Kevin Botherway, glider champ

We’d like you to meet a few uniquely talented people, mostly flying ‘under the radar’, some with quite uncommon skills, all striving to be the best at what they do ‘in their zones’. Offered as sources of inspiration. We’ll have more next week, and welcome your suggestions for others to include.

[As published in Jan/Feb BayBuzz magazine.]

Kevin Botherway – Glider Guy

A love affair with gliders started early for Kevin Botherway. Following in his dad’s footsteps, Botherway picked up his first glider at age eight and he’s been hooked ever since. 

It’s the competitive aspect of the sport he loves most. “The competitions extend your learning and you get better and better, as I do with any sport or hobby I do,” he says. Botherway is also a keen competitive fisherman. 

The recently retired 61-year-old has always been mechanically minded, so gliding was a natural fit. As a young man he got involved in the sport through the Air Training Corps before becoming an active member of local club, Model Flying Hawke’s Bay. 

Good eyesight, concentration and coordination are essential skills, he says. Botherway would love to see more young people taking up the sport that’s brought him so much enjoyment, but it’s become a dying hobby. 

Botherway won his first World Championships in 2011 with a 1.5 metre discus glider, which requires an athletic approach. “We go like a ballerina, we spin around in a circle for one and a half turns, hanging onto the wingtip and then we launch it into the air to about 70 metres.” 

In 2023, Botherway along with fellow Hawke’s Bay pilots Joe Wurts and Andrew Hiscock, won the F5J model Gliders Electric Soaring World Championships in Bulgaria – Botherway’s fourth gold at Worlds. This glider is launched using an electric motor for 30 seconds, with the objective then to fly it unassisted for 10 minutes and a precision landing. 

The trio knew competition at Worlds would be tough, particularly against Germany and the other larger countries, so to come away with gold was a huge achievement. 

They’re planning to defend their title in Argentina in two years time. However, they need to find a new country to manufacture their planes, which are designed by Wurts and cost up to $5,000 each. Their gliders are usually built in the Ukraine, obviously no longer an option. 

The key to success in gliding is finding thermals. In a nutshell, these are convection currents that allow the glider to stay airborne without any additional power source. Identifying thermals is an art form that requires experience and skill to pick up even the slightest wind change. 

“We’re standing on the ground and feeling what’s around us in the environment and what’s going on down the field. Any trees or birds circling or anything like that, which gives us an idea that there’s air going up, or a thermal.” 

Training takes place at a council-owned field in Haumoana. When a competition is coming up, Botherway spends at least three full days a week, preparing the models and practicing. 

The sport has taken Botherway around the world, where he meets up with old gliding friends. 

And there’s always something on the calendar. 

January is the NZ nationals in Carterton, where up to 150 model airplane pilots will gather to compete over six days. 

Joel Taylor – Model Maker

It’s not always easy finding the perfect career. Especially when your work is so niche you’re one of only a handful of people doing it in New Zealand. 

If you’ve ever seen a miniature model of a building, chances are it was lovingly designed, built and painted by Joel Taylor.

When work got underway for the new Napier subdivision Mission Hills, head of sales Vanessa Thompson, who represents Wallace Development Company, searched the country to find a model maker for the development. She was incredulous to discover the person for the job lived down the road, laughs Taylor. 

It’s intricate, painstaking work that requires the ability to concentrate for long periods of time as mistakes can be costly. The project took Taylor around 160 hours to complete by hand, down to the hand-carved trees. 

Models like this one are used to give people a tangible perception they can’t get otherwise. “You can show them a drawing, you can show them a 3D visual on the computer but if you actually show them a physical, 3-dimensional item with things like cars and people on it, it gives them an immediate understanding of scale and exactly what they’re getting,” he says.

Taylor has always been fascinated with artistic, hands-on work. He trained as a professional model maker in Sydney, bringing a cabinet-making and engineering background. There, he also learnt to match colours by eye.

Early on, he had a stint in the film industry but found the time restraints often meant he couldn’t find fulfilment in the work.

Taylor, his wife Lynda and their two sons moved to Hawke’s Bay from Auckland in 2001, settling into a home designed and built by Taylor, which includes a purpose-built model making studio, on the banks of the Tukituki River.

