Sails pitch gets global following
The idea for setting up Velocity Karts came to Ian Brown as he contemplated the view from his Clifton Hill home overlooking the red-zoned vacant Bexley area in east Christchurch.
Like many people after the 2011 earthquakes, Brown, who had spent 18 years in hospitality, found himself reassessing his direction.
He had been to Papamoa near Tauranga for surf lifesaving events and met blokart inventor and operator Paul Beckett who was supportive and agreed to supply him with blokarts and motorised drift karts.
It took three years to obtain the necessary consents from the city and regional councils to use the Bexley Park land, and win a commercial tender to lease it.
‘‘A friend of mine asked me if people would travel to Bexley. But every factor I considered was in our favour. I looked at all the weather statistics. And I looked at population figures, distance from schools, tourist numbers and those sorts of things.
‘‘I decided if they could make it work in Tauranga where it’s more seasonal, I could do it here.’’
In his first year Brown employed a fulltime staff member but because of seasonality and variation in bookings, he now relies on semi-retired people, some of them from the Mt Pleasant Yacht Club, others former teachers, and occasionally students.
‘‘They have the flexibility in their timetables to come along at short notice and they’re engaging with people, which is important in this kind of enterprise. In summer we can be going seven days a week, while winter is quieter.’’
Velocity has built a reputation on internet travel website TripAdvisor as a major Christchurch attraction.
‘‘You learn about things that will open doors without spending a lot of money,’’ Brown says.
‘‘At Christmas we get queries from around the world from people wanting to send vouchers to their families. Sometimes I think we’re better-known internationally than in Christchurch.’’
The blokarts and drift karts are popular with business groups for team-building or just fun.
‘‘It’s amazing how quickly people get the hang of it. Often the most under-confident people find they’re as good at it or better than the sporty types. We had one disabled boy in a wheelchair and within no time in the blokart he was whizzing about like everyone else.’’
Brown hosts Parafed groups and has sharing arrangements with other businesses to donate time to similar organisations.
With views of the Port Hills and the Southern Alps and cattle in adjacent paddocks, it’s hard to believe the site is within the city boundaries.
Velocity is a boon to New Brighton which was badly affected by the earthquakes. Sometimes if there is a delay in the wind building during the morning Brown will recommend guests take an hour to visit the cafes or the pier. Occasionally he’ll take them for a small tour and point out the effects of the earthquakes.
Safety is uppermost with detailed attention to maintaining gear.
‘‘You’re inside a pod with a seat belt. The world speed record is 104 kilometres an hour but we’d usually be under 40kmh in a good wind.’’
Velocity Karts are popular with everyone from tourists to business groups on team-building exercises.