Arepa Ohia: a Kiwi who can fly

By Kelly Exelby


Some players boast a vicious sidestep, others possess blinding pace.
Arepa Ohia? The self-styled parkour proponent is blessed with the freakish skills of an aerial artist, but replicating the move that has made him a YouTube sensation at the Touch World Championships in Scotland next week might be asking too much.
Ohia, 26, left this week for Glasgow, where he's part of the Touch Blacks New Zealand men's team hunting their first World Cup success in a showdown that will inevitably lead to another clash of the transtasman titans in the final.
Ohia wasn't the only Tauranga player on the plane - 21-year-old Awhina Savage, a Bay of Plenty netballer, and Toia Tiwha, 18, will play for the New Zealand mixed team.
Ohia captained New Zealand to a controversial Youth World Cup title on Australia's Sunshine Coast in 2006, winning by a point when an Aussie was sent off for racially abusing an umpire, but success for the Touch Blacks at senior level has proved elusive.
A teacher at Wharekura O Mauao, Ohia said this year's side possessed the smarts and camaraderie to bowl their cocky rivals from over the ditch.
"This is our best chance because of the mix of players we've got. In the past we've taken virtually new teams away to World Cups, but this team has been together for a bit now. We're also all having to pay most of our own way to training camps around the country and to Scotland, so everyone has made the same financial sacrifice and must want it."
Ohia's training regime has been a mix of track running, cardio and plyometrics, although the former schoolboy rugby star has a different weapon in his arsenal - parkour, or the art of moving over largely urban landscapes by vaulting, rolling, swinging and wall scaling.


Ohia's stunts at Mt Drury, school playgrounds or on downtown streets have attracted thousands of hits on YouTube. He's even starred on a Tiki Taane music video and turned down a slot on the Power Rangers movie because it clashed with a touch tournament.
There's been talk around the rugby league traps of YouTube footage where Ohia somersaults an opponent on the touch field to score a try, although the chat could just as easily be urban myth.
Turns out it's (mostly) all true.
"It was at the touch nationals a few years back and me and a few mates were mucking around. One of them dived at me and I side-flipped over top of him."
Ohia's teammates at the Otumoetai Eels, where he's played for three years after switching from rugby, occasionally urge him to replicate the high-risk hijinks in a club game.
"They've been on YouTube and seen it and reckon it'd go great in a game. I've been thinking about it, but it could easily end in disaster and a few broken bones. It'd have to be the right situation for it to work."
Ohia loves the unbridled freedom of parkour, although he's buttoned back in the past month with the World Cup looming, learning a lesson when he strained a calf muscle a couple of weeks out from the last World Cup doing flips on a grass bank at Mt Drury.
Ohia was plucked from Tauranga Boys' College a decade ago and given a rugby scholarship to Hamilton Boys' High, although having cut his teeth at the Huria and Greerton touch modules it wasn't long before he gravitated back to the touch field, linking with leading club side Tamatoa. He debuted for the New Zealand open men's team while still a schoolboy.
Ohia loves the pace and instinct of touch where "pace and agility are ingredients but decision-making on the run is most important".
His commitment to the World Cup means his appearances on the wing for the Eels in the WaiCoa Bays club rugby league premiership number just three this season. He doesn't even go to watch his team for fear he won't be able to resist the urge to play.
The secret to sneaking past the Aussies might be in keeping a few tricks on ice for when the sides meet in the final on June 26.
But first, the Touch Blacks must negotiate games against Germany, Wales and the Cook Islands.
"The Aussies are super-analytical. They've got good basic skills and a never-say-die attitude but they're also so good at picking apart a team's strengths and weaknesses. Individually we're probably better, but team cohesion and being on the same page at the same time is what's needed to beat them."
That and maybe a somersault or two.

- Bay of Plenty Times

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