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Tauranga’s strongest head to the Highlands

Patrick Hellier shows his form with the caber tossing. Photo: Trevor Lowe.

The 28th annual Paeroa Highland Games & Tattoo takes place next weekend and there will be plenty of Bay of Plenty interest at the event.

There is the added excitement of Paeroa hosting the New Zealand Highland Heavyweight Championship after the Waipu Highland Games were cancelled for the first time in 149 years due to Covid-19.

It’s an impressive field that includes some from the Bay of Plenty.

Tauranga-based Patrick Hellier is one of the country's all-time most successful Highland Games heavyweight athletes.

He reluctantly admits to being “past his use-by date for competing” and is now the event’s head judge.

“We’ve got a good field this year,” says Patrick.

“We’ve got a couple of Tauranga boys in it this year which is quite good. A couple of the local guys that have done some of the strongman comps. They’re coming over to compete for the championship.”

One of those ‘local guys’ is 31-year-old Andrew Wain, who is Tauranga born and bred. The personal trainer has a background in bodybuilding and strongman competition. His first Highland Games event was at the start of last year. Now, he’s hooked.

“I was looking for something different, to mix things up a bit. I did Waipu [last year] and quite enjoyed that. I saw the Paeroa one and got an invite so I did that and it was good fun. It was just something a bit different.”

Events involved in the heavyweight event include the 16lb highland stone, tossing the caber, and the 16lb Caledonian hammer.

Whilst you clearly need immense strength to participate, competitors are not necessarily your typical strongman, as Patrick explains.

“It is a lot more athletic. Definitely explosive. The strongmen are good statically but not mobility wise. Timing and technique is a big part of it.”

Andrew agrees.

“You’ve got to be a little more explosive. It is massively technical. It is not the biggest guy on the pitch that’s going to throw the farthest. A bit of size does help but technique is key.”

The event is trying to encourage fresh talent into the sport over the coming years and Patrick says anyone in the Bay of Plenty with the athletic background that might feel suited to the events on offer should come and get a taste of the action at Paeroa.

“All the guys that are in the gym and wanting to do something different, it is a lot of fun,” Patrick says.

For Andrew, the camaraderie of the events has also been a huge plus.

“The person who is cheering you on is generally one of your competitors. It’s a real cool crowd.”

Andrew also loves the tradition and heritage of the events. Competitors wear kilts throughout and follow etiquette befitting this age-old contest. The day ends with the Evening Tattoo whilst Highland dancing competitions also run throughout the day. Andrew makes it clear he will stop short of the dancing but there is one custom he is on board with.

“You get a shot of whiskey too, when you throw the caber, so that’s always a plus side.”

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