His work is detailed and varied, driven by creativity. Projects have included building models of the MTG building, the information centre at Te Mata Peak and Black Barn. “To me it’s about human input. It’s putting some of myself into what I do.”

Taylor has also worked for Waiouru Army Museum building small and full-size models, as well as designing and building displays. It was a perfect fit for his long-held interest in history and personal stories from previous generations. He has since extended his work to preserving historical artifacts and customised marine work such as ships in bottles. 

“We thought that there’s people out there who really have items in their family history that should be protected and possibly maintained and housed in a way that they’ll stay good for future generations.”

Professional model making has evolved significantly with the use of 3D printers, but both skill sets bring value, says Taylor. “It’s a whole new world and I suppose they have the technology and the speed of doing things that I’ll never have, but I’ll have the building blocks that they don’t understand.” 

Jane Pierard – Music Teacher

Learning the piano as a child was a gift that altered the course of Jane Pierard’s life, and one that has paid dividends for the thousands of young people she’s taught music and drama. 

Paying for piano lessons was an extravagance Pierard’s mother could barely afford on a widow’s pension, but coming from a musical family herself, she was determined at least one of her children would learn. Jane’s brothers weren’t keen, so she got the weekly lessons, which opened up a whole new world.

Later as a teacher, each school year Pierard would tell parents about the impact of her mum’s sacrifice. “That’s where it all started was just my little piano lessons at the convent. So I’d say to parents, you’ve got no idea but what you’re doing could be a huge thing for the rest of your children’s lives,” she says. 

Music and arts are woven through Pierard’s professional and private life – from meeting her husband Louis in youth orchestra, to teaching the piano privately, taking up theatre as a hobby and finding her passion for teaching teenagers accidentally. 

Her daughter Madeleine got cancer at age six and had just finished chemotherapy when Pierard got a phone call from Sacred Heart College. They were looking for a music teacher; would she consider it? Pierard was unsure it was the right time, but with her husband’s encouragement she decided to give it a try. His instincts were right. Pierard loved working with teenagers, and seeing their creativity develop through music. “Their true self shows. When kids are engrossed in creative things, there’s no part of them that’s not real.” 

She stayed for six years before moving to Taradale High School as head of music. It was a move that almost didn’t happen, however. As the closing day for applications arrived, a nervous Pierard decided not to go through with it. When the principal rang to say they hadn’t received her application, she told him she’d lost her nerve. “He said ‘Come down and see us now’, so I went down there and we talked and I got the job.” It was the start of almost three decades with the school, while balancing a busy home life with five children.

Somehow Pierard also found time to be involved in Hawke’s Bay theatre, and she describes director Gillian Davies as a visionary, who helped her take risks and grow through acting roles. Performing has also provided friendship and shaped her view. “The privilege is not the audience’s, the privilege is ours. It’s a great privilege to be able to perform for people and take them somewhere else.”

Since retiring in 2021 Pierard has supported a number of schools with choral direction for productions and as director of Hawke’s Bay adult choir, the Linden Singers. When she’s not doing something musical, you’ll find Pierard making flower crowns she gives to friends for special occasions – a hobby borne out of making them for fairies, for a production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream

Alena Kamper – Winemaker

Not so long ago, Alena Kamper wasn’t much of a wine drinker. How things have changed! Not only does the 22-year-old now know her way around a glass of wine, she’s been named 2023 Tonnellerie de Mercurey New Zealand Young Winemaker of the Year. She is the youngest person to win the prestigious title. 

“It’s definitely been a crazy, wild ride,” says Kamper, who says it all still feels surreal. The national award rounds out a huge year for Kamper, who completed a Viticulture & Wine Science Degree at EIT last year. After graduating she won the North Island Young Winemaker of the Year in September, qualifying her for the national final. A month later she beat out the other finalists, from Marlborough and Central Otago, to be named the national winner. 

Winemaking is a perfect fit for Kamper, whose love of science led her to pursue a qualification with chemistry and research at its core. Initially unsure of what she wanted to do when she left school, Kamper attended a career expo where she learnt about the EIT wine programme. “I looked into it and I thought wow, this is perfect.” 

