Aucklander Steve Hathaway is a world-renowned underwater cameraman and documentary maker who’s filmed for the likes of the BBC (you’ve probably unwittingly seen footage of his in David Attenborough’s Blue Planet series), Discovery TV and National Geographic. In 2012 he teamed up with his then 12-year-old daughter, Riley, to establish Young Ocean Explorers, a TV series and educational project whose mission is to “inspire kids to love our ocean”. Riley is presently in Europe as part of her OE, but Steve was more than happy to fill us in on their awesome endeavour, and his pride at working with his remarkable daughter—whom he often sweetly refers to as ‘Smiles’.
Having grown up in a coastal community, Riley’s never been so far from the water—though that didn’t initially translate to her being entirely fearless in it.
“I love telling other kids this, that Young Ocean Explorers nearly stopped on the very first day of filming,” says Steve. “I was going to get Riley to float on the surface of the water covered in seaweed while she did her opening lines, but she didn’t want to do it because she was too scared of there being crabs in there! I wasn’t going to force her, but she decided to do it. And why I love telling the story is because kids look at her knowing that she’s swam with sharks and this and that, but originally, she was scared to swim in kelp. But she got past her fear.”
Steve proudly reveals that she’s overcome plenty of fears outside the ocean environment too.
“She’s been stretched lots of times, she’s done lots of presentations. Last year she did six presentations for National Young Leaders Day, and there are two-and-a-half thousand kids at each event. When she was 13 or 14 she did a TEDx with me in Auckland with two-and-a-half thousand adults. That was probably one of my proudest moments of her—I was terrified! I remember being on the stage and just watching this teenager who had never done a talk before doing this amazing job in front of all of these adults.”
Steve says that she hasn’t let such fame go to her head, either.
“You know we we’re just a pretty normal family, we don’t don’t think we’re anything out of the ordinary by any means. But we do some pretty cool stuff for sure and so sometimes kids, having seen your face on TV, might think you’re a little bit special. But Smiles, she just deals with it, there’s no ego involved.”
Steve says that her current trip overseas has been instrumental in furthering Riley’s resolve to inspire others to make positive changes, having “seeing the scale of the issues around plastic in the oceans in places with larger populations”.
“She’s a great communicator,” says Steve. “There are things that just resonate with kids. I was in a classroom today and they all knew who she was!”
You must be really missing her?
“The thing that I love about travel for people now is that even though you might be about 12,000km away the internet can bring you close. So you know, we’re messaging each other all the time and she’s constantly sending us photos and videos and it feels like she’s here in a way. My 18-year-oldchooses to contact me regularly, I just think that’s really special.”
Spending so many hours working together, Steve admits there are occasionally disputes and artistic differences, (“she is a teenager!”), but that if she is in the wrong then she is “always very quick to say ‘I’m sorry’”.
“For Young Ocean Explorers, we want it to look beautiful,” says Steve. “We want Riley to meet the animal every time, but it doesn’t always happen. There’s pressure when you’re out on shoots, so we’re learning how to treat each other with respect. There’s a running joke in our family about Riley being our most documented child! We have so much footage and photos together and it is something I really cherish. I do pinch myself that we get to do this stuff together and that she still wants to do it with me.”
Upon her return, the pair will be heading out to Hawaii where Riley will be part of an ocean conference, then later to film great white sharks in Australia.
“We’ve experienced so many cool things together,” continues Steve. “We encountered one of the first ever white tip sharks to be witnessed in New Zealand and I managed to capture both Riley and the shark in the same shot.”
Steve also has two sons and an older daughter with whom he has also shared such experiences.
“All the kids are different. When my son, Lucas, was seven, I took him snorkelling to Poor Knights Island and he was really comfortable among huge schools fish. At one point he put his thumb up and I swam over to see if he was alright and he said, ‘Dad, I just saw a huge shark!’. That was a real father-son moment.”
Was your father interested in in the ocean?
