A Midwife for the Soul

We are born. We live. We die.

At the age of 21 Anne Meredith was studying toward a degree in World Religions at Victoria University in Wellington and working at a spiritual healing centre in town, which complemented her field of study rather nicely.   

One day a man came in and asked whether they had the book ‘The Tibetan Book of Living and Dying.’  When Anne couldn’t find it on the shelves, the man said he would bring his own copy in for Anne to borrow, adding that it was requisite reading for someone in her field of study.

Once the book had been left in her care, Anne took it home and lapped it all up, finding herself in possession of a newfound understanding of the central tenet of Buddhist philosophy; the impermanence of all things.

Anne recounts a Buddhist parable, which describes this:

“A woman whose baby has died goes to Buddha and says ‘I will do anything if you will just bring my baby back to life’. Buddha replies ‘okay, bring me some mustard seeds from another home, but they must come from a home that has not experienced death’. The woman visits home after home but of course does not find a household untouched by death. Through this process woman reaches enlightenment, and her own understanding of the impermanence of everything”. 

Not long after reading this book, Anne’s grandmother died.  Anne drew upon those themes of impermanence in the speech she gave for her grandmother at her funeral.  Following the ceremony the funeral director approached to congratulate Anne on her speech, noting that she would make a great funeral director.

A seed was planted for Anne that day, and Anne has lived ever since in the knowledge that she would one day work in the field of death and dying.

So while Anne went on to teach for the next twenty or so years and absolutely “loved it”, her interest in death and in dying, has endured.  Throughout that time she has been involved with the organisations, ‘National Association for Loss and Grief’ and ‘Growing through Grief’ and has continued to be drawn to learning and talking about what she describes as “the biggest thing we will experience in life.”

It was while living and working with her family in Samoa from 2015 to 2019 that Anne realised that if there was ever a time to make the change it would be on their return to New Zealand. Going on that initial seed planted by the funeral director so many years ago Anne approached the local funeral directors, but there weren’t any opportunities going, which led to her discovery of this whole other, as yet untapped (here in Tūranganui-a-Kiwa at least), area of death care.

Death Doula [deth doo-luh]

Noun. The word comes from the Greek ‘doulē’ meaning ‘female servant/slave’. Also known as a soul midwife or end of life doula, the support this person offers often focuses on the emotional, psychological and spiritual side of dying, as well as the more practical things.

Since returning to Aotearoa from Samoa in 2019 Anne has been working as a support worker, hospice volunteer, funeral celebrant  and building the foundations for her business ‘Three Seeds’ in which she offers her services as an end of life doula and deathcare advocate.  She is involved with a couple of national projects relating to deathcare and provides free community workshops on a variety of topics. She also led a fundraising campaign to provide a Cuddle Cot for our community, which is a cooling system for a baby that has died, allowing the family to spend some precious time with their child before saying goodbye.

Anne sees a big part of her role as empowering people to reclaim death care for themselves.  She’s happy to be able to help people understand the range of options that actually exist in death care, and provides a supportive space in which people can ask all the questions they like, and can help with advance care planning. The best time for people to talk about death, Anne says, is when we are well.

“Practically there’s a lot to know about dying and things can get complicated. People often don’t know their options”. Anne is pro-choice. “Some people want the funeral directors to do everything”, and Anne says, we are lucky to have Funeral Directors who can provide that.

Others however, would rather do things themselves, or varying degrees of the process. Anne says that funeral poverty is a significant social issue of our times and she is glad that she can provide people with information about alternative ways of approaching deathcare, which can alleviate those huge costs commonly associated with it.

Ownership and environmental aspects are other factors in more and more people wanting to explore alternative pathways, “People are wanting more natural death care these days, and it’s easy to do that actually”.

Anne sells techni-ice, and has a mini freezer, which families can hire, which offers an alternative to embalming. She gives workshops on its use and is always happy to discuss this in the chats that she offers from her new Three Seeds premises.

After those initial chats or one of the various workshops that she offers to our community, Anne can walk alongside people and their whānau for parts of, or for the whole journey.

