This is Heli-Tilt Country

Arrow-white Event Recap: NZ National Excavator Operator Competition

Posted by Nick Roche

Jun 13, 2023

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34 mins read

Who will be crowned the 2023 CCNZ CablePrice National Excavator Operator of the Year? Close to 200 of the best excavator operators from across the country were whittled down to 12 regional champions and the Defending Champion, Troy Calteaux from Milton, Otago.


They came together to compete for national honours at Central Districts Field Days held in Feilding over March 16-18 to find out who would be the best of the best. Check out their profiles throughout this story, and hear from those involved as we look back on the 2023 event.

For those on the course, it’s all on the line. A chance to showcase their skillset across three days of competition and compare themselves against New Zealand’s top operators. To be at this level, they’re all winners, but still… kudos awaits the overall champion.
For those watching, it’s a chance to see a range of excavator maneuvers and appreciate the expertise that’s needed to complete the series of challenging tasks laid down by the judges. There are technical jobs to be completed that test specific capabilities and how well operators can complete tasks the fastest, through to creative tests that are surely there to stump them. Can they pour a cup of tea without spilling any from a teapot attached to their A2 bucket?

Shaun Curtis (1) Simon Wenham (1) Steven George (1)
Shaun Curtis Taranaki Regional Champion (First time at Nationals). Simon Wenham Nelson Marlborough Regional Champion (First time at Nationals). Steven George Northland Regional Champion (First time at Nationals).
From: Egmont Village, New Plymouth, Taranaki. From: Nelson. From: Whangarei.
Representing: I & D George Contracting. Representing: Wenham Contracting. Representing: Steven George Contracting.
The key to winning? Don’t worry about the little things…get on with the task. The key to winning? Understanding what you want to do as in ‘the process’. Don’t pay too much attention to ‘the detail’, just get through the work. The key to winning? Attention to detail. A little bit of patience. Trust yourself. Don’t get too caught up in it.
Biggest tip ever learned on an excavator? If it doesn’t feel right, don’t do it. Biggest tip ever learned on an excavator? Slow is smooth and smooth is fast. For trenching, I was taught to track your trench line and then dig your track marks so you are nice and straight. Biggest tip ever learned on an excavator? Patience and taking time. Relax.
What does it take to be the best? Determination and belief. What does it take to be the best? Time in the seat. What does it take to be the best? Time. Hours in the seat. Doesn’t come overnight. It builds, day on day on day.
Have you used A2 Attachments? Any thoughts? Yes. Those A2 cleaning (wide) buckets have a good shape on the bottom. They’re great for ‘finishing’ work. Have you used A2 Attachments? Any thoughts? Yes, but only here at the Excavator Champs. I like the idea of the A2 All-In-One Bucket. They look like good quality and they setup well. Have you used A2 Attachments? Any thoughts? Yes. Use Heli-Tilt + A2 Wide, Trench, Rock buckets and a Ripper. Good. Heli-tilt is amazing! Love the 90-degree tilting each way.


Similarly, can they open a packet of sausages and cook one on a BBQ using a spatula connected to their 13-tonne excavator? How will their painting skills go? The competition is on!

One of the tasks sees the rugged men passing their skills on to very young children. They have to teach them some of the basic moves on a mini excavator. It’s joyous and endearing in every sense to see them be gentle and show their softer sides in an industry known for its masculine stereotypes.

The smiles on the kids’ faces indicate they’re loving it too. The special part of the day is not lost on the spectators or Rebecca Fox, Workforce Development Manager, from Civil Contractors New Zealand (CCNZ). “It’s my job to look at how to grow capability in the sector, both now and in the future.” Understandably she loves seeing the children get involved, as she wants to encourage pathways into the industry.

Isaac Wrigley (1)-1 Corey Olson (1) Marni Kemp (1)
Isaac Wrigley Canterbury Westland Regional Champion (First time at Nationals). Corey Olsen Wellington Regional Champion (First time at Nationals). Marni Kemp Bay of Plenty Regional Champion (First time at Nationals).
From: Christchurch. From: Featherston, Wairarapa/Wellington. From: Rotorua.
Representing: Texco Groundworks. Representing: E Carson and Sons. Representing: Central Demolition.
The key to winning? Focus. Keep it tidy. Have fun – which is what I have been doing. The key to winning? Stay consistent and calm. The key to winning? Try and get it done as fast as you can. Time and planning.
Biggest tip ever learned on an excavator? Dig around surfaces and take the top layer only to prise soil from the ground. It’s a skill to master. Biggest tip ever learned on an excavator?
Stay calm. Don’t panic.
What does it take to be the best? Time on the machine to get more experience.
What does it take to be the best? Be smooth, fast, and clean. Have you used A2 Attachments? Any thoughts?
Yeah I have. They’re good. Very nice.
Have you used A2 Attachments? Any thoughts? Yes. They’re really good. Pretty easy to change over attachments and strong too.
Have you used A2 Attachments? Any thoughts? Yes, they’re great. I’m getting used to the A2 tilts - I find them a bit slower - but great and very tight. A2 Quick Hitches work very well.    


