Welcome to the Okahu Bay wharf, where kids and teenagers try to be birds

Thanks to the photos and testimony of Zico O’Neill, assisted by Naomi Perry, we discover an original New Zealand tradition, the tradition of ‘manu’: the perfect dive that, for generations, has marked the waters and minds of local teenagers. Good vision!

In Aotearoa New Zealand, heading to your nearest body of water to “pop some manus” is a quintessential summer pastime. For generations, all over the country, in the sweltering heat, kids and teenagers have congregated around bridges, jetties and wharfs with one mission: to create the biggest splash.

Manu means ‘bird’ in Māori (New Zealand’s native language). The objective is simple: jump from a height into the water and create as big a splash as possible. A manu is not a bomb or a cannon ball. To execute the perfect manu you must fold your body into a v-shape, then, as your bum hits the water, kick out your legs at the perfect moment to create the optimal splash. Technique is everything, and competition can be fierce. But when performed correctly, there is a beautiful elegance to the manoeuvre.

Throughout my childhood I visited my father in Nelson, spending endless summer days enviously watching older kids practicing their manus at local river spots. As a teenager in Tauranga, my friends and I would head straight to the water after school, all with the goal of popping the perfect manu.

Having spent the best part of the last 10 years overseas, my return to New Zealand saw me on a constant hunt to find a project that would both allow me to reconnect with my surroundings, and to explore and connect with Māori culture. I’d grown up with Māori heritage, but had always had questions about my identity and place within that culture.

When, two summers ago, I began visiting the wharf at Okahu Bay in Tāmaki Makaurau, and taking pictures of the revolving cast of kids who gathered there every sunny afternoon, I was struck by how much of myself I saw in them, and I realised I could use the manu (already so familiar to me) as a vehicle to begin connecting with and appreciating where I come from.

Okahu Bay wharf reminds me of the spots I hung out at when I was their age. It is a different time and a different place, but the excitement and camaraderie remain the same. A group of friends, gathering at the wharf on a sweltering hot day; to cool off, to holler and laugh, to spectate and size up the competition, and finally, hopefully, to execute the perfect manu.



Photos and text by Zico O’Neill-Rutene
IG @zicooneillrutene

Text edited by Naomi Perry