I have had a few nicknames in my time, some of them endearing, some could be classed as kind of complimentary and then there are a few that are best left parked on the whanau footpath of life. Like the nickname Baypark my bro Kev gave me in 2000.
The year 2000 was special for me for many reasons but none more special than my one and only attempt to learn the art of kapa haka. How naive I was to think a tin of cocoa townie like I was back then could show up at my local marae, join our Hui Aranga Kapa Haka group and lip sync my way through 25 practice sessions without someone noticing I was a couple of kumara short of a hangi.
Well I must have been at least a sack-full short of a hangi because everyone noticed my two left feet right back from day one but I guess they didn't have the heart to sideline me as they should have. And tragically for my fellow performers, when we took the stage at the Hui Aranga national competition I bumped into everyone and everything that got in my way, very much like a stock car on demolition derby night at Baypark. Hence my hard-case tag of Baypark which, in a weird way, I am kind of proud of because at least I had a go.
But there are more memorable moments to be had with Baypark and kapahaka if it is the venue for the 2009 Matatini National Kapahaka festival that Tauranga Moana has been chosen to host.
Matatini, as described by festival publicist Lulia Leilua, means many faces and during the weekend almost 100,000 faces showed up at the Palmerston North showgrounds to feast on the country's cream of kapahaka performers. For the past two years 30 groups who won their regional finals have practised intricately choreographed routines and over the weekend they battled it out to make the final six on Sunday.
While we all had our favourites, unfortunately there can only be one winner on the day. For my two kumara-worth _ and what would I know given my pedigogy in past performances _ I felt Ruatahuna were totally mesmerising as only children of the mist can be and deserved much higher accolades.
I guess I wasn't alone on this as a people's choice conducted by Maori Television over the entire weekend had Ruatahuna at 32 per cent, almost twice the votes of the winning team Whangara Ma Tawhiti, who polled 14 per cent.
There must have been a few whale riders on the paikea panel huh? But as they say, kapa haka was the winner on the day and winning at Matatini is the equivalent of taking home the Ranfurly Shield.
So what does it mean for Tauranga winning the rights to host the next Matatini festival in 2009? Well you could ask your Aunty Mabel who by now will be sparkling up all her flash frocks and divas for what will be the biggest gig to hit the brown town of Tauranga since Prince Tui Teka performed at the Te Puna tavern.
But 100,000 visitors with a pocket full of pinga is a challenge and an opportunity for Tauranga Moana if we have people not personalities hosting Te Matatini _ the many faces of Maoridom.
Tauranga Moana the kapahaka capital of the country? Who knows what 2009 can bring? By then we will have a council-owned stadium and a Maori-owned mountain to showcase to the watching world.
And on the subject of a Maori-owned mountain, I have had many emails asking me what I thought about the ownership of Mauao returning to Maori. The common question asked is will the change stop us from walking around it? My standard reply has been firstly of all, of the shorelines in Aotearoa that are not accessible to the public, 80 per cent are owned by non-Maori and non-New Zealanders (Americans and Germans feature predominantly) so there is a common misconception out there that needs correcting when it comes to what we have always shared with our caucasian cuzzies.
Secondly when I look at the calibre of council and Tangata Whenua who are working toward an amicable ownership of Mauao I am comfortable and confident our sacred mountain will continue to catch the morning light for all who wake up and walk around it for many more generations to come.
Again, for my two bobs' worth, I would put in only one prerequisite for walking the paths of our tipuna and that is if we are willing to walk it we should be willing to talk it and know what the mountain's name is, what it means and how to pronounce it correctly (Mauao, caught in the morning light, pronounced mow-oh not mow-wow).
Who knows, by the time Matatini meets Mauao in 2009 we all may all be a little more enlightened and given that I have 104 weeks to practise my moves I might make it on to the stage at Baypark after all. Not in a stock car but a haka.