Annie loves her work because she sees it as such an important time of life and calls letting your people know what your death wishes are “a real gift of love”.  Things can get really tricky when people don’t know what you want and Anne suggests that we all have a folder called ‘When I Die’ left somewhere that someone close to us knows about.  

Through her role as a death doula and a deathcare advocate, Anne Meredith offers seeds of kindness, compassion and support before death, during and after death. And just as times of wellness are the best time for considering our own death, we think that this is a great time to have someone like Anne offering this service in our community. 

Anne regularly holds free community workshops and has a sliding scale of rates for her services. You can set up a time to have a chat with Anne on 021 299 5774 or get in touch through her Facebook page @threeseeds.info   

This story was brought to you by the good people at Tāiki e! who are leading local celebrations of Global Entrepreneurship Week next week.  They aim to connect the diverse parts of our local entrepreneurial ecosystem, and inspire our community to embrace entrepreneurship as a tool for community transformation and long term impact, which Anne Meredith is certainly doing with Three Seeds.

Story by Sarah Cleave

Dave Timbs: Relationship as Reimbursement

David Timbs runs his business decidedly outside-the-box. But it does involve a box: that’s where people leave their koha after receiving treatment from him, and it’s the only form of payment he accepts. David first opened his Natural Therapy Clinic doors some 40 years ago, and for the last decade or so, he’s successfully managed to operate on koha alone. The idea is simple, and perhaps a bit idealistic: David asks people to pay what they think is fair, anonymously. And once he started down that path, he’s never given a thought to doing business any other way.  

A lifelong student and traveler, David is educated and trained in a wide variety of modalities, and they all influence what he offers at his small clinic at Wainui Beach. The majority of his work is spinal manipulation, but he also provides polarity therapy bodywork and Iridology, a study of the eye’s iris to reveal information about a person’s overall health. He holds diplomas in Naturopathy and Ayurveda, and his treatment often blends the different therapies and wisdoms. David himself admits it’s difficult to describe what he does. For him, chiropractic practice always felt a bit too specialized, “I’ve always been more interested in the whole person. I wanted to draw on other things.” His business card reads, ‘Practitioner. Teacher. Surfer’. 

“If you relieve someone of pain and then they put money in your hand, that’s too close. It makes it seem as if my motivation was money”

The koha payment structure arose when he noticed a conflict in client feedback. Until that point, he hadn’t changed his fee for 20 years. Some people were urging him to put his fees up because he was charging too little, while others were clearly struggling to pay and often delaying treatment of their pain as a result. David remembered hearing of a “by donation” system in the States, and he decided to try it out for a week. After the initial week, he decided to continue it through Christmas, which then was just weeks away. “And then I thought, I really like the feel of this.” 

The clinic has run on koha ever since. In the traditional fee setting, David felt uncomfortable with how close a connection there was between the treatment and the money. “If you relieve someone of pain and then they put money in your hand, that’s too close. It makes it seem as if my motivation was money”. In David’s mind, the motivation is to relieve suffering. So much so that he aims to have no repeat appointments, hoping that once someone has seen him, their pain is gone. 

He has no idea what each individual person pays, and he doesn’t take personally what amount he receives. “When I go to my box at the end of the day, I know that I’ve been rewarded greater than what I would’ve set as a fee. Other times when you realise someone has put a lower value, maybe it’s what they can afford. If I wasn’t any good at my job, people wouldn’t come or wouldn’t pay. So it’s an honest view of where you fit into the bigger system. But I would rather not think about the money, and just think about doing the best I can for each person”. 

David’s perspective draws from a lifetime of travel and exploration. He grew up in Wellington, in Titahi Bay, and studied to be a primary school teacher. A keen surfer, he initially came to Gisborne to surf and teach. But at the time, teaching didn’t feel like the right fit. He felt that a person should be worldly and wise before being a teacher, so he set off to adventure abroad, exploring, sailing, and surfing.

On one formative trip David went to America to visit his brother, who was studying to be a chiropractor in Iowa.  David arrived in San Francisco with $70, a one-month visa, and no ticket out.  He hitchhiked across the country to get to his brother, and found himself joining the chiropractic program.  

