To those visitors and readers who either know me or follow my global professional photographer role as a brand ambassador, you are already aware by now that my stories and inspirations are written and attached to every artwork I release publicly. I attach those background stories to colleagues, professional photographers, artists, and the general population. I love to go back and forth between subjects in my stories. As opposed to the research papers that I wrote in my Master's degrees in more scientific, cold and "shaved" styles, I tend to write in more "juicy", descriptive language, in any language I speak. Now, those two hats that I wear at once, an artist and a professional photographer, dictate my way to do my artwork.
I invite you to join the ride.
Find more about my international work, photography services in New Zealand and Australia, my bio, reviews, and artwork for purchase in this link www.CollinsRyan.photography
Face of Mangawhai
This is a story that has grown out of my extensive professional photography project that is being done in New Zealand during 2019-2020, utilizing Tokina's professional camera lenses. This ongoing project aims to cover all New Zealand's regions, tell my stories, the inspirations, and the moods.
During the coverage of the northernmost region in New Zealand, namely Northland, I happened to visit a town called Mangawhai (pronounced MAN-GA-FAI). I found myself visiting this town over and over (and over) again. There is something in this place that genuinely attracted me and made me to never let go.
And indeed, the project has yielded some brilliant shots from this place. You can find the work done in this town in other categories of my project.
Thus, I reckoned that before moving on to cover other places in the country, there is still one more thing that I should do over there: finding among those beautiful souls of Mangawhai township a unique person, of any age and of any gender, to tell their own story and to (unofficially) serve as the "Face of Mangawhai".
The day is hot. Oh, yes, the season is still winter here in Down Under New Zealand. Despite the past few days of constant and tiring rain, today the sun seems to smile at us. And to be honest, I feel that now the sun's smile is simply too wide, almost toasting me altogether! I speak to the person in front of me and I think to myself that he should not be bothered by the heat of this summery day. After all, he was born and grew up in Australia. However, this one came from Kangaroo Island, not the mainland's desert areas, so my theory is now proved to be wrong…
A slim build person, so-called "stereotypical" surfer looks of a long, blond hair, blue-eyes and an interesting sloppy growth of golden beard. The first impression hits me: this friendly 32 years young man seems to me to actually be a shy person, opposite to his ‘cool' surfer look. Daniel Hawes is his name. I meet him in beautiful Mangawhai, a wonderful seaside settlement in the east shore of the northern part of New Zealand. We have started our conversation session and soon enough his girlfriend Veera, a funny, never-ending-laughing and such a lovable person arrived at the premises and joined the conversation. Oh, she is absolutely not a shy person.
Daniel tells me about his Australian hometown; a small community. As I am truly intrigued by his Australian hometown, I can draw a line of similarity between that place and Mangawhai. To me, all along our ongoing chat, it seems that Daniel feels more like a Kiwi than an Australian. He indeed takes a lot of pride in the town he now lives in. Soon enough you’ll understand why.
Living in high velocities
The root story starts in 2006. At that time Daniel began downhill skating. Having done it for three years, his first trip overseas for racing was in 2009 in what he deems as semi-professionally. For about 6 whole years he was racing skateboards down mountains and hills all over the world. He advises me that in 2011 he was ranked 23rd in the world. I say: "RESPECT!!" I pictured in my mind this slim, lovable, young person doing all those rapid manoeuvres on the skateboard and I could not help myself but think about the whole situation.
As I have extensive professional knowledge in safety, to me that is second nature to think thoroughly about that scary practice which requires a lot of agility and constant calculations when he reaches very high velocities down the roads. I occupied my brain with a picture where vehicles of every kind and size are serving as a substantial collision hazard. I think of it and I get mixed feelings of envy in his fearlessness on one hand, and a genuine fear of colliding with a vehicle, on the other hand.
In a later conversation, he clarifies the issue and let my thoughts have some peace. Daniel tells me that these races were held on closed roads, corners were all hay bailed, many surrounded by safety nets, more than thirty track marshals on course, and ambulances at the start line, finish line, and mid-track.
