Graeme Fuller writes: After a year-long battle with bowel and liver cancer my windsurfing friend passed away at 5am on May 14. This is a brief account of his life and times from a windsurfing perspective, with apologies to those in his other life about which I now realise I know very little.
By the time I met Steve Avery as a young man of 18, I was already a 32 year-old well into the back end of a career as a Windsurfing Regatta sailor having enjoyed a degree of success. Steve was a particularly talented young athlete with a similar competitive nature to my own, so he swiftly joined me on the Windsurfer and later the open class circuits of the period. In those days we’d hang out at Barry James’s windsurfing centre and club in Sandgate.
He travelled with me to the Windsurfer World Championships in the Bahamas in 1980 as part of the British Team, then to Japan and the Worlds of 1981, and we enjoyed many an event together in those days of windsurf racing and hell-raising.
Successes and failures he treated in equal measure, for Steve it was always about taking part, he relished the joy of the chase – the stronger the wind, the better the adversaries, the more he liked it.
A tall, strong lad with long flowing blonde hair in those days, I have a vivid recollection of him being pursued through the streets of Okinawa by scores of Japanese schoolgirls, all eager to touch his hair.
Those heady early days soon vanished into the day-to-day existences of our various lives. Whilst I eventually pursued a career in the windsurfing business Steve buckled down to life as an electrical engineer. Not the luckiest man in love nor the easiest of men to live with, he made a few mistakes, but along the way he was blessed with a daughter Lucy and always had the benefit of a close family – his two brothers Chris and Dave were never far away.
But this is my tale, and although our working and social lives took different courses, like the Big Wednesday movie, the wind and love of the sea and windsurfing regularly brought us together. Inevitably, stormy days and big waves were the key motivator, so over the last 32 years we sailed many a big day, fought many a hard race and helped each other out of sometimes difficult and life threatening situations. He was always there for me if I stacked it on the rocks or gear failure threatened disaster and I would reciprocate.
Tuesday nights saw a regular get together originally in Sandgate and later in Hythe when we were invited to join Hythe & Saltwood SC. It was Steve’s motivating energy that kept all the local raceboard sailors together over the years, with his insistence if he were made to sail in light weather then we were to forgo the joys of a shorter board when it was windy. Hence come what may every Tuesday night of those 30+ years, windsurfers have raced together in the waters off Kent coast.
His rules were simple: do what he said or arm wrestle a different decision from him. It never worked, but it did ensure the continuity of all of our relationships. On the odd occasion I’d take him on, whether it was arm wrestling or running to some distant spot in a drunken wager, he never ceased to reinforce that no matter how drunk, or how many roll-ups he’d smoked he’d still win any running race you cared to bet on – and carry on drinking after. Then the next day he’d wake up and be on the start line ready for you.
More recently we sailed a dinghy together which was a revelation into each others’ tactical assessment of a given situation, but further underlined the competitiveness of both our characters. Not winning didn’t sit well with either of us, but it was never the be-all and end-all – the joy was most definitely in the chase. The camaraderie however was a bonus, both being on the same ‘team’ as it were for the first time. The onset of illness came as a particular tragedy for one so fit and active, that combined with a loss of job was a major upset to his life, but being Steve he simply shrugged it off and got on with it.
He was lucky enough to find love one last time with Jane who cared for him through the early part of his illness, but I’m sure the other loves of his life – Karen, Sue, Jackie and Kerry – will be mourning his passing. He’ll be missed by a lot of folk around here, he’s left a huge void in our world, amazing you never realise what you had til it’s gone.
He leaves many a quote: “If you have to look for wind, there ain’t any,” and “There’s wind and there’s men’s wind”. Now we have to accept he’s gone on ahead. But if there’s a windsurfing heaven, when I get to the beach he’ll be there. I’ll ask him how it is, he’ll say “They’re all pussies, the conditions are crap, but there’s this one spot where the wind’s a bit better and the waves higher…”
You can’t say RIP in front of the name Steve Avery, it’s just ain’t going to happen.