Meet Anton Nootenboom, a 34-year-old, Northern Beaches guy who loves nothing more than wandering around with no shoes on.
But, unlike his barefoot neighbours, he’s got more than just a walk on the beach in mind.
With every pebble-ridden step, he’ll be raising funds and awareness for men’s mental health, with funds going to Gotcha4Life.
Brooke Nolan sat down with Anton to find out how someone from one of the world’s flattest countries ends up climbing to Everest Base Camp barefoot, how to toughen up your feet for four months on the road, and why being vulnerable is A-OK.
Brooke Nolan: Tell us a bit about yourself. Who is the barefoot dutchman?
Anton Noontenboom: I’m from Holland originally but have been living here in Sydney since 2015, where I work in construction. Before that, I spent 10 years in the army where I completed three tours of Afghanistan as well as visiting other parts of the world.
From my first ever family trip abroad to Tunisia I’ve been fascinated with seeing new cultures and experiencing new things.
We understand you’re off on a bit of a walk. What’s the plan?
Starting on the 5th May I’ll be walking from Cairns to Sydney barefoot. 2,600km along the coast to raise funds and awareness for men’s mental health.
My goal is to walk 25km per day and spend around four months in total, although it’ll all depend on the weather and how my feet are holding up. I’ll be pulling everything I need in a cart and camping most of the way.
You’re raising funds for men’s mental health. Why’s that?
On average, seven out of the nine suicides that happen each day here in Australia, are men. Last year 3,328 people died by suicide, and 75% were men. I want to help prevent this from happening by challenging the perception of what masculinity is and showing men that it’s okay to be vulnerable.
This adventure is definitely more personal to me, having had my own mental health struggles. I also spent 10 years in the army and saw men struggle but not know how to talk about it. Even worse, they felt like they couldn’t talk about it.
I think having been in the army and coming from a construction background I can show that no matter how ‘macho’ you are, you’re still human. Being open and vulnerable is not a weakness.
The most exciting part of my walk is that there’s an open invitation for men to come and walk sections with me. Although I’m planning my route as I go, I’m aiming to mix up the coast with a bit of inland so that I can visit as many cities and towns as possible to spread the word.
This awareness is already building too, with more and more people having those discussions around mental health. The media interest has been incredible…I haven’t even started yet and the journey so far has been beautiful.
How did you come up with the idea of walking barefoot?
I was going through my own mental health issues here in Australia and one of my ways of dealing with it was going on these long, pointless walks. I’d walk for eight hours up and down the Northern Beaches. Half the people here walk barefoot, so I didn’t really think about it at first.
Then I realised that actually having your feet in the sand and touching the earth feels grounding and healing. I was looking for a personal physical and mental challenge and it was on one of those long beach walks that I came up with the idea of walking to Everest Base Camp barefoot.
I’d always wanted to visit Nepal and Everest, and in 2019 I did the hike to raise funds for the Australian Himalayan Foundation.
What was hiking to Everest Base Camp barefoot like?
Honestly, it was like spending nearly two weeks constantly treading on little pieces of lego! By the last day, my feet were raw and full of cuts. But I wanted to really push my limits mentally and physically.
From the army, I know that when you think you can’t do more you’re only actually achieving 10% of what you can achieve. You just keep going – one foot in front of the other.
Although I walked solo, I got to know other people who started the trek at the same time as me, and the sherpas would tell the locals about me. The Nepalese are the friendliest people I have ever met – even though I was known as the ‘weird Dutchman with no shoes’!
What did you learn on that trip that will help you for the walk ahead?
Just that I have the mindset to do it. I think the best thing that came out of the Everest trip was the concept of The Barefoot Dutchman, it’s really caught people’s attention and it inspires people. As soon as I touched that rock at Everest Base Camp I knew I wanted to do something even bigger next time.
How are you toughening up those tootsies?
I just walk around barefoot everywhere. I’ll pick some purposefully rough tracks too, like a few weeks back when I walked 40km as part of a charity hike from Coogee to Manly. That was tough but I kept saying to myself, if I can do 40km then 25km per day will be fine.
The only places I wear shoes is where I can’t be barefoot, which is basically the pub, gym and on the worksite (although I have tried).
I also have a personal trainer who’s helping condition my body for carrying or pulling heavy loads. He’s definitely pushing my boundaries. But every time you hit a wall that’s when you realise you have so much more to give.
Are you packing any sneaky blister pads?
I’ll have a first aid kit for emergencies or if I get a super deep cut that might become infected, but I won’t be packing anything specifically foot related.
No bandaids, no balm, no powders. I want it to be as raw as possible and as much of a challenge as possible.
Anything you’re nervous about?
The spiders. I worked on a banana farm when I first arrived in Australia and only lasted a week because of the spiders. I can’t even imagine what they’re going to be like up in Northern Queensland. Oh, and the bindis. I hate bindis.
Mainly I’m excited though, not nervous. I can’t wait to see all these parts of the East Coast that people don’t often get to see and to meet all different people. I’ll wake up each day not knowing where I’ll be. Every day will be an adventure and I can’t wait to get started.
Support Anton’s Walk
You can donate to Anton’s walk, which is raising funds for mental health charity Gotcha4Life. Anton is also keen to hear from people who would like to speak to him along the way, or join part of the journey.
From the team at We Are Explorers…good luck! See you on the flip side.
All photos supplied by @thebarefoot_dutchman