After nearly a year of study in Iowa, immigration complications forced him to leave, and David resumed his travels in Canada and England. He later discovered Polarity Therapy, and trained with pioneering teacher Pierre Pannetier in California and Mexico before he returned home. Ready to share his knowledge, David opened his first clinic in Gisborne in 1980.  

In the ensuing decades, he developed a pattern of alternating work at home with travel and study, adding Iridology, Naturopathy, and Ayurveda to his repertoire. He regularly returned to India and America, both to continue his learning and share his wisdom through teaching. When David’s offspring Darnelle and Robson were in university, he decided to return to study too, earning his Bachelor of Education, “I’m always a student, the more you learn the more you realize you don’t know.” 

Much of David’s focus has been Ayurveda, the Indian ancient medicine system, or “science of life.” After studying with prominent international Ayurvedic scholar Dr. Robert Svoboda, the two became close, and David even hosted him here in Gisborne. During one trip to India for an Ayurvedic Conference, the organiser announced, much to David’s surprise, that David would give the closing address. He remembers, “I thought, either I grow a new arm and do this or crawl into my shell. So I did it and it was fine. But I also thought if my mates could see me now, they would be rolling on the ground.” 

David is not a man afraid to try something different, and that attitude may well make his patients more receptive to his various methodologies. You may not expect a rural shearer to seek treatment, but it’s not out of the ordinary for David. His clientele ranges from Wainui locals to people coming from up the coast, a diverse group in age, background, and socioeconomic status, and that means a lot to him. When someone walks through his door, he makes sure that they feel comfortable and safe, no matter what their story is.  

Now aged 70, David typically only works in the afternoon. In the morning, he goes for a surf or meets friends for coffee at Zephyr cafe down the street, Bosco the dog at his side. Twice a week he teaches Yin Yoga. He lives simply, and without hustle. “Money comes and goes. I don’t ever feel there’s a shortage of it, it’s just how you tap into your share of it.”

David concedes the koha model would be difficult to just pick up and do, and that what he built was based on decades of relationships and reputation. He emphasises, “It’s all based on the relationship with the person. The relationship is the reimbursement.” 

In a world where it often feels like everything has a price, David’s approach is remarkable and refreshing. “I’m not trying to sell myself, I’m just trying to listen to the person and be of some use to them.” He’s also careful to say he’s not a healer, “All I’m doing is assisting them to heal themselves. The whole thing is to empower the person, to make them responsible for their own state of wellbeing.”

There’s no doubt David inspires empowerment, showing that a shift in the way business is done is possible, and sustainable. His is a heartening example of what it could be like to operate in an ‘Aroha Economy’ where currency depends a lot less on commodification, and a lot more on community.

Story by Victoria Williams

* This story was brought to you with the support of Tāiki e! Next week is Global Entrepreneurship Week.

The festival aims to connect diverse parts of the entrepreneurial ecosystem, give visibility to key areas of focus, and inspire our Tairāwhiti community to embrace entrepreneurship as a tool for community transformation and long term impact.

It also provides a platform for expressing our own unique Tairāwhiti style and flavour of entrepreneurship which is deep rooted in community and aroha. Stay tuned to find out what Tāiki e! have planned for us!

Bringing on Summer at Tatapouri Bay

Recently a couple of us Gizzy Local crew were having a chat, peering into a very murky crystal ball, trying to imagine how things might pan out for us all out here out East, this summer.  

We were delighted when through the haze we perceived a sparkly lapping tide, the faint sound of a coffee grinder beneath some lively summery tunes.  “Aha” we thought “It’s all going to be okay!” 

When uncertain times make it difficult to plan a faraway holiday, it’s a great relief to know that a wonderful staycation option awaits, just over the Makorori hill.

Tatapouri Bay.  Anyone who’s had their eye on local social media or who has ventured beyond the Tatapouri boat ramp over the past couple of years will know that the Tatapouri campground has undergone some tremendous transformations lately. The humans behind it all? Nathan Foon and Shanti Probst.

Shanti and Nathan met at Massey University in Wellington about thirteen years ago, Shanti studying Industrial design and Nathan, Visual Communication Design. After graduating they travelled together and had ended up in Auckland with Nathan working as a graphic designer for the television and film industry, which he loved. 

