Six minutes into the 40-minute competition to determine New Zealand's best barber (pattern category) it became clear to even the most amateur of eyes that Peleti Oli was going to win.
By that point, Oli had arrived so quickly and definitively at a point of complete mastery over the head of hair on which he was working, while the other competitors worked more carefully, that you felt he could have done another two cuts, good enough for second and third places, then had his own aerodynamically flamboyant hair cut and probably still had enough time left over for a hot towel and a wet shave.
Oli had travelled from Hastings, having been the beneficiary of $1400 raised through a Givealittle page started by his wife to help get them to Auckland for the event, because business skills are not his strong suit.
"I've just recently moved from Flaxmere to Hastings, but when I was in Flaxmere, man, people would come and ask, 'Hey can I get a haircut for 10 fish?'
"I'd be like, 'Oh, giz a look at the fish ... Sweet, jump on.' So yeah, I have to run my business properly now."
On the front of his oversized T-shirt was the word "Flaxmere" and on the back was a picture of a middle-aged man's smiling face and the words "REST IN BARBERDISE RAY ASTWOOD", in tribute to a barbering mentor who died last year.
A crew of between 15 and 20 friends and family had travelled up to support him in the competition, which was one of the centrepieces of the second annual BarberCraft expo, being staged at Auckland waterfront's Shed 10.
BarberCraft both represented and embodied the explosive popularity of barbering - an industry that was once a byword for shoddy chops by old dudes in dingy shops but which has quite suddenly come to embody a new kind of new urban cool, bringing with it quite a bit of money and not a little opportunity.
Down one end of BarberCraft, from behind a table laden with his flagship range of beard oils and related products, Kent Lambert, of the 3-year-old beard oil business Lambert's Luscious, made the incredible claim that, over the past six months, 53 new barber shops have opened in Auckland alone.
Asked where that figure came from, he said he'd heard it from the Hair Industry Training Organisation (HITO), who were the organisers of BarberCraft. When HITO were asked about it, they said that while there's been a clear boom in barbering in recent years and they wouldn't be surprised by that number, they didn't actually have any way of knowing - barbers and hairdressers are still lumped in together in official statistics.
The barbering renaissance, it's generally agreed, at least by the bulk of those at BarberCraft, has flowed through from American popular culture during the last decade, or so, with the real explosion even more recent than that. One person speculated the movie Barbershop may have played a part; others cited the increasingly stylised looks of major international musicians, the All Blacks, the Warriors. The head of HITO mentioned the Savea brothers; several people mentioned Sonny Bill.
Social media was another much-cited influence - the increasing awareness of what a barber can do, as conveyed by barbers through their Instagram accounts and elsewhere.
Vea Fonua, who won the classic cut category at last year's BarberCraft, and is the national business manager for one of the biggest and fastest-growing barber chains, Barkers Groom Room, said there are now 12 barber shops within a 50m radius of his company's High St store alone.
Do you need statistics to tell you the obvious? Any man with a head of hair knows that you can't throw a Sonny Bill no-look pass in Auckland these days without hitting a men's grooming outlet.
How will they all survive? They probably won't.
The most impressive-looking stand at BarberCraft, by far, belonged to a company called Barbershop Co.
Their space resembled a high-end cafe, its walls made up of glossy white subway tiles and classy-looking vintage hardwood, a high table and chairs in the middle, a professional cutting station at one end, a 1979 FJ40 Toyota Landcruiser, painted in full company livery at the other, and a swarming mass of impeccably dressed, company-logoed staff all over the place.
Three years ago, Barbershop Co didn't exist. Today it has 12 barber shops in Auckland and Hamilton, with plans for 88 more across the country.
Standing at the centre of the company's space, clean-cut and with an evangelical smile, possibly powered by the sweet smell of opportunity, was the company's chief executive, Adam Johanson.
A former national sales manager for a Fortune 500 company, Johanson launched Barbershop Co after identifying a gap in quality between barbers and hair salons, and a gap in sound business practices too, specifically that barbers were terrible at selling product after the cut - what's known in the industry as cross-sell.
While a hair salon would cross-sell to 60 per cent of their customers, the rate for barbers was typically less than 5 per cent.
Johanson and his business partner set about creating a franchise system of barber shops, based on exceptional design, a structured environment in which staff follow clear procedures, a series of online training modules that guides them from non-cutting "starters" through to proficient barbers, effective cross-sellers and, eventually, franchise owners.
"It's a massive market," Johanson says. "It's enormous."
"How many men in New Zealand?"
Working more slowly on his pattern at BarberCraft than obvious eventual winner Peleti Oli, but nevertheless working confidently and expertly, was Danny Edwards of West Auckland's Nexus Barbers. He wasn't nervous; he was there for the camaraderie as much as the competition.
Last year, he had entered every category and had won the beard competition: "I did it just to mingle, to be in the same room with the guys that share the same passion that I do," he said. "And it was awesome, I really enjoyed it. I got to the point where you're up on the stage, people are staring at you but in my mind, I'm working in one shop with all these guys."
Like so many of the new wave of barbers flooding the men's grooming market today, Edwards started out cutting hair at home for friends and family, before training at Barkers Groom Room and gaining experience in the real world of barbering. Six months ago, he opened Nexus, his first shop, in Westgate.
