Prepare for excitement as New Zealand’s finest excavator operators battle it out to be crowned National Excavator Operator of the Year in the CCNZ CablePrice National Excavator Operator Competition!
The 26th National Excavator Operator Competition will be held at Central Districts Field Days in Feilding from 19-20 March 2021, also featuring an EPIC Careers Hub from 18-20 March.
Meet the contenders
Defending Champion: Riki Lum, Clements Contractors
A true craftsman with earth and steel, Riki Lum is also a master carver and powerful Māori orator from the Ngāpuhi iwi. He won the 2019 event in a landslide victory, pulling clear of his nearest rival in the One-Day Job Challenge by 20 points.
“It’s wide open this year,” Lum said. “Last time I was pretty lucky with the One Day Job Challenge because it focused on the health and safety side of things and I do a lot of that. I didn’t have any pressure but there’s a bit of expectation this time. It creates a few more nerves.”
Northland: Stephen Jamieson, Fulton Hogan
An excavator operator for much of the past decade, site foreman Stephen Jamieson proved his mettle at the Northland regionals in December by pulling ahead of the competition by 20 points. This is the first year he has competed in the national finals.
“It’s only the second time I’ve entered the competition, and my first time at the nationals. I don’t know a whole lot about what to expect. I’ve been researching it on YouTube so I know what I’m in for,” Jamieson said. “I’m feeling all good, but that will probably change as we get closer to the event and the nerves kick in.”
Auckland: Tevita Tautua’a, Vita Civil
Tevita might have started off in civil construction as a traffic
controller six and a half years ago, but he’s proven himself a natural
behind the controls of an excavator. He faced off against more than 30
competitors at the Auckland Regional Excavator Operator Competition on
his way to nationals, scoring 286 out of a possible 300 points.
“Last year was my first time in the competition and now I’m off to the nationals,” Tautua’a said. “I don’t know what to expect but I’m just expecting it to be even more challenging than our regional competition.”
Waikato: Mike Bowe, Bowe Brothers Excavating
Mike Bowe is a three-time Waikato champion and an owner-operator with an eye for detail. He enjoys working on projects big and small, especially challenging hill sites which keep him “switched on”.
“It’s my third time at the finals and I think I’m a bit better prepared this time,” Bowe said. “The nerves are gone, and I can just get stuck in. There were only 2.5 points between fifth place and first last time I was at the nationals, so I’ll just be aiming for a bit more consistency.”
Bay of Plenty: Craig Crowley, Crowley Excavators
Craig Crowley is a veteran owner-operator who has been behind the controls since he was 18. Environmentally sensitive earthworks are his specialty. Many Bay of Plenty orchards and vineyards have been prepared by his hand.
“The nationals would have to be the hardest two days of work you do in the whole year,” Crowley said. “The machine operating side is pretty easy, it’s the civil stuff I find a bit harder because we do a lot of farm work.”
Hawke’s Bay East Coast: Dan Mepham, Gair Contracting
Dan Mepham of Gair Contracting was a contender at the 2018 competition, winning the One-Day Job Challenge and missing out on nationals by a single point in 2019. This year, he's hoping it's third time lucky.
“I’ve been a few times now, so I know what to expect,” Dan said. “The time pressure is big. Anybody can do a perfect job with enough time but when the pressure is on, it sorts out the men from the boys.”
Taranaki: John Northcott, Graham Harris Ltd.
John is a globetrotting operator, having worked in London and taken on
demolition jobs inside the Sydney Opera House. His wide-ranging
experience has prepared him to take on any excavation challenge.
“The boss put me up to it this year,” Northcott said. “I’m just looking forward to competing and seeing what everyone else is like."
Manawatu: Neil Tau, Rangitikei Development
Hometown hero Neil Tau won the Manawatu regionals over last year’s
runner-up Jim Beamsley. While he’s nervous about having a big audience,
watching his skills should be a real treat.
“I was stoked and happy enough to be in the regionals last year and now I’m off to the finals,” Tau said. “The old knees are knocking a bit, but I just want to go in, have fun doing it and meet all the guys.”
Wellington Wairarapa: Ben Jones, Action Civil
Action man Ben Jones is a site foreman who works on residential drainage and infrastructure projects. He was the first man to take on last year's Wellington Wairarapa course. His work ethic meant he was also last to leave, working to clean up the site (and polish his skills in the process).
“It should be a good challenge, I’m going in with an open mind,” Jones said. “I’ve heard about the One-Day Job Challenge and I think I’ll enjoy that. I run a team of guys usually so looking forward to it.”
Nelson Marlborough: Leslie Smith, Edridge Contracting
Veteran excavator operator Leslie Smith hopes his 34 years of experience behind the controls will give him an edge over his competition. He came out on top in the first Nelson Marlborough Regional Excavator Operator Competition in seven years in November.
“It was bloody good fun. At the end of the day, there was nothing in the scores. There was a pretty high level of competition out there and I think it was health and safety knowledge that got me there, as well as straight digger skills.”
Canterbury Westland: Sam Gilchrist, Dormer Construction
Sam is passionate about excavators, and took every opportunity to get
behind the controls from a young age. He sees great opportunity in the
civil construction industry, and loves taking on a challenge. Unfortunately, he won't be competing - he is stuck in Australia and can't get through MiQ!
Otago: Troy Calteaux, Andrew Haulage
Troy Calteaux was the 2018 champion, but he put family before fame in 2019 to attend the birth of his child rather than defend his title. That meant he had to win the Otago Regional Excavator Operator finals to make a comeback. He did it in style, winning both the 2020 and 2021 events to prove he’s one of the very best.
“I got back into it at the regionals last year and it was just like I’d never stopped,” Calteaux said. “It’s a different level of competition at the national event and sometimes the easy looking tasks can be the hardest. It depends on your mindset, if you can keep your composure you will most likely win it.”
Southland: Brendon Ferguson, Fulton Hogan
Invercargill’s Brendon Ferguson was just one point behind winner TJ Symons at the Southland Excavator Operator Competition in February last year. But TJ is unable to attend the national event, so Brendon has qualified and is ready to step up and represent Southland. With more than 20 years of experience in an excavator, he is hoping to beat his sixth-place finish of 2018.
“It’s a bit nerve racking. I’m looking forward meeting other people and just trying to get better than sixth,” he said. “I’m pretty good at problem solving, so I’m hoping that will come in handy.”
Check out the action from the 2019 event:
This year's event wouldn't be possible without our awesome sponsors, especially our Platinum and Naming Rights Sponsor CablePrice. Other major competition
sponsors include Attach2, BeforeUDig, Connexis ITO, Contractor Magazine,
Doug the Digger, First Gas, Hirepool, Humes, Major Oak Group, National
Driver Training Centre, Pirtek, RobLawMax and Z Energy.