Shanti had taken some time off work as she kept experiencing vertigo and dizziness. Nathan was surprised to learn that his dad Meng had invested in the Tatapouri campground after selling the Kaiti Mall, but seeing an opportunity to get a branding project on his design portfolio, they headed back to Gizzy for the summer. They thought they’d check the place out and lend a hand, and then soon return to their lives in Auckland.

Nathan started out on the branding and website for the campground but soon realised that a swish-looking sticking plaster wasn’t going to cut it. So Nathan and Shanti proceeded to get stuck in, planting, painting, and coming up with simple ideas on how to inject some life into the place.

When they realised that Shanti’s health was improving with the outdoor work and as the potential of the place began to dawn on them they eventually decided to take the opportunity to take the ball and run with it. And while it was a big decision to not return to their previous life, their imaginations were bursting with inspiration from cool cafes, accommodation and restaurants that they’d visited all over the world, helping them form their ideas about the kind of space and experience they could create at Tatapouri Bay.

On their way home to Gisborne they had taken a short holiday in Raglan, staying at campground, venue and cafe Solscape, and it was this last pocket of homegrown inspiration, which has really helped the couple hone their vision of a community-focused, inclusive space with different price points and accommodation options; a place where you can gather, stay, eat or play, for both locals and travelers alike. 

Tatapouri Bay really does provide us with an easy getaway when you want to do something or go somewhere special, whether for a whole weekend or even just a few hours, and this Labour Weekend the crew will be emerging from their winter hibernation with the oceanside cafe opening up its doors for summer good times. 

This year bagels will be joining the menu alongside coffee, baked treats and ice cream and this weekend also marks the return of sunrise yoga sessions, which run every Saturday and Sunday morning throughout the summer season.

While it is known as a campground, Tatapouri Bay has evolved into a gathering space for tourists and locals alike, with people flocking to the Bay for a coffee, yoga class, ‘Sunday session’ of live music, or just good vibes in general. 

Nathan and Shanti have done very little hibernating themselves over winter and this year a new covered outdoor space will provide a sheltered venue for community events and workshops with artists and wellness practitioners, and some sparkling new accomodation options have also joined the ranks. 

Accommodation at Tatapouri Bay ranges from the newly completed super luxe Zen cabins, to furnished glamping tents, to campsites. In addition to finishing the Zen cabins, the Tatapouri team spent their off-season performing a general upgrade of all the facilities.  There’s a new outdoor kitchen for the glamping area, and refined landscaping all over the property.  Shanti emphasizes the work has a distinctly personal touch “We’ve poured everything into it, every little corner has had time spent on it, or has a story around someone who came in and put their energy into it.”

The team feels lucky that they haven’t felt the impact of restrictions on travel, as the majority of their market is local and regional. Nathan observes that even travelers from farther afield are looking for a “local experience” rather than the “touristy things” typically marketed to international tourists.

That local experience is provided and celebrated throughout Tatapouri’s offerings. Exterior walls are adorned with murals by local artists, yoga classes are provided by a rotation of local teachers, and the cafe sources its coffee and baking from the Far East Coffee Co. and Curbside Kitchen. And the team has hopes for hosting bigger events in collaboration with other Gizzy businesses throughout summer.

Nathan and Shanti are starting to see the best testament to their efforts – it’s increasingly common for guests to want to extend their stay, “they don’t want to leave!” 

Beyond the incredible view and the outstanding hospitality, there seems to be an intangible element to Tatapouri’s appeal.  As Nathan puts it “This place just has a really good energy.  That’s exactly what we were trying to achieve and it’s the locals who help us hold that.”

Story by Victoria Williams & Sarah Cleave
Images supplied.

Paving the Way for a Land of Opportunity

While Phil Kupenga (Ngati Porou, Te-Whanau-a- Apanui) was born and bred in Gisborne, he had been away for twenty years before returning home from Wellington with his family last year.  Unlike many a city dweller who is lured to these fair shores by the prospect of a more laid back lifestyle, Phil was motivated to bring something of the city back here – opportunity.

