News & Updates

18 January 2023 • Track and Field

Jumps to Music celebrates tenth anniversary

The Jumps to Music event in Hawera has become an institution among the New Zealand jumps community.

The annual Jumps to Music in Hawera celebrates its tenth anniversary next Wednesday (25 January) and for the first time it has been granted World Athletics National Permit Meet status. Steve Landells finds out more about the history of the popular event, which has been passionately embraced by the New Zealand jumping community. 

Making a clear connection between East Germany and the Taranaki town of Hawera may not be readily apparent, but event founder of the annual Jumps to Music athletics event, Ed Fern, is one who can make that link.

For it was Ed first becoming aware of jumps to music high jump competitions in East Germany back in the 1970s, which acted as the catalyst for Hawera staging its own annual Jumps to Music athletics event, set for its 10th edition next Wednesday.

Ed, a former high jumper who hails from New Jersey before relocating to Hawera more than 20 years ago, says: “The jump to music meets started pre-dominantly indoors in East Germany and then later West Germany before expanding to other places in Europe. Athletes competing to a song they like can motivate and get the adrenaline pumping. The women’s indoor high jump world record of Kajsa Bergqvist of 2.08m was set in Arnstadt, Germany jumping to a song by Swedish pop band Abba.

“Back in the early 1980s I used to be an aerobics teacher and each summer I coached at a track and field camp at Rutgers University. I used to bring my boombox out and on the final day of the camp, I would play music while the high jumpers jumped.

“With this background, I thought we have a nice facility in Hawera, so why don’t we give the Jumps to Music concept a go?”

Ed was ambitious but realistic from the outset. Hawera is not a major New Zealand hub and attracting athletes to compete at Hicks Park was the challenge facing Ed and his organising team for the inaugural Jumps to Music in 2014.

“We sold them the novel idea and thankfully the athletes came,” he explains. “High jumper William Crayford (a seven-time senior men’s high jump champion) was always a great supporter of the meet when he competed. Sarah Cowley Ross (2012 Olympian) competed in the high jump at the first event and Liz Lamb (a four-time senior women’s high jump champion) was also a regular in the early days.

“We made a real effort with all the athletes. We left a gift bag on their hotel bed when they arrived with Sarah Cowley commenting ‘it was like we are at a European meet’. Our event committee would provide food to make sure athletes, coaches and family members were all fed.”

Momentum was established and it quickly became a hit within the jumps’ community. Commonwealth high jump champion Hamish Kerr plans his seventh Jumps to Music appearance for this year’s 10th anniversary event on 25 January. Keeley O’Hagan, the Commonwealth Games sixth-place finisher in the women’s high jump, is another regular in Hawera.

“Hamish is always at our meet which shows the respect he has for the meet and what kind of friend he is to Jumps to Music,” explains Ed. “Last year he cleared 2.10m to win before later helping sweep the surface free of rainwater for the women’s high jump, which shows the kind of guy he is.”

The occasional international athlete has also featured with Tokyo Olympic women’s high jump silver medallist Nicola Olyslagers of Australia competing in the second edition.

Four-time senior women’s national long jump medallist Ashleigh Bennett is from the town of Hawera and as meet organiser for the past six years she believes the unique nature of Jumps to Music has enabled it to thrive.

“If you look at the meet the athletes just keep coming back,” she explains. “They are always excited to compete here, which makes me proud.

“The meet is very laidback with no expectations,” she explains. “We’ve got a no uniform rule in place and each year we have a dress up theme. Last year that theme was Girl Power, so an athlete dressed up as Dora the Explorer and even jumped with a backpack.”

Over the past decade the meet has taken various musical themes with past editions featuring ‘Back to the 80s’, ‘The British Invasion’ and ‘Movie Madness’. The tenth anniversary edition will take the theme ‘Birthday Bangers’ in which an athlete will jump to a song released in the year the athlete was born.

The venue – which is handily placed just 40m from Ed’s back door – boasts two all-weather long jump runways and an all-weather high jump apron as well as 400m grass track. While the excellent facilities have witnessed some good performances, wind and rain have created far from perfect conditions at past events.

Yet thanks to a unique and innovative approach, organisers do their best to mitigate the wind with the use of single decker buses parked adjacent to the long jump runway.

“I remember the first year of Jumps to Music was very windy and our club president at that time, Greg Werder, saying, ‘I can fix this, let me call the bus company’. He spoke to them and got five buses sent to the venue. We parked them alongside the runway to protect the athletes from the wind and they have remained a regular feature.”

Ed admits he is not totally convinced how effective the buses are shielding the athletes from the wind, however with a grass bank on one side and the buses on the other he says this adds to “a stadium effect” at the Hawera venue.

The event founder is proud at the evolution of Jumps to Music. It is regular supported by some of New Zealand’s leading jumps groups, and he says the quality of some events are on a par with a national championship.

In the future, he would love to see the event attract TV coverage but for now he is thrilled at the tenth edition being granted World Athletics National Permit Meet status.

“It is nice that we are recognised as one of the major meets in the country because we often attract quality fields,” explains Ed. “The status we now have will continue to cement our place on the athletics calendar and we hope it can help further grow the event in future.”

For more information on the 2023 Jumps to Music go here