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Message goes length of the country

John AO is on a mission to raise awareness of human trafficking and encourage New Zealanders to ponder an existential question. PHOTOS/ MARY ARGUE

MARY ARGUE
[email protected]

It’s a question to ponder, what’s the one thing you want to do before you die?

John AO finds the answer varies dramatically.

From the flippant: “drink a lot more piss” to the poignant: “I want to tell my parents that I’m okay with dying.”

It’s a project to illustrate the diversity of perspectives in New Zealand and to make people think.

“It’s a question we should all consider. And that’s kinda the point.”

The collection of roadside recordings on AO’s website jayoskatesnz tracks the course of his main venture – skating the length of Aotearoa to raise money for, and awareness of, human trafficking.

Pushing north from Bluff on March 4, the Vietnamese-American has covered about 60km a day. Helmet, safety pads, longboard.

Everything else is jammed into a backpack, a weathered-looking speaker dangles from a carabiner.

It was his mum’s only rule, he says, no headphones.

Like many epic ideas, it sprang from humble beginnings.

On a trip to Phan Thiet, Vietnam, the 23-year-old was confronted by his biological family’s living conditions. Five people were crammed into a one-room home, he said. It was little more than a shack.

Escaping the pandemic to New Zealand, AO became stuck.

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Despite never setting foot on a skateboard, a chance encounter with an “old school” Scottish pro, and a desire to help his family, catapulted him on to his present path.

“It’s only $2500 to build a house for my family in Vietnam.

“It became one of my life goals to skate across this country for them.”

The campaign started, and the dollars ticked up.

“We made that money in five days. It was a wake up for me that this could be a bigger thing,” he said.

A few calls to an organisation working in Vietnam, the Catalyst Foundation, and AO is now aiming for something closer to $20,000.

Catalyst, he says, works from the ground up to combat human trafficking in high-risk, poverty-stricken communities, similar to Phan Thiet.

The money raised helps Catalyst “break the cycle of poverty” through education and training and building safe and sanitary dwellings.

Perched on a balcony just north of Masterton, vineyards stretched out below, AO’s exactly a month into his journey.

“It’s hard, but I love it,” he said, flicking through the “master” record of where he’s been and where he’s going.

AO had a breakfast of champions at Le Gra Winery, courtesy of owner Nicky Geary.

Before he arrived at Le Gra Winery, he tackled the Remutaka Hill, hitching a ride to the top and careening at break-neck speed into Featherston.

“You should see me fall off a skateboard. It’s so graceful,” he laughed.

His host Nicky Geary said she feared for AO on the windy road, but it was an obvious choice to put him up for a night.

“John got in touch, and we thought, ‘yeah, why not’, “I’m all for people doing stuff like this, giving a voice to a cause. He’s a really passionate guy.”

AO accepts the ride to State Highway 2 -and stresses, he’s not looking to break any records.

He said he’s looking forward to tuning in to a new podcast: Micro-Wave Feminism and has his fingers crossed for some apple trees on the way. As we round a corner, I get pulled up.

“That right there,” he said, “is bad.”

I look perplexed.

“You cut into the shoulder.”

Guilty. It’s a reminder that there’s little room for error on New Zealand’s roads.

AO’s visa runs out in December, and he has ambitions to get back to Vietnam.

“[But] I have no life plans after I hit Cape Reinga,” he said.

He saddled up and pushed northwards.

  • Support AO’s cause at jayoskatesnz.org and follow him on Instagram jayo_skates_nz

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