Prior to becoming a Business Analyst, Phil was in the New Zealand Police, and had always assumed he would be a career-policeman, loving as he did the camaraderie and not knowing what each day would hold.

About 15 years ago however, Phil took two years leave without pay, intending to take a bit of time to rejuvenate before returning to the police force. Life however had other plans.

Phil’s wife Rachael was working as an IT recruiter and when she saw a job come up with the Department of Corrections, she suggested he give it a go. While Phil didn’t have experience in Information Technology, he did have an understanding of the sector, and demand was high for more people in technology roles. 

While Phil describes his entry into the world of IT as having been in the ‘right place at the right time’, that high demand for people in the tech sector hasn’t changed and Phil is back here in the Tairāwhiti to ensure that his people have the opportunity to get some of that pie.

Phil continued on from that initial IT role with Corrections to similar roles with New Zealand Trade and Enterprise and Inland Revenue before forming his Consultancy business “Next Chapter” in 2013. He provides business analysis for a range of government departments, working on a range of Information Technology and complex business projects.  

* * * 

A couple of years ago the Ministry of Social Development invited a number of experts to look at the segment of the population cycling on and off the benefit, often between seasonal work contracts.  Phil was one of these experts, and in September 2019, the not for profit organisation ‘Orawa’ was formed to pilot a Cultural leadership programme to help whānau prepare for the work of the future; to support people looking to make sustainable and real change towards an independent and meaningful life in this continually evolving environment. 

Phil’s role in Orawa is to inspire people in the Hawkes Bay and Tairāwhiti regions to consider high value work in technology and entrepreneurship; growth industries that are ‘future-ready.’  That is, they are not going anywhere, anytime soon. 

In our region we have the second lowest median wage in the country. The median wage for Information Technology on the other hand, is 80 to 90K. There are plenty of IT jobs around here too, so Phil is not only tasked with upskilling our people but also matching them up with jobs in our own community.

The son of a freezing worker, Phil believes in his people and wants to help people to lift their sights, to unleash their own potential. He wants to enable more people in our community to afford homes, and be able to spend more time with their families. 

It is undeniable that technology is shaping our futures and the Covid pandemic has only accelerated that. What advancements in technology are going to displace jobs? Currently fruit-picking robots are being trialled in Hawkes Bay, “rather than being the ones who lose their jobs to robots, let’s be the people designing the robots” urges Phil.

In his 13 years in the industry it has become patently clear to Phil that there is a dire lack of diversity in tech, with very few women, Māori or Pasifika people occupying those roles. The way Phil sees it, a diversity of value systems is important to ensure that the thought leadership informing the direction of innovation and the ways in which technology is used, is not coming from one homogenous worldview. 

* * * 

Since coming back to the Tairāwhiti Phil has joined the Tāiki e! Whānau, where he supports people to do a three-month course in Full Stack Web Development, also known as ‘coding’ through Dev Academy. The first cohort graduated just last week and as the next cohort is underway with another due to start shortly, Phil is working with local employers to create pathways to employment for the graduates.

I spoke to Andrew and Bomb (Pavaris) who have just completed the Dev Academy course, who reported that it had been “fun”, a word I least expected in relation to a course in coding I must say.. Bomb lost his job as a flight instructor after Covid hit, and is stoked with the opportunity he has been given to retrain. Both Bomb and Andrew said that there is heaps of online support throughout the course, and working alongside someone else had made it even more easier.

A big part of the Dev Academy programme is to develop digital literacy skills. It’s more practical and vocational than a university degree and is designed to meet the requirements of the roles that exist in the sector; from coders, business analysts and testers, to quality assurance, UX designers and Cyber security. All those roles are in high demand in our country and that demand has only been increased with Covid.

Students who complete the Dev Academy programme with Phil get the benefit of being a part of the Tāiki e! community, where entrepreneurship is the norm, and a wonderfully diverse and inspiring array of people flow through the space. 

We have the creative edge here in the Tairāwhiti Phil reckons, but more capability technologically, combined with entrepreneurship will enable us to do something with all of these ideas. 

