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It was 4pm on a Sunday. The late afternoon sun was glowing gold, the sound of kids having a ball drifts over from the playground across the road, and from an unassuming garage came some sweet Sunday-sounding tunes from a stereo. Peeking inside, I spied a couple of what looked like bar leaners.. small tables waiting for a few Sunday arvo drinks perhaps?

A couple of guys enter the garage and assume positions on either side of one of the tables. But instead of grabbing a drink they dip one hand in the chalk smattered over the table and grip the small handle at each end of the table with their other. The two men join their chalked hands in a loose grip and then proceed to roll their wrists around around in what I learn is arm wrestling warm up 101. 

From left, Peter Leach & Malachi Jansen finding their initial grip, Jerome McConnell as ref.

I’m told that arm wrestling starts in the hand. And in the case of Gisborne, arm wrestling starts in the garage of John Leach and Darlene Hohipa.  Welcome to Lock N Drop, Gisborne’s Arm Wrestling HQ.

“I have always loved arm wrestling, I used to do it a lot as a young fella” says the Club founder, John Leach. “My wife asked me what I wanted to do and I said I wanted to be one of the best arm wrestlers to come out of New Zealand, or Gisborne anyway. I wanted to put Gisborne on the map for arm wrestling”.

And so he is.. Five of the ten medals that came back to New Zealand from the last Oceania Championships, were won by Gisborne Lock N Drop Club members. 

John Leach & Darlene Hohipa

John went to his first comp in 2014 and started the club in 2015. The club has been growing ever since, with about thirteen members consistently training at the moment, as many of them prepare for the upcoming Nationals.

The tables inside start squeaking and I notice the six members, four men and two women, training inside ending up at some fairly extreme angles to the floor, table and each other.

Heading inside I notice legs wrap around or push against the table legs, the other leg planted firmly on the ground.  Sweat is beginning to bead on foreheads, the laughter and banter rise to match the volume of the music.

Malachi Jansen & Jerome McConnell in the foreground, Nuks Jansen & Charmaine Clarke on the back table.

Everyone’s got their favourite grip and technique; their best arm. It’s a whole body experience, I’m told. But mostly in the hand, wrist and forearm, not really the bicep. And it’s all about that initial grip. Sometimes you will know you’ve lost just by the feel of that first clasp, reckons Nuks, my trainer for the day.

While arm wrestling is not for everyone and it’s not so well-known here, the New Zealand arm-wrestling scene is described as one big family. A sport that most often takes place in pubs, the competitions are unsurprisingly followed up by a good dose of socialising, and of course enough arm wrestling matches to ensure pretty tired arms by the end of the night.

The Lock N Drop Club meets Sunday afternoons, and during the week the members do their own personal training. As I can attest after just one session with these guys, the club is all about teaching people how to arm wrestle as safely as possible.  And as far as I could see this particular music and laughter-filled Sunday afternoon, it’s also about friendships, getting physical, a bit of banter and some good times.

Thanks Darlene and John for having me and Nuks for all the tips! I’ll definitely be pulling them out next time I find myself at a table..

If you’d like to try your hand at arm wrestling, you can find Lock N Drop on Facebook here.

Story and photographs by Sarah Cleave

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