Phew! So now I'm just envy…
Nice to meet you, cameras!
As I taught other photographers in a recent workshop I had, the photography should be designed and thought of well before coming on location. And here, accordingly, I was designing my shots in this first session for the project. I aimed to take some action shots, in the real world, as opposed to the convenient studio environment. (Find more about my international work, photography services in New Zealand and Australia, my bio, reviews, and artwork for purchase in this link www.CollinsRyan.photography )
As a side note, when I met Daniel for the second session, I harnessed myself with a much heavier, professional photography gear of Tokina, especially from the most recent series. I saw, in person, those agilities and fearlessness in real action. The light of the sun above us is – once again – harsh, and I purposely made no discounts to Daniel in this regard. I wanted to see and capture the dramatic light-shadow game on his face, as he uses to feel when skating or resting. After all, doing his "thing" is not a matter of enjoying the office air-conditioned environment!
Daniel tells that he had been skating semi-professionally up until 2015 when he finally found Mangawhai. Funny enough, the love story between him and the township has started where he has not even intended to stay around for such a long time. He remembers that he had just left Hawaii. Primarily, he meant to skate there and train for future events. As a side note, he says that he had always dreamt of living in Hawaii, permanently, but alas, he claims that he was neither rich nor educated enough to be accepted to there. Daniel laughs that the last option to gain residency there was impossible, as he puts it: "no Hawaiian woman would have a haole* like me as her husband."
Though he had to leave Hawaii, the notion of going back to his hometown in Australia was never an option. He was determined and wanted to develop his skills further, so he found himself arriving in New Zealand. Luckily, as an Australian citizen, he didn't need to issue a visa to stay in this country. The relative proximity between Australia and New Zealand made me presume that Daniel had been here before and he knew the country quite well. After all, some places in New Zealand, such as Queenstown, are well known around the world to attract people for extreme sports and activities, and downhill skating is absolutely fitting to extreme sports.
* (“haole” in Hawaiian, according to Wikipedia, is a Hawaiian term for individuals who are not Native Hawaiian or Polynesian, usually white people.)
Tired, and feeling that the luck did not "smile" at him the way he wanted it to, namely living in Hawaii, he notes that two weeks before Christmas 2015, the time he landed in New Zealand, better vibes came by his way. Daniel was invited to skate up north with a skating buddy whom he had met on the previous tour to New Zealand. Having nowhere else to be for Christmas, he accepted the invitation. They went to Mangawhai. Despite visiting the town in the previous skating tour, Daniel had no memory of the town except for the bowls at the skatepark.
Christmas in New Zealand is a beautiful time of the year. It is hot. It is sunny. It is everything that is simply optimal for skating. Daniel spent another two weeks in Mangawhai over the Holiday period with his friend's family. Having fun in the sun, surfing, skating, fishing, swimming was just too impossible to resist! When the time finally came to leave and go back to Auckland, he felt that he was not ready. Just not yet. Mangawhai reminded Daniel so much of the North Shore of O'ahu, Hawaii, the place he was so much eager to finally settle down in but could not do it eventually. The lifestyle of the people in Mangawhai was strikingly similar; the landscape was as equally as beautiful if not more so, and "without a doubt", as he portrays, the people were far more welcoming of tourists than the O'ahu's North Shore locals.
The summer holidays come to an end and he had to leave back to Auckland. Daniel describes the experience in the city.
“I had a house lined up in [a suburb of Auckland], and my next step was to find some kind of job to make some money. I arrived at the house. It was a dumb, mouldy, falling apart, messy and smelly.”
He clarifies that the specific suburb wasn't much nicer outside of the house. Reflecting and comparing the experiences between where he was and Mangawhai, he made the decision on the first night:
“I would find either a job or a house in Mangawhai.”