It’s a potent mix that will enable us to create our own autonomy, our own industry and stem our current reliance on the primary industries. But first we have to build our own capability from the inside, and to do that we need to start believing in ourselves!

If you are interested in doing the course or are an prospective employer interested in what Phil is up to, please get in contact with him at 021877827 or phil@nextchapter.co.nz. 

Horouta Pharmacy: Kevin Pewhairangi

A couple of years ago Kevin Pewhairangi and partner Kasey Brown were up in Gisborne, visiting from Wellington, where they were settled and raising their three sons.

While they were here they saw a young mum pushing her pram through the rain, and upon stopping their car to see if they could help, found out that she was walking to a pharmacy to pick up a prescription. They picked her and her child up and took her to the pharmacy, but the situation played on their minds and ended up being one of those moments that was to change the course of their lives.

Kevin, Te Whānau a Ruataupare, grew up in Tokomaru Bay and had worked in the David Moore Pharmacy attached to the old De Lautour Medical Centre in his early days of being a pharmacist. Since living away in Wellington, the De Latour Road Medical Centre had moved to become Three Rivers, and while a new bunch of doctors had started a new medical centre in its place, the pharmacy premises had remained vacant.

Kevin and Kasey, who is also a pharmacist, were well aware that the young mum they had encountered was only one of many locals without their own transport who would have been feeling the loss of a pharmacy in the neighbourhood.

The seed had been planted. In Wellington, Kevin and Kasey’s daily commutes were 1 ½ and 2 hours respectively, leaving only weekends for family time with their boys. They knew that coming home to Gisborne would enable more time with their young family. They could also see that a Maori-run pharmacy would only benefit the hapū and iwi of Te Tairāwhiti. And so it was that they became business owners just over two years ago, opening Horouta Pharmacy in the very same place Kevin had first worked as a Pharmacist.

Kasey is also a pharmacist; a Wellington-born Samoan. She specialises in clinical pharmacy and works part time at Hauora Tairāwhiti, providing back up at Horouta Pharmacy when needed. Horouta Pharmacy then is uniquely positioned as a whanau/fanau-friendly pharmacy improving access to free professional healthcare and advice in its community.

The role of a pharmacist is changing. More than just counting tablets now, pharmacies can give vaccinations and some can prescribe. Kevin understands how important pharmacy access is in ensuring that medical care and treatment are followed up with after people see their doctor and it’s particularly important to him that Māori and Pasifika people have a pharmacy that meets their needs.

Horouta has a distinctly Māori and Pasifika flavour, in fact it’s the only Māori-Samoan owned Pharmacy in the country. This means you’re more likely to find Toi Māori than glamour stuff on the walls and shelves with locally-made kete and earrings and colourful harakeke potae alongside the popular Manutuke Herbs range, which originated here in the Tairāwhiti. Customers can kōrero with the pharmacist in te reo and Kevin is working towards fluency in te reo across all of his staff.

Which brings us to another local, who has been a significant force in enabling Kevin to realise his dreams over the past two years of being a business owner.

Kevin and Kasey had started out with an accountant who specialised in pharmacies, but they weren’t local and they didn’t hear from them until their taxes were due. Then along came James Burn, who had recently started a small business himself. While he was offering accounting services, he took a very different approach to the usual ‘distant accountant’.

The starting point taken by James was to find out what Kevin and Kasey’s goals were, not just in their business, but their personal aspirations too. And so the financial plan they devised alongside James was built around them spending time with their boys and using their skills to help our people both locally and nationally.

Kevin sits on advisory groups working with Pharmac, the Ministry of Health, and providing a Māori perspective on issues such as the Covid vaccine. Kasey is the Pacific Advisor to Otago’s School of Pharmacy and Kevin is the President of the Māori Pharmacists’ Association.

James’ role as their accountant is to give them the tools to reach their goals. They get a financial report every two months and James calls up to discuss how they are going. They find his reporting easy to follow, which shows them the areas they are doing well in, and those that need attention.

Empowering staff is important to Kevin, having positive memories of being looked after and a part of the team at David Moore Pharmacy under David Moore’s mentorship and support. They aspire for their staff to be fluent in Te Reo Māori, and are currently supporting their pharmacy technician to attend reo classes to learn.

