by Michelle Michalak September 06, 2017

Slyde Handboards Team Riders are always up to something awesome.  

Mike Baker of Nelson New Zealand, is sharing his love of the land & sea in an iconic way by constructing Teepees along the coastline. The BBC News recently interviewed him last year, and we couldn't wait to follow suit.
How many years have you been building the Teepee?

Yes, this is the fourth generation of Tepees since I began, not counting informal shelters I used to make for and with my son as he was growing up.

Mike Baker New Zealand Teepees

Can you tell me about the 4 locations & 1 lesson learned from each experience?

All the locations have been out on the Nelson Boulder Bank at Snappers, our main reef break. The structures were originally further down the Bank, so one lesson learned which applied to all of them was to locate each Tepee closer to the take-off spot on the reef. The current Tepee is right on the button, so everyone uses it as a line-up guide of where to sit when paddling/swimming against the current down the Bank.

Each Tepee as it was built and gradually eroded through the year had its own insights and lessons learned. So, as well as moving the structure to an optimum site overlooking the break, each design has become progressively more sophisticated. When I began, the first structure was very rough and ready, very much an ad hoc, thrown-together affair. The next version, no 2, became a little more formal in its design while still in keeping with the ethos of the location, ie: being comprised of cast up flotsam and driftwood in haphazard fashion.

Structure three, last year had a little false 'annex' built onto the side and also miniature clones sprouted up around it for a while, which was really cool. This was the version filmed by the BBC series, 'Coast New Zealand' last year, where we were covered by cameras, a drone and by a full crew and interviewed.

This version began to use ties to keep the wood in position for a longer-lasting build. The final version up now, uses Jute ties which last longer and is sawn and axed to make for a more 'fitted' and formal design and it has windows while still keeping the freshness of the materials and the spiral movement of the supporting uprights.

Do you always build the same time of year? season? If so why?

Usually I re-build in the Spring of each year because the Tepee has weathered Winter storms and needs repair work and sometimes a whole re-build from the ground up, like the current version.

Do you have a favorite of the 4 teepees?

I like the current version, No 4. It is funky with a spiral movement as it rises up, the windows add an extra dimension, the Jute ties are tighter and provide better stability, the location is now perfect, I have added a 'Visitors Book' for people to make comments and do drawings, which is working really nicely.

In short, it has become much more of a deliberate art installation - site specific - in other words, the Tepee has been built with the specific location in mind, which, while influencing the build, has also been added to with external features, like the Visitors Book. As in a contemporary art installation concept, as each Visitors Book (small school exercise books) is filled up, I will hang them from the inside in plastic bags so people visiting can look back at the history of comments from others.

Sunset Teepee Snappers NZPhoto above by Simon Collins

How long did the last version take you to complete?

About 3 months from scratch.

What/Who Inspired you to start building Teepees?

When I was at Art College I built a traditional Lakota Sioux Tepee with my girlfriend and we lived in it for two summers while surfing on the coast in England, UK. These Tepees were strategic approaches to assisting in the recovery of the youths I was working with in Mental Health.

I wanted to encourage them out of their residence and to try working as part of a group on a project, out in the open. The first two Tepee versions had a lot of input from these young people and after that I took it on with my partner, Rosie and we continued to the present day. The Tepee in its verticality, signifies Hope.

As well as aspects which are traditional Lakota (when erecting the first poles there is only a tripod of three, which are lashed together, then poles laid in as you walk Sun-wise around the Tepee, tying in the newly added poles as you go) the design is influenced by the mountains all around us, the sea and the sky, so it is very much an Earth to Sky structure, also representing shelter and protection, using the materials to hand and informed by the location of the Boulder Bank which is itself, unique and a protected World Heritage natural formation.

Surfer Hope New Zealand

Who helped you build it?

Initially, the youth with whom I work in Mental Health. Then a few friends have added the odd detail and I have done most of it with some help from Rosie.

What is it build with? simply stone and driftwood and string?

Yes, the build uses driftwood and flat stones from the Boulder Bank and I have added Jute twine to tie the wood.

How To make a Teepee

In general, how long does it with stand the elements?

This depends upon how many King tides we get combined with a storm or big swell. Usually, the Tepees have made it through the Winter - we shall see how this current structure holds up.

Do you have a ceremony once it's no longer standing?

We have had ceremonies for each new Tepee, which includes the memory of the past Tepee. The concept of the Tepees also include the ephemeral, impermanence and change, so we celebrate this with both the old and the new.

How has it been received by the community?

The local community love it. Families come down and bring their fish and chips and picnics, dog walkers and fishermen use it for shelter, surfers use it for shelter and local yachties use it as a beacon when doing their racing out in the bay. It has definitely become a local icon of the area.

New Zealand Teepee Community

What's the best thing anyone has shared with regarding their experience at the Teepee?

There have been a few really special moments: I have had people come up to me and thank me for building it, saying they have visited the Tepee regularly as a meditation space when needing to think and feel and have quiet time in a shelter close to the sea.

One person said to me not long ago that when they were sitting in the Tepee on their own one evening, a pod of dolphin came in close to the Bank, working their way past. It stretched for hundreds of metres down the Boulder Bank and as they kept on coming, there was an amazing sunset. This person felt blessed to have such a visitation and felt that it was just for them. There are many stories and probably as many moments like this as there are people to who come by.

What's the best quote or image currently in the vistors book?

The best quote to date is probably this one, although all the comments are very special! 'Sticks and Stones Stand Strong against the ocean on the shore and against the wicked tongues of the rule of Man' ... Kia Kaha (Maori for 'Stay Strong - Stand Tall').

Visitors Book Snappers Teepee NZ

Do you see an analogy between being a bodysurfer & building teepees?

I guess one analogy which comes to mind for me is centered around minimalist art-making. I have been catching waves for 50 years, training in martial arts and dance for 40 years, practicing art and design and performance professionally for 40 years and I bring all of these aspects of myself together in what the Tepee stands for.

Bodysurfing and Contemporary Dance I place closely together and there are many analogies to be made there. Bodysurfing expresses the most simple and essential way to interact with waves in the ocean; in a world of high-tech environments and state-of-the-art materials, the Tepee expresses the simplicity, essence and minimalism of the concept of 'Shelter'.

View More From Mike Baker→
Michelle Michalak
Michelle Michalak

Michelle's diploma reads BA Psychology with a minor in English, and her license plate reads #CaliforniaDreaming4Life. She begin her career in the NYC fashion industry working with fashion and internet pioneer, Bluefly.com However, due the constant "nagging" of her entrepreneurial spirit, her crush on surfing, and hardcore love for the ocean, she chosen to call San Diego home for the past 10 years. On the west coast she 's chased waves & enlightenment working alongside "Gurus" in the online marketing & personal development industries. It in May 2012 she found her true Zen & Stoke, and joined the Slyde Handboards Team.


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