Te Puke’s John Espin is never short of a wacky idea or two.
He is the man that created the Stupid Robot Fighting League that has been seen at many local events, on YouTube and which eventually made it onto US Sports station ESPN2 and a Japanese TV show.
In 2019, he muscled his way into the Seeka Te Puke Christmas Float Parade by creating his own category for wheelbarrows, complete with its own prize, the Leyton Dowman trophy.
He will once again be turning heads at this year’s parade on Saturday, unashamedly gunning to retain the trophy - hopefully, he says, without having to contend with any other entries in the category.
“For me it’s all about the Leyton Dowman trophy and winning that and crushing everybody else’s dreams who wants to enter the wheelbarrow category - which I’m hoping nobody will. I don’t want anybody else to enter my category - I’m not into sportsmanship.”
His wheelbarrow-based float will be promoting his latest zany idea, called Action Slaps.
Once again he has created a YouTube channel and is uploading videos. And once again, as with Stupid Robot Fighting, they feature battles.
But the Action Slaps videos are simpler to make, the winner is obvious and the turnaround is much quicker.
The concept revolves around two dolls or action figures attached to drills. Posed with their arms sticking out, the drills are turned on so the spinning figures “fight”.
“One will eventually whack the other one in the head and the first one whose head falls off is the loser,” says John.
Stupid Robot Fighting was wound up two years ago and was a slightly lower-tech version of shows like Robot Wars and Junkyard Challenge, with “robots” built by recycling whatever materials were on hand. Attached to a frame and controlled by combatants, they would fight.
“Compared to Stupid Robot Fighting, producing the videos is a million times easier. With Stupid Robot Fighting it would take three days to rebuild the robots because they’d been smashed to pieces.
“These [dolls], the head just falls off, so you just stick the head back on, and there are a few decorations and bits and pieces to glue back on sometimes.”
John is watching internet trends for who is feuding with who, before sticking the appropriate faces on the dolls.
“If I’m on my game I should be releasing a video on a Friday and then on a Tuesday release the slo-mo version.”
The idea stemmed from a puzzle John was trying to figure out - how to make something to clip on to the back of a doll or action figure that could be controlled to make it punch and kick, “something you could have behind them that could provide strong forward momentum”.
“Then I thought, ‘I’m overthinking this’ and just stuck them on an upside-down drill and let them go for it.
“With Stupid Robot Fighting, it was really difficult to understand who won because it was so chaotic. This, the head comes off and you know who won and there’s really only one way of winning.”
The best-performing video has had 4000 views, but some are as low as 50.
“But I haven’t worked out how to predict that,” says John.
His float parade entry features two mannequins with goggles and lab coats.