Toi Ohomai student Tuhoto-Airki Pene heads to Europe later this month to compete in two World Cup events as part of the downhill mountain biking world circuit.
While there, he’ll also contest two Crankworx MTB competitions in Austria and France, where he’s looking forward to nine days of full-on riding, he says.
It’s been a big year for the 17 year old mountain biking champion. Soon after winning the under 19 national downhill championships, held at Cardrona in February, he began his first year at Toi Ohomai’s Rotorua campus where he is studying towards his Diploma in Adventure Tourism.
As a speedy thrill-seeker, he says the course is perfect for him because he can study towards a career that will get him outdoors and living his passion.
“I love doing anything outdoors, so I’m really enjoying the course,” he says. “I want to have work I can come back to after competitions, so I’m interested in raft guiding or guiding bike tours.”
The love of speed was instilled in him from an early age when he began BMX racing. From aged 4, he won the first of seven national titles for his age group, before getting into downhill mountain bike racing at 12.
“I was always on a bike as a kid and had endless fun. I just love the thrill of it; the speed going downhill as well as working out how to make the fastest run. There’s a real technique to read the track and make the best decision on how you’re going to run it.”
At speeds of up to 40 km/h over a short, technical course, sharp wits and quick decision making is a necessity – you have to be able to negotiate rocks, sharp bends and steep drops, and decide how to take a jump, he says. At his winning national champs race in Cardrona, Tuhoto-Ariki was the only competitor in his age group to finish under three minutes, placing him 6th overall alongside the elite competitors.
So far this year he’s been injury-free, but he’s definitely had his share of wipeouts, including fracturing his collarbone last year in the same place at two different events, and “smashing up” his face at another competition.
The potential for accident is part of the territory and it doesn’t slow Tuhoto-Ariki down. Instead of pondering over what could happen, he’d rather put his time into training body and mind for the next big event. Following his month-long European tour, he will return to his studies before heading off to Europe again in September; this time to represent New Zealand in the World Downhill Mountain Bike Championships in Lenzerheide, Switzerland.