Kamper excelled at the programme, which took her “behind the scenes” of the industry. “Getting into the first two years definitely opened my eyes. Once I got into the cellar and worked it was life-changing almost.”

She was nervous about entering the North Island competition, but with the support of her tutors Kamper decided to give it a crack, thinking it would be a good experience for next time. The day-long event was held at Hawke’s Bay’s Indevin Gimblett Gravels Winery and involved a series of modules, including wine knowledge, wine faults, an interview, marketing, blending, and a speech at the dinner. 

After winning the North Island title, she headed to the nationals in Christchurch in October. The event had a similar format to the first competition, with the finalists tested on their understanding and knowledge of wine, before delivering a final speech. 

The speech topic was: Why is your region unique and how does it complement other regions to make New Zealand wine altogether unique? For Kamper, it was a dream to talk about the diverse range of Hawke’s Bay wine varieties and the care that goes into making them. With no expectations of winning, she just tried to soak up the experience. “I felt like I had won just by being there.” So she was shocked when they read out her name. 

Kamper now works as a cellar hand at Sacred Hill Winery. It’s a hands-on role where she loves learning all of the processes that go into making the final product. “It’s such a small team so it’s great to pick the brains of the winemakers.” 

In the future she plans to head overseas to do some “vintage hopping”, build connections and expand her industry skills. We hope she eventually brings her experience and enthusiasm back home to benefit local brands and wine lovers. 

Jeff Grant – Scrabble Master

Words have been a constant in Jeff Grant’s life. He’s always loved language, writing, and anything to do with words. Word play in particular, such as compiling palindromes, anagrams and word squares, have held a fascination for him. 

He took up Scrabble as a child and from there his abilities and ambitions took off. 

Grant started playing competitively in his 20s when he entered the first NZ National Scrabble Championships in 1980 – thanks to a takeaway meal. “The first thing I saw about competitive Scrabble in NZ was on a bit of newspaper around my fish and chips,” he says. He called the number of the organiser, entered, and won. It was the first of many big Scrabble wins. 

Grant has played his way to glory over the years, taking home 26 national titles. He has won the NZ National Champs 16 times, and the Masters championships 10 times – most recently in 2022. At the height of his Scrabble career, he was ranked third in the world. 

Every win has been exciting. “The first time was obviously a great thrill when I won the Masters the first time and the National Champs when I won the first one I played in, that was a huge buzz.” 

Two months before a big competition, Grant would spend an hour a day revising. This involved remembering lists of types of words that are likely to come up. “Scrabble is not just about words, it’s about maths and probability – keeping track of the tiles and knowing what tiles are still to come.” 

To do well in the game, players need to know thousands of words, including all the two, three, and four-letter words, and at the top level, all of the five-letter words. Then you need to learn all the words with the high scoring letters (J, Q, X, Z), and all the words containing high probability letters (R, T, I, N, A, S, E). Grant hasn’t revised at all in more than 10 years, however, relying only on memory. 

Grant was instrumental in starting the Scrabble club in Hastings in the early 1980s and it has been going ever since. The challenge of the game, along with the people he’s met and the opportunity to travel, have kept him hooked all these years. Scrabble competitions have taken him all over the world, including New York, London, Melbourne, Perth, Mumbai and Kuala Lumpur, and Las Vegas. 

Aged 70, Grant is no longer on the international Scrabble circuit, but he still enjoys meeting club members each Tuesday afternoon to play socially. 

Outside of the game, he’s a keen tennis player, and of course he still enjoys word puzzles. “I think that’s the secret when you get older – just try and keep your brain and your body going as much as you can.” 

Ruby Lo – Pianist

Music was a big part of Hazel Wong’s family and she wanted to give her children the same opportunity. 

When her daughter Ruby Lo was four, she enrolled her in piano lessons. A few years later Lo picked up the flute. The lessons gave Lo’s affinity for music a place to flourish and the chance to develop a talent that is formidable. 

Aged 15, Lo was named the Freemasons Hawke’s Bay Young Musician of the Year. 