“My dad was a science teacher and a lecturer. Then he gave it up to work for a church when I was around 12, and I cried, because I loved the whole nature thing. One thing that I reflect on is that my dad made a choice to take a 50 percent pay cut to follow his passion. I’ve always admired that. (Steve was to make a similar decision to pursue his love of the ocean: “I actually went from a little bit to nothing for a number of years! I had no security, which was tough for a while.”) But one thing I’m really grateful for is that although my dad was very busy throughout the year he always made family holidays a priority. He wasn’t involved in my life perhaps as much as I would have wanted, but that was a encouraged thing, you know. He was a fantastic dad. He encourage being curious, which is my definition of what a scientist is.”
A trait that Steve has passed on to his kids—and his family is all the richer for it.
“Young Ocean Explores, it’s just a phenomenal thing to be a part of,” he says. “It’s my life’s calling, and Riley is the one that has helped me realise that.”
Isabellah McGregor made headlines in 2015 when it was announced that the then 11-year-old was heading to India with her 10-year-old brother, Sam, and dad, Joseph (also their coach), to compete in the Commonwealth Karate Championships. Three years later, the pugilistic Papamoa family are still fighting strong, now with another sibling—nine-year-old Gabbie—also on board.
“I have always encouraged of my girls to do karate, but never forced them,” says Joseph. “Already, at just 15 years old, Bellah is better than I was at her age—or even now! But I am chuffed to bits that she continues to find enjoyment in karate and, excuse the pun, proud as punch of her achievements and of the woman that she is developing into.”
Bellah says that she realised she wanted to pursue the sport further after being selected for the national team: “Karate has always been a sport that has been in my life from a young age. It runs in my dad’s side of the family. Dad had always encouraged me to do it, in the beginning I was picked up after school and we would head straight to the dojo and I’d either sit there or join in.”
What are the most rewarding aspects about training and working together?
“For me it has been watching Bellah—and her sister—develop and progress over the years, gaining a level of confidence that really stands out,” says Joseph. “I also think that it’s really cool when she helps to teach with me, The younger members of our club, Bay Karate, love her to bits.”
Bellah adds that she gets a kick out of being able to travel and celebrate both as a family, and as a team—though spending so much time together can lead to frustrations!
“Bellah is a lot like me, stubborn and pig-headed,” laughs Joseph. “So we often find ourselves butting heads and the biggest challenge is separating ourselves from the father-daughter relationship when we are in the dojo or on the mat. That being said, we have become very good at leaving everything on the mat and even if we argue during training it stays there. Her sister, Gabbie, is a different story altogether!”
So you do spar together?
“We used to a lot, but then over time Bellah learnt how I fight and started to actually beat me!” admits Joseph. “I started to get sick of being kicked in the head by her, so we don’t fight as much anymore.”
As for standout moments, Bellah says that they are whenever she wins having been coached by her father.
“There really are so many memorable moments,” beams Joseph, proudly. “But some of the best would be Bellah medalling at the Commonwealth Champs in India, her silver medal at the Goju World Champs in Romania, watching her achieve her black belt, her recent gold medal at the National Secondary Schools and her Silver at the National Championships. But what means the most to me is witnessingher pass on her knowledge to her little sister.”
Bellah says that training and travelling around the world has brought them closer together.
“The whole family is involved with karate,” adds her dad. “As such we spend a lot of time travelling to competitions throughout the year and spend most of that in each other’s pockets. At home it always gives me the warm fuzzies when I’m teaching to see Bellah, Gabbie and their mum, Tracey, all training together.”
The McGregor clan also share a joint-love of animals, and fishing—another sport that Joseph says his girls are better than him at!
“Bellah has grown into an amazing person and a bloody good fighter, if awfully stubborn!” says Joseph. “I haven’t yet learnt how to deal with the complexities of teenage girls, but there’s still hope for that. I just feel so very fortunate to have Bellah, Gabbie and Tracey in my life and so I do cherish every memory I have and will continue to make with these wonderful girls.”
And as for making memories, how will the gang be spending this Father’s Day?
“Taking him out for a meal and not doing karate!” insists Bellah.
“That sounds nice,” adds her dad. “It’s a bit mushy for me to say this, but every day is a Father’s Day for me.”