As one of only 2% of pharmacists who are Māori, Kevin is adamant that the healthcare system needs change. He visits kura kaupapa to encourage rangitahi to consider pharmacy as a career and makes an effort to be at the table on advisory groups. He knows his day to day experiences need to be represented in those spaces, often dominated by an older and retired demographic.

Meanwhile, Kevin finds James Burn a good partner when it comes to helping him to keep it real in his own business. He says that James provides a personal touch that is usually lacking when it comes to finances, and Kevin likes it that their meetings take place at James’ home. They’re doing coaching sessions to plan for the year ahead, looking at past performance and the direction they’re heading, to make sure they’re on track to meet their goals.

And when he’s not in the pharmacy, planning with James or advising on boards, Kevin is probably jamming with his band, SuperFly Killa. You can find their EP on Spotify, and surely catch them live at a gig sometime soon?! Once they’ve finished recording their next EP perhaps.. And make sure you visit Horouta Pharmacy next time you’re in the neighbourhood, for a refreshingly local experience of the pharmacy model.

Thanks to our wonderful sponsor and accountant with the mostest, JBA Accountants & Business Advisors for getting us in touch with this inspiring local business and the choice humans behind it!

Story by Leah McAneney & Sarah Cleave
Photograph by Sarah Cleave

Coasty Kidds at Heart

A story about Coasty Kidds might have any number of beginnings.

It might for example, start with the interviewer turning up to the Coasty Kidds store and spending the first half hour or so having yarns with Dion’s dad, Busby Akuhata – who might just be the original coasty kid himself.  It was Busby who taught Dion to dive when he was seven years old, and listening to these two talk diving yielded a pretty good insight as to how Dion had ended up on his chosen path.  

It would be equally as fitting to start a story about Coasty Kidds with the word ‘partnership’.  

Dion attributes his partner in life and business, Reremoana with “getting the gears grinding in [his] head” early on in their relationship, and keeping Coasty Kidds evolving and growing into itself ever since. Dion says it was Reremoana who helped him to see the value in all of the experience and knowledge he had accumulated over the years he’s spent in the moana; who eventually convinced him it was worth sharing.

A story about Coasty Kidds might begin with some conjecture about when Coasty Kidds actually began..

Was it nine years ago when Dion was working as a commercial diver in the Hawkes Bay and created the Instagram handle ‘Coasty Kidd’ to represent his connection to the Coast? Or was it when Reremoana finally said to Dion something along the lines of “You know that Coasty Kidds kaupapa you’ve been talking about for years, well I’ve started the Facebook page, so now you’ve got to get some content in there”.   

Which brings us to the starting point that feels most apt for a story about Coasty Kidds, which is that of its kaupapa. 

Coasty Kidds is about sharing knowledge, values and tikanga about diving and the moana. As a commercial diver, Dion has seen too many people die from preventable dive accidents, “I wanted that badly when I came back to Gisborne, for no one else to die diving. Freediving is the most common dive practice around the world and most people don’t ever learn how to do it safely”.

So Coasty Kidds began with education. The pair shared social media posts about diver safety, gathering and preparing kaimoana, about respecting tangaroa. Dion started providing dive training and branched out into supplying dive gear so that he could reach and help educate people when they came in to buy equipment too. 

Dion is the only qualified freedive instructor from Tauranga to Wellington and is also currently testing a pilot course for children through schools, ‘Tamariki of the Tides,’ which helps kids build a foundation of safety and confidence in the water, and learn how to be kaitiaki of our moana.  

Then, in November 2019, Reremoana shared a social media post of their whānau wearing the Coasty Kidds branded towel ponchos she had recently made for them. They were immediately bombarded with people wanting to buy them. So Reremoana and Dion set up a small-scale factory in their lounge and, joined by Dion’s brother, his partner and other friends that happened to drop in, everyone chipped in with the cutting out, and piecing together of parts ready for Reremoana to stitch together on her machine. 