While hoping the judges would announce her as the winner, Lo was still shocked when they did. “It was a bit surreal because I had been building up to it for a long time,” she says. Lo’s mother and her sister Amber were in the audience to support her. 

The Sacred Heart College student has previously only been able to watch the competition as an audience member, but could finally enter it for the first time in 2023 when the minimum age limit was dropped from 16 to 15. 

Now in its 40th year, the event gives advanced students aged 15-20 studying piano, instruments and singing with registered teachers, the opportunity to perform in a concert. It was held at the Blyth Performing Arts Centre in Havelock North. 

Lo was one of eight musicians taking part in the competition, organised by the Institute of Registered Music Teachers. Adjudicator Guy Donaldson selected six finalists who then performed for an audience and adjudicator Dr Justin Bird. 

For her performance, Lo played the first movement of Sonata in A Minor by Mozart, followed by Dreaming by Amy Beach, and Paganini Jazz by Fazil Say. She says she tried to select pieces she thought the audience would enjoy and they were also part of her piano exam.

Lo admits to feeling nervous before the competition and having high expectations of herself, but she tried to remain philosophical. “In the end I was just thinking, the only thing you can control is your practice, and everything else is what it is,” she says.

In the lead-up to the Young Musician competition, Lo spent at least two hours a day practicing. When she was younger, Lo’s mother sometimes had to push her to do her music practice, but she’s since become self-motivated because of the pleasure she gets from playing the instrument. 

She describes the piano as “like an orchestra in one instrument”, due to the range and different harmonies you can have in one piece of music. It’s this complexity that she finds compelling. 

“I’m quite glad I stuck with it because I enjoy it now. It’s moving away from someone telling you to go practice and learn these pieces, and finding it for yourself.”

Fergus Morunga – Filmmaker

Russian gangsters, car chases and private jets – it sounds like the movies right? Well it is, except in this case, the writer and director are Hawke’s Bay teen Fergus Morunga.

The Lindisfarne student may only be 16, but he’s already got three films under his belt and his fourth is underway. 

Raised on a farm just out of Wairoa, Morunga developed an early interest in literature, writing four books by the time he was 10. He then shifted his attention to writing film scripts.

An idea about a bank robbery turned into a 10-minute action film, featuring numerous kids and local residents. Morunga enjoyed the process, but the biggest rush was the audience’s reaction. “What I loved about it was just seeing the looks on the students’ and parents’ faces watching themselves being on screen,” he says. 

It lit a flame inside Morunga. “It’s a really cool thing to be able to bring people into a room and know that something that you’ve created brings joy to people’s lives.”

In Year 8, aged 12, he came to Lindisfarne as a boarder. Morunga thrived in his new environment and inspired by the school’s buildings, he wrote his second film, Gold mine

The action film featured police cars roaring up the school driveway and even had a helicopter landing on the field. Students who acted in the film walked the red carpet at the premiere, which raised almost $1000 for Starship Hospital and Women’s Refuge. 

Taking the lessons he learnt from his second film, Morunga soon started working on his third, and this time he wanted to challenge stereotypes about the elderly. “People think when people get old they’re losing the plot and I changed it and made them the brainy ones that crack the case.”

The good, the bad and the elderly is particularly impressive given the scope involved. Professional actors Teresa Woodham, Brigid McVeigh and Paula Jones starred in the film, along with Lindisfarne students and staff and residents from Summerset in the Orchard. Even well-known news personality Patrick Gower makes an appearance. 

The plot centres around a Russian gangster who buys a retirement home, intending to use it for laundering drug money, but he is foiled by a group of sharp-witted elderly residents. 

A number of local businesses and organisations extended their support for the film, which was filmed entirely on students’ phones and edited on laptops. 

A highlight for Morunga was pitching the film to Skyline Aviation in the hope they would let him use a private jet. “I must have done well because they took me outside and let me choose a jet that I wanted to use!”

The film premiered last year at the school auditorium to a rapt audience, with all of the money made going to charity. 

Morunga was recently named head boy for 2024. When he’s not making movies, you’ll find him enjoying his other interests – hunting deer on the farm, playing hockey and playing the bagpipes. 

Photos: Florence Charvin

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