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Live to work

28 May 2021
Ruaidhri Inferno Shark 1

For some people, work is their happy place.

The Shark Pilot

Leaping and diving under Lake Wakatipu is not your typical day job, so it is no surprise Ruaidhri De Faoite has a hard time convincing people he is, in fact, a shark pilot.

When I say I am a ‘shark pilot’, it gets a few raised eyebrows for sure. It’s not a bad gig to have. I’ve written it down on the customs form when coming into New Zealand a few times, which is a bit of fun.

Most of my friends are lawyers and accountants and things like that – being a shark pilot is at a pretty different end of the spectrum.

I’ve mainly worked on sailing yachts, but when I came to Queenstown there weren’t too many opportunities in sailing. I always thought, before I started working here, that motorboats were the dark side, but now that I’ve turned to the dark side I’m not sure I’ll be going back anytime soon. Hook, line and sinker on that one.

Ruaidhri With Passenger Leopard Shark 2
Ruaidhri With Passenger - Leopard Shark

I got into it because I had a friend who was a shark pilot before me at Hydro Attack. They got a job here and one of the owners is Irish too, so it gave me a good foot in the door. Then I just didn’t leave them alone until they gave me a job.

When one of the owners, Dave, first took me underwater and we were cruising along, doing side rolls, I was like a fish out of water. It was just so different from everything else I had done.

We’ve had a couple of good reactions over the years, especially the ones where people don’t realise that the sharks go underwater!

We often have parents who are pressured into it by their kids. They are here for a wine tour and then they’re dragged out to do this crazy shark thing. Mums, in particular, come across pretty well on the video and the photos, testing out their tonsils screaming as loud as they can!

Ruaidhri With Passenger Leopard Shark 1
Ruaidhri With Passenger

The trips we enjoy most are where the passenger loses it and you just hear them freaking out. It is definitely where we get our enjoyment, but we do have to wear earplugs – we couldn’t be putting up with that all day!

You’ll often hear kids walking past going ‘Look, it’s a dolphin… or a shark’ and the parents are like, ‘Shut up, there are no dolphins or sharks in the lake.’ And then they see it launch up in the air! It’s pretty crack-up.

Shark pilots have to train for 100 hours. It takes 50–60 to get comfortable and get the dives under the water and the jumps going well. On top of that, there is all the safety aspects of the job. If something was to hit the fan, we train so we are on top of our game.

We have nine pilots – the single shark pilots are flat out on Instagram, they love it!

Ruaidhri Driving Leopard Shark 1
Ruaidhri Driving Leopard Shark

I’ve always said to the owners here that when it comes time to move on to another job, having ‘shark pilot’ on my CV should get me in the door
– because they’ll want to know what that means!

As told to Shelley Robinson

The Multi-Tasker

Hannah Watkinson’s friends call her a ‘multi-potentialite’. If working on four different projects and two boards wasn’t enough, the Christchurch creative has just added another challenge to her list.

It does get awkward when someone asks, ‘Well, what do you do?’ One of the words my friends use to describe what I do is ‘multi-potentialite’ (not that I like it!).

This morning I have been overlaying a map of the city’s water services with a disc golf course and the potential for putting an adoptable dog café and bar in the red zone. That is for my work with Life in Vacant Spaces, a Christchurch charity that pairs landowners with creatives. I am contracted to curate nine hectares in the red zone they have the licence to. I also do four hours a week at Three Boys Brewery doing business development, and I’m also a contract curator for a project called Art and Architecture, working with private developers to bring local artists into their developments. I also own Salt Lane Studios, a base for 20 creatives who would otherwise work from their garage, kitchen table or spare room. I love, the most, that no two days are the same.

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Hannah Watkinson inside Salt Lane Studios in Christchurch. Photo: Charlie Rose Creative

My background was in starting pop-up galleries to give people a space to show work, because I was concerned, post-quake, that young or emerging artists didn’t have things that would make them want to stay here.

We’ve been here (Salt Lane Studios) for almost a year now. I’ve learnt a lot in terms of owning a big old warehouse that leaks! I joke and say I’ve found a way to get my friends to pay to hang out with me. I love working here and I hope that people think of me as their friend rather than their landlord.