That first run of towel ponchos sold out within an hour of posting them on Facebook and so began Coasty Kidds’ evolution into a lifestyle brand.  These days the Coasty Kidds shop is brimming with merchandise designed and even made here in Gisborne, and there’s a winter range on its way.  Dion says it had never occurred to him that people would ever be wearing their stuff, but supposes it’s what happens when you put fashion and diving together. 

From the outside looking in though, I’d venture that it’s more than that.  For sure, Coasty Kidds is hearty, and like Dion jokes, heaps of people are happy to hold onto that idea of being a kid at heart, but this isn’t just your average apparel brand with a few fashionable values tacked on for good measure… Coasty Kidds has a meaningful and relatable kaupapa and not just for us here on the East Coast.  Dion reckons they get photos from all around the country of people wearing their gears and he has realised that it’s not just people from around here that consider themselves Coasties; we’re all kids of the coast in New Zealand.

This story about a creative, kaupapa-driven local business which continues to evolve and grow, looks and sounds pretty rosy right? A little bit like a starry eyed couple – a diver and a designer – who jumped in their waka and let the current lead them straight to fame and fortune? I wouldn’t be doing their story any justice if we were to leave things there, so let us continue…

Dion tells me he dropped out of school when he was 13 or 14 years old. He describes learning at school as being ‘in the too-hard basket’ and as “nothing really processing”. 

It has only really been since meeting Reremoana that he has been able to recognise that he has really good ideas and knows how to carry things out, but when it comes to putting them down onto paper or trying to fit them into the system that we’re living within that he finds not only difficult, but actually, often impossible. 

The Freediving Course for example, that Dion had to do in order to become an instructor – he describes that day as the hardest of his life. Of course, having been a diver his whole life, he knew all the answers, but he didn’t know how to answer questions in the way he was required and so he failed that test the first time around.

It has only been very recently that Dion went to a psychiatrist in order to try and understand why his brain works the way it does and a diagnosis of ADHD has come as something of a relief. Learning about why his brain is always going a million miles an hour and why every day is so draining is helping him with acceptance and motivating him to learn ways to better cope.

“If I’d known this years ago, my life would have been way different” he says.

Dion can also see how his neuro-diversity has probably enabled him to do things that other people might not manage so easily. He talks about how he could stay in the water for 8 hour days when he was on the reality TV Show, ‘Gold Hunters’ and is starting to appreciate the way it enables him to keep continually evolving Coasty Kidds, even though it is also taxing on him and his whānau.  He can say now, “I’m good with people but not with the books” and know why that might be, rather than simply feeling bad about it. He’s starting to learn about how he best learns.

Dion’s neuro-diversity may also go some way towards explaining what may look from the outside at least to be some kind of superhuman drive that has kept Reremoana and himself moving from the early days when Dion was still working in forestry, would get back from bush to open shop from 4:30pm and would work until late. 

Dion and Reremoana’s baby was born just 4 days after opening the Coasty Kidds store and soon after that Lockdown hit. Their supporters kept them going with online purchases through lockdown and after lockdown the pair sold their house, bought a caravan, and then lived off the grid in Pouawa over summer. Reremoana was hapu again and their baby learnt to walk at the beach. It was a chance to really test their mettle as true Coasty Kidds. 

“It’s been a crazy journey” says Dion and the pair are showing no signs of slowing down for anything or anyone. As their new baby’s due date draws closer, Reremoana has launched a new American Vintage Store out the back of Coasty Kidds. Dion is exploring Gyotaku, an art form, which remembers and respects a fish’s life by printing it, a nod to his own Cantonese ancestry and he is currently doing his Level One training, which once completed will enable him to teach people to dive to 20 metres. 

All driven by a single-minded passion to empower people with the confidence, the right gear and ability to provide kai for themselves and their wider communities indefinitely. It’s inspiring to find kaupapa-driven businesses like this, and not surprising to see it thriving when it’s built as it is on the stuff that matters.. No one’s saying it’s easy, but neither did anyone ever say it was meant to be, eh… Thanks for doing what you’re doing Dion and Reremoana – hearty as, you two!

You can follow the adventures of the Coasty Kidds whānau on Instagram @coasty_kidds and Facebook @coastykidds.

Story by Sarah Cleave

Photographs supplied by Coasty Kidds