He knows he's riding a wave of popularity, especially in what he and other barbers describe as the urban style, which he describes as "lines and tracks, hip-hop, R&B, short back and sides".
"Fades", "razor fades", "skin fades", "blends", "comb-over" meaning side parting: this is the language of urban barbering, which has rapidly bled into popular culture and is increasingly standard practice in most self-respecting barbers.
The urban style is nothing new, Edwards says, but its exponents have "learned to share their story, share their style of how they cut hair, just share everything they have. Whereas before, it was down low."
Edwards' shop is cleanly designed, welcoming, heavy on the light wood, bright and spacious. All the barbers wear Nexus-branded T-shirts.
"My mum's a big part of this," he says. "She's pushed me. My parents and my wife and my daughter are the ones that have literally pushed me. They're the ones that said, 'Go do it, follow your dream, follow what you like'."
He wants his shop to feel like more than just a place to get your hair cut. He says his emphasis is on making people feel welcome. He personally greets and farewells every customer, and he takes care to make them feel comfortable.
"I've had some interesting conversations with guys where, you know, I talk to them and it's like talking to a child. You get, 'Yes, no, yes, no, yes, no.' Slowly they open up, then they talk about what's happening at home, happening at work, issues they're going through. Then they just open up."
"Some of the guys that come in here for a haircut, at the end of the time, they don't care about the haircut. They're just like, 'What's your name? I'm definitely going to come back and see you.'"
"There's more happening in a person than just a fancy haircut."
Apart from Barbershop Co, Barkers Groom Room was the other barber chain exhibiting at BarberCraft. Having launched three years ago in Wellington, they're about to open their fifth and sixth stores, in Ponsonby and Christchurch, and they plan to grow to 12 stores over the next two years.
The company's business manager, Vea Fonua, started out cutting at home and at school, where his customers could pay with either $5 or a pie.
He trained, opened his own shop, got qualified, worked under legendary Grey Lynn barber Pule Tulisi, then joined Barkers Groom Room as a barber two years ago, rising quickly into management.
In the low-ceilinged, old world elegance of the company's High St store, a few days before BarberCraft, Fonua ran through the keys to a good haircut: "First of all you're looking at how the hair sits naturally. You're looking for dark spots, you're looking for variation in length, you're also looking at the jawline. What you really want to do is complement the man's jawline. We don't like pointy jawlines. We want masculine, square jawlines and we can create that from a haircut.
"If I'm going to work on you," he said, "You'll probably notice that when your hair grows on the back and sides that your jaw seems to suck in and come to a point."
I had never noticed that, and in fact had never thought about it, but after he said it, it was all I could see.
"You grow a beard," he said, "So I'm going to create a jawline by shadowing it just underneath, so the lower your hair goes, the less your jaw's prominent. I can really taper that in and make that thicker, so that makes the silhouette of the jaw more masculine by giving you that square shape on the sides, and then giving volume up top."
I didn't know what any of that meant, but I liked the sound of it. I stopped him right there, and asked if he would give me a haircut.
He talked me through my hair's tendencies. He mentioned a cowlick I didn't know about, and how he would manage that. "And if it's too short here," he said, "it's going to stick out. You've probably noticed it." I hadn't.
"We're also looking at building in more of a natural contrast instead of a high contrast. Sometimes when you go too short and you leave this heavy, this area" - he pointed to my bald spot - "will be exposed in terms of contrast."
"Are you talking about my bald spot?" I asked.
"I'm talking about this area," he said, pointing again to my bald spot. "It's all about building up a natural contrast, so it's even all round, instead of really short then heavy, trying to hide it."
I pressed him on it but could not for the life of me get him to say the words "bald spot," even when I asked how he talked about bald spots with other men.
"I bring up the tendencies," he said, "why I do stuff - just to show my skill and my understanding of the haircut. When I finish it, I'll be like, 'This is why I did that; this is why I did this,' so it educates you."
The more I listened to him not use the words "bald spot", the more it seemed possible that there was no bald spot. Maybe it was just a figment of my imagination and the imaginations of multiple cameras positioned above or slightly behind me over the last few years.
"I'm tailoring it for you," Fonua said. "You can go through all the methods you like and all the steps you like, but it doesn't mean it's going to be a great cut for that person."
After 45 minutes working on my hair and beard, he was finished. He picked up the mirror slowly, deliberately, and executed an incredible slow reveal, like we were on an Oprah makeover special. He pointed the mirror straight at the floor, then tilted it gradually up, first revealing my neckline, then moving slowly up the back of my head, arriving finally, triumphantly, at the spot I knew to be bald, but which no longer appeared to be.
"See how there's much more ... for the top," he said. I did. It was astonishing.
"It's just little lengths," he said, "that make it more natural."
He explained how he had also given my hair height and length at the front to balance "the angles" - by which he meant, but didn't mention, my receding hairline - and he explained how I could swipe hair product against the grain at the base of the hairline, to emulate the volume he had created with his hairdryer.
I felt like I was in the hands of an expert. Some of this was his skill as a hairdresser, and some of it was his skill as a salesperson.
I'd never seen myself looking as good as I did after Fonua finished cutting my hair. My jaw had never been so masculine. I looked young and strong and vibrant. Or maybe I didn't, but that's definitely how I felt.