I do get itchy feet if I don’t feel like I am working on something new or exciting. It is like your project brain stretches and then when you finish it doesn’t stretch back straight away, so you’ve got space to think about stuff.

This year, I’m going back to Canterbury University to complete my Master’s of Fine Arts degree. I sat down and worked out, in the past five years, in the six different spaces I’ve operated for creatives, I’ve supported 80 different artists. I guess I thought maybe it was time to do that for myself. It feels awkward because I feel selfish that I am doing this just for myself - I’m not really good at that. But I want to finish a long-term project on the extraction industries of the West Coast.

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I think, when you are self-employed, you’ve got to work out the values you want to get out of it. For some people, it is to make more money. For me, it is so I have more flexibility in my life. So, I didn’t really get out of bed until 8am today and I hung out with my dog Maisie instead.

There are certain struggles that come with getting caught up in the identity of the work you do. One of the best things someone told me recently is that the success or failure of your current contract is nothing to do with your worth.

As told to Shelley Robinson

The Penguinologist

Dr Hiltrun Ratz works on the Otago Peninsula watching the soap opera that is the Pukekura little blue penguin colony unfold. Full of divorces, recoupling and swearing, she has a busy job with her two-legged friends.

I don’t think I’ll ever retire. I think I’ll be hobbling around the little blue penguin colony with my Zimmer frame saying to my colleagues, ‘Oi! Go weigh that one!’ I love it.

I live about 10 minutes from work at Pilots Beach on the Otago Peninsula. I’m a penguin scientist employed by The Pukekura Trust, a collaboration between The Otago Peninsula Trust and The Korako Karetai Trust.

In 2016, they were looking for someone to work with the little blue penguins. I was standing in the colony and asked, ‘Any idea how many penguins there are?’ The reply was, ‘Oh about 500.’ I thought, well that will take me a week or two – yeah right. It took me two and a half years to get pretty much all of them. Then I was told there were nesting boxes. I said, ‘Oh good, where?’ and they said, ‘Don’t know, somewhere here. We put numbers on some of them.’ It turned into a treasure hunt. The boxes were either nailed or screwed shut, so I would have to pry them open, see if there were penguins in there, microchip them and then find another box.

Kaitiaki Tautoko (2)

Blue penguins are little parcels of fury really. They are offended when I have to take them out of their box. They are very good at biting because they have sharp edges to their beaks, and they know they have this weapon in the middle of their face. They also scratch, growl and swear at you. The adults are little fury bundles, the chicks aren’t so bad because they haven’t worked out that their beak is a formidable weapon. Fortunately, I’ll only have to bother them once in their life to microchip them.

Before the start of the breeding season, the female and male sit at home in their box and she says to him, ‘Honey am I fat enough?’ If there is a nice cold ocean, lots of fish and the female is getting nice and fat, they’ll start breeding. And, of course, she is the one that decides because she lays the eggs. She may say, ‘Nah, I’m not fat enough, forget about it.’ But she’ll ask again the next month.

They usually stick with the same mate, but if the mate disappears or goes off with someone else, she’ll just find someone else. The divorce rate is about 18 per cent and sometimes they even swap partners between clutches! Shortland Street and Coronation Street is nothing compared to what goes on in this little blue penguin colony. It is the best soap you can imagine. ‘Excuse me, this is not your mate from last season, what have you done with him!’ I say to them.

I talk to them often. They tend to talk back, though we don’t speak the same language and I think they swear at me a lot, but that’s okay.

Kaitiaki Tautoko (21)
Hiltrun Ratz (left) works on the Otago Peninsula with little blue penguins. Photo: Blue Penguins Pukekura

I grew fascinated with biology when I was 14. I had an amazing biology teacher in high school. Some teachers give you direction in your life by doing nothing more than just doing their job.

I just have a sense of wonder in the natural world. I’m sitting here and looking at all these trees and nothing is telling them to grow, and yet they grow. They do it despite everything – it is a miracle. We are surrounded by miracles and we are just taking it for granted. Animals are so resilient and just want to live. It is that spirit of life that I find fascinating.

As told to Shelley Robinson

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