To him, that did not really matter which one came first; with either one of them, he could actually move up. Combating his frustration from being in that mouldy house, he made a few phone calls. Luckily, he had managed to find a house the next day in the Mangawhai area, in a rural location. Not really a surprising act in New Zealand, the landlord kindly collected him from Auckland as he did not even have a car. They drove to his new rental house. The property was beautiful, but sadly, its location of a one hour walk from town was a bitter part, however tolerable.
Going back in time and remembering the process that he has done to date, he reminds me that he arrived in Mangawhai with only a backpack of clothes, and skateboards.
Daniel spent his first two years in town without a car, hitchhiking every day to get to various jobs around the area. During that time, he met some great people hitchhiking. People got to know his face around town "as someone they could pick up without fear of being mugged." These days, he has friends who he met on the road trying to get a lift back home.
Strong connection to Mangawhai
The long walks or the kind rides to and from work did not kill his passion. He spent a lot of time at the local skatepark. He learnt about the community's efforts to raise funds on their own for their skatepark.
I cannot help but wonder why Daniel speaks of Mangawhai with a true spark in his eyes. He adores the town's people who have built trust in him:
"I met the chairman of Mangawhai Activity Zone (MAZ) one day for the first time ever. We spoke for half an hour. The next day I started work in his garden and worked as his gardener for the next year. Just a guy he met at the skatepark, no interview, no suspicions. This was the attitude I saw everywhere in Mangawhai."
During my work with people as a photographer, I happen to find very interesting individuals along the way. Here I feel remarkable vibes from this young person who is determined to be proactive in the community. The more time I spend in town the better I understand the reason for his spark.
Mangawhai is not only beautiful beaches, nice restaurants, or a lovely summer location. Suddenly, Mangawhai is being painted to me with additional colours. The town is different, and the town means the people who live in it. So much so that the word ‘proactive' is a second name to it.
Daniel illuminates to me that the town's people have created a very special (, even unique) relationships between one another. They do things together, big things, for the joy of everyone!
"my hometown in Australia was raising money for a skatepark when I was six years old, and they just built it last year, I am now 32. This town, Mangawhai, was building houses to auction off with profits going directly to the park. They were holding fundraisers, seeking grants, giving donations and endless hours. I was impressed, that a town so small and so like the one I grew up in were so proactive, positive and welcoming."
To me, the bell finally rings! It is now very clear how the synergic force that was created between the town and Daniel. That blond skater/surfer is in constant progress in this town, both personally and professionally. And he loves to contribute and be part of the community. Recently, he joined to the MAZ committee.
I am so happy to find that Mangawhai assisted him to start his own business, become somewhat of an entrepreneur. The town's people are painted beautifully, and I notice it first hand while they talk to him during my time here. This is a mutual trust between the parties, and letting Daniel spend hours with their children at the skatepark speaks volumes.
In our first session I saw Daniel during his lunch break. He comes to shake my hand with some plaster stains on his work pants. He has been plastering walls for the past three years in a stable job. Apart from this, he runs Mangawhai Skateboard Lessons, self-admitting of being busier than ever in the summer season. Along with his partner, he even built a mini ramp in their rental's front yard so he could run lessons and school holiday programs from home.
Being also a keen surfer, Daniel enjoys to also fix people's surfboards in his shed. He shows me how he hoarded surfboards around the house. As of these days, he very rarely skates down any crazy roads. "I'm settled, I settled in Mangawhai. I am lucky to have found this place!"
In an outlook of how the town is actively changing, he seems to be Ambiguous. He mentions that on one hand, the influx of many more people saddens him to an extent. On the other hand, that does excite him, as he reckons that opportunities made by the town growth and popularity will bring more interest to his life.
The hours passed by and the photography gear goes back to my SUV. Upon leaving, I think about the story, a story about a special man and a special town. I see and feel a strong connection, and I am truly happy for him. To me, this is crystal clear that Daniel reflects similar characteristics of the town, and vice versa: both are beautiful, both seem to be calm, and both have sides of bursting adrenalin. It is a win-win situation!
Next time you are in New Zealand, do not forget to see Mangawhai, and say hi to Daniel on my behalf!
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