm onto it. This afternoon I was helping him drop into a fully planing hooked in stance … well simulating it at least on the beach. I had to help him open up his fingers so he could grip the boom. The issue is that as he moves his hand back, his grip inadvertently tightens. But every problem has a solution, if you have the right mindset. He says when he gets home he’s going to devise a ladder system, so he can train the weaker hand to move up and up in small stages. He says he also wants to move to a smaller board. “I’ve always used small boards for my size. Actually the balance through my feet is fine, so I don’t want to get into bad habits by using a barge.”

Determination. I said to someone the other day, you’re not actually doing anything wrong, you just need to try a bit harder. Do everything your doing… just more so. Determination, grit, dogged bloody mindedness are all qualities Whitey possesses by the truckload and without which he would probably still be staring at a hospital ceiling.

So what of the future? Well John Skye called us as we were sipping our delightful cider cocktails and declared he was coming over soon to challenge Whitey on a speed run, because he felt that by next year he would once again be staring at his backside!

Peter Hart 17th July 2019

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