I met Benny at Kita Café in Morningside, central-ish Auckland. He wasn’t hard to recognise – Kina Construction merch was on full show and an unmistakable tradie-sized large flat white was already sitting in front of him. The introductions should have been brief (we were in the middle of a busy Tuesday), but we ended up chatting about fishing and our jobs and his karate black belt before I even opened my laptop. My first impression was that he is an incredibly nice guy, and that impression was bang on – he told me about his karate exploits as if it wasn’t a big deal (I wouldn’t be humble about this) and seemed just as interested in my life, despite me doing the interview.

When I  finally did get around to taking some notes, I asked him to start again from the beginning. As owner of Kina Construction, he had obviously done something right, so I was keen to hear how it all began for him as a tradie.

“I was doing swimming instructing down at the pool and was doing some personal training at the gym, but got over it. You had to be real happy all the time,” he laughed. “My mate knew a guy, Pete, who was renovating his house in Ellerslie and needed help from a young fella, so I said yeah, I’ll do that.

“I went to MAGs (Mount Albert Grammar), and I didn’t have any contacts to get into building. So, when I got my chance, I jumped at it. And it worked out real good. Right place, right time, and right attitude.”

Benny must have made a good impression, as he ended up doing two years of his apprenticeship up north in Te Ngaere Bay (near Mātauri Bay) with Pete. Having grown up fishing with his Dad on the Manukau, he also made sure to make the most of the beachside living.

“It was sort of like a building apprenticeship and a fishing apprenticeship. We’d knock off early on Fridays and go fishing and diving. I got my first cray up there. Pete was a really good diver. We were building the house, and two houses over I rented the local butcher’s house so I could walk home for smoko. It was right down on the beach, and me and a work mate flatted together.”

Benny and his dog Kina, the company’s namesake. Image provided by Benny.

The north gave Benny more than just a fishing and building experience; love was also on the cards.

“When I was living up north,” Benny explained, not resisting a smile, “I was looking for something to do. I would go to Kerikeri once a week to get groceries, and I saw this advertisement for Spanish lessons. So, I started going every week to learn Spanish and I became good friends with Maria who did the lessons, and Roberto her partner.

“A year later I saved up and went to Chile for their wedding. Me and my mate went up to the north of Chile to see the Atacama Desert, and I met my partner in the accommodation. She was from the UK, and ended up living in Aussie, so I’d see her about once a month. Then in 2014, she came to NZ to live.”

I’m not sure how many people have met their partners in a desert, but it seems to be a winning formula – the pair are now engaged and have two kids together (aged four and one). They now live in Auckland, which is where Benny came back to finish off his apprenticeship. With the paperwork ticked off, he worked as a qualified builder for five years before he thought it was time to go out on his own in 2017.

“I kind of felt like I was ready. I wanted that next step in project managing, and I just wanted that extra push… I started off doing little jobs that no one else wanted to do. It was just me at the time. Then there was a job in a Coromandel, and I got two apprentices on board so we could go build the house.

“More work started coming in and we needed guys. So now we have me, a foreman, a builder, three apprentices who are almost qualified, and two guys who are fresh out of school that are on the brooms.

“We’ve got a real good reno in Mt Albert and a couple more in the pipeline. We usually have two jobs on the go, and we target renovations… It’s so rewarding. There are some really beautiful older houses made of timber that you can bring back to life.”

With all things building ticked off, there was an area of conversation I was keen to revisit: his karate black belt.

“I got into karate at 13,” Benny explained. “Me and my old man got into it together and we graded every time together until we were both black belts. That was when I was about 20. I don’t really do it much anymore, but I do jujitsu, and I’m