Regional | Competition

South Auckland bike club turns stigma into opportunity for local youth

Photo: Rider Taniela Nelson, gold division winner.

Kids popping wheelies and roaring motorbike engines are familiar sights and sounds of the culture in Ōtara, South Auckland.

Community opinion is divided, with some saying "bike life" is a nuisance, while the riders themselves are proud to represent their respective crews and show off their skills.

Ōtara Bike Burb is a community-led initiative, under Bike Auckland, connecting local youth to positive role models and new experiences in the motorsport and cycling industry.

This year's Wheelie Stuntz 22 event saw crowds of supporters turn up to see local riders show off their skills at what is now an annual event run by the OBB.

Held at the popular Ōtara fleamarket car park, the event is aimed at steering youth to brighter futures by legitimising their passions, particularly for the sport.

Riders are judged on their tricks, timing, balance and clean execution of a wheelie (riding a bike with the front wheel or wheels off the ground, balancing on the back wheel or wheels in a bid to win cash, bike gear and stand at the top of the podium.

Event organiser Lee Naniseni said local young people loved to ride but had never had a space or platform to fully enjoy the sport in their neighbourhood.

Platform for local youth

"They love getting on their motorcycles. But there haven't been pathways for them - so we're going to coach and support them along the way and, hopefully, they can go to the Olympics or something. That would be amazing."

Lorenzo Wilson is a father of five boys and works for OBB as a lead bike mechanic. He has been in Ōtara all his life, he declares proudly.

"Things like this are important for the hood because it's another way we can engage with the youth, keeping it interesting and inspiring. It's part of the culture of Ōtara."

From a warehouse space in Papatoetoe with one lane in 2019, to featuring a motorised stunt show this year, the Ōtara Wheelie Stuntz is now a key date on the calendar for South Auckland and an opportunity to teach young people good habits while riding.

"One thing we encourage for the kids is safety. We always encourage them to wear a helmet and follow the road rules. In an event like this we implement those rules to start somewhere," Naniseni said.

The newly elected councillor for the Manukau Ward, Lotu Fuli, was among the crowd this year.

"We see a lot of talent and untapped potential in our young ones. So instead of marginalising them, instead of pushing them to the outliers of our society, we should be embracing them," Fuli said.

"We should be looking for ways to help them reach their potential. We know around the world there are opportunities that perhaps we haven't given them in the past, so this is one step in that direction."

Event judge Jaden Leeming is the founder of Wheels and Wellbeing, an initiative that brings BMX riding and holistic well-being practices together.

He said there needed to be more local events like this, as it built a positive culture within communities.

"It sometimes gets a negative reputation behind it, but it has such a supportive effect on each other and our well-being.

"There needs to be more spaces where we can go, feel accepted, and express ourselves."

Harley Davidson stunt rider Kingi Walters, the founder of the country's only wheelie school, Shaq Akbar, and YouTuber Dre Skrila were also at the judges' table.

Local boys Icey Aukino (8-11 age group), Michael Gosset (12-15 age group), and 21-year-old Taniela Nelson (16+) took out the top spots in each division.

Nelson, known as Nela, was stoked with his grand prize, which included a GT BMX bike, the coveted Wheelie Stuntz championship trophy and $400 cash.

"My chain kept coming off so I messed up a few times but I still had fun. That was my first win! I'm pretty happy! I want to go pro and make a life out of it."

Te Rito