Her team has a careers tent set up targeting school students who can talk to experts about all the different ways to enter the construction industry. There are even VR headsets with digger simulations for them to try.

Also looking on from the crowd and admiring the skills on display is Damien O’Connor, the government’s Minister for Agriculture. “I’ve spent literally thousands of hours on machines,” he enthuses. “I can’t say I’m an expert on excavators, but I’d love to have the time to one day learn the skills that these guys have. I spent all my years on dozers and frontend loaders, and you do all that with an excavator, so I understand their versatility.” His message to those competing is a simple one: “Keep those skills up because people with skills on excavators are worth ‘gold’ at a time when we see climactic events and infrastructural needs that require these skills on a daily basis. They’ve got a great future.”

Brendon Ferguson (1) Kaleb Hollands Daniel Mepham (1)
Brendon Fergson Southland Regional Champion (Third time at Nationals). Kaleb Hollands Otago Regional Champion (First time at Nationals). Daniel McPham Hawke’s Bay Regional Champion (Fourth time at Nationals).
From: Invercargill. From: Mosgiel, Otago. From: Hawkes Bay.
Representing: Fulton Hogan. Representing: Hollands Excavation. Representing: Gair Contracting.
The key to winning? Be focused. Do homework on what the judges will see and make sure your head is switched on while doing it. For example, make sure your seatbelt is on. If you jump out of the cab, keep three points of contact. The key to winning? Thinking. Watching. Learning. Seeing what everyone else is doing and taking learnings along the way. Don’t over-stress. The key to winning? Consistency. You can’t be perfect at everything, so aim to be good at most tasks.
Biggest tip ever learned on an excavator? A much older guy once told me to operate the digger at full power with full revs so that everything becomes a lot smoother. I’ve followed that advice and found that I can do anything. Biggest tip ever learned on an excavator? Slow and steady wins the race. Do it once. Do it right. Biggest tip ever learned on an excavator? Be a good operator before being a fast operator. Speed will come naturally.
What does it take to be the best? Practice and good focus. Pay attention to the judges and anticipate what they will see. What does it take to be the best? Do everything with precision and give it your best go. What does it take to be the best? You need to be good at everything, not just one discipline. So have good health and safety knowledge, earthworks knowledge, etc. Also, you need to be good in the moment.
Have you used A2 Attachments? Any thoughts? Only here during the competition. They’re good. Well-built and sturdy. Have you used A2 Attachments? Any thoughts? Only here during competition. I think they are pretty good. Very responsive. We’re not using them in our workplace back home, but if I owned the company I’d definitely buy some. Have you used A2 Attachments? Any thoughts? Love them. Heli-tilts and Ram-tilts. Good at changing attachments.


Thinking about the event’s future and taking it all in is part of the job for Alan Pollard, CEO of CCNZ. The organisation founded The National Excavator Operator Competition (NEOC) back in the 1990s and as the main sponsor, they have the official responsibility for bringing the entire event together. A huge undertaking, but one that CCNZ is undaunted by and easily embraces, having grown the event to where it is today. Alan has high-level industry oversight, but also easily sees what’s unfolding on the ground in front of him.

It’s no coincidence that young kids are learning the craft, or that there’s a careers tent to welcome youth, or that large parts of his staff are fully immersed in helping to bring an entire community together. It’s clearly culture-building with multiple benefits for all involved. “I look at the passion amongst our branch networks and it’s the same all around the country. We’re committed long-term. This competition
is here for the long haul.” Alan recognises success is a team effort that reflects the values of the industry. “The commitment that everyone has made to make this event happen with all of our sponsors and partners is incredible. A massive task that they all do passionately and selflessly. It makes us really proud to be a part of this industry and I’m blown away by just how incredible the people are.” The role of the competition to shape and safeguard the future of the sector is important to Alan. “If we’re looking at labour shortages [in the future] then we need competitions like this.”

Jim Beamsley (1) Jarrod Hoskins (1) Mike Bowe (1)
Jim Beamsley Manawatu Regional Champion (Third time at Nationals). Jarrod Hoskins Auckland Regional Champion (First time at Nationals). Mike Bowe Waikato Regional Champion (Fourth time at Nationals).
From: Palmerston North. From: Auckland. From: Waikato.
Representing: ARC (Asbestos Removal & Demolition). Representing: Fulton Hogan. Representing: Bowe Brothers Excavating Ltd.
The key to winning? Control the nerves. Be efficient. Keep track of time. Have fun and be positive. The key to winning? Speed + Kindness. The key to winning? Finding a balance of quality, efficiency, cost, and time.
Biggest tip ever learned on an excavator? Be smooth on the controls gives greater control of the machine, so you don’t get a rough job. Biggest tip ever learned on an excavator: Knowing my backside is my centre of gravity. That’s your tipping point. Make sure you wear your seatbelt because you never know what will happen. Your seatbelt can also be your anchor point. Advice for anyone wanting to be an operator? A shovel is the same as your machine. Start on the shovel to get a feel for what it’s like. Start with the shovel and you’ll get better.
What does it take to be the best? Good emphasis on Health and Safety. Being smooth on the controls. Taking care of the machine. What does it take to be the best? Can-do attitude. What does it take to be the best? Be consistent. Quality and efficiency and consistency has to be your goal.
Have you used A2 Attachments? Any thoughts? Yep. Love the multi-grab! Great control. Awesome for demolition. Mk3 Grab Bucket with BIS400 wear plates (hardox) and solid teeth is awesome too. Have you used A2 Attachments? Any thoughts? Yes. Pretty good. I was doing a creek upgrade and found the Multi-Grab Bucket good for placing and lifting rocks. Have you used A2 Attachments? Any thoughts? Yes years ago. Run all Doherty on mine currently, but nothing wrong with Attach2. I like the innovation side of A2 that I see it across Attach2 products. I’ve noticed A2 digging buckets have changed with a few extra features here and there.


As a Gold Sponsor, Attach2 is also committed to helping make the event successful and supporting the industry too. Senior Account Manager, Jono Wright, represents A2 at NEOC and echoes Alan’s enthusiasm. “It’s good to be part of it and work collaboratively together with the organisers and other sponsors to support these finalists as they showcase their talents and represent our industry.”

Part of Attach2’s sponsorship means the company’s attachments are on the end of the Hitachi 13.5 and 5.5-tonne excavators that finalists use to compete. It has Jono excited. “The guys can get amongst A2 attachments and feel how our equipment handles and get the full capability of it as well. Some might be new to our gear so they’ll be able to compare it back with what they may be using which is really neat.”

Always interested in customers, A2 values their opinions too. “There’s good feedback on our pick-ups being smoother and a little bit easier when compared to some of the competing products they’ve used before… also that the curvature of our buckets makes them easier to dig out with too.”

A2 All In One Buckets and A2 Grab Buckets are on display with some of the dealerships that attend Field Days and Jono pipes up that the response to those attachments has been great. “They’re being seen by the visiting public which creates interest and talking points and we’ve got some good enquiries being generated.”

Just a short walk further around the concourse and the Competitors Tent sees all the finalists awaiting their turn to be called to the course to compete. There is tension in the air. Nerves are high and everyone is focused and trying to get into ‘the zone’. Mates and catchups can wait until the two days of competition are over!

And the 2023 winner is...

Troy Calteaux from Milton, Otago. He is the first ever threetime champion having won the event twice previously.

We asked Troy ‘the big question’. Have any children asked for his autograph? “No, no,” he hollers with laughter. “If they did, I would,” he laughs.

You’re a great champion and an even better man Troy. A well-deserved victory! Congratulations from all of us at Attach2. Thank you for being such a great role model and ambassador for our industry.

Troy Calteaux 2023 NEOC Winner Troy Calteaux (1)
From: Milton, Otago.
Representing: Andrew Haulage 2011 Ltd.
The key to winning? Determination and Mindset. Push yourself through everything. Find your breaking point and push through it. Push to the limit.
Biggest tip ever learned on an excavator? Treat it like you’re at work. Try not to stress. When you stress things unravel.
Advice for anyone wanting to be an operator? Go see your local contractor and get into it! If you’re any good, you’ll go far. It also won’t come to you overnight.
Have you used A2 Attachments? Any thoughts? Yep real good. Well built with good back up. We do heavy work and they get worked hard but stay together.


Our thanks to all of those involved with the 2023 event. We hope to see you all again next year for the 30th Anniversary!
Attach2 are committed to NEOC and proud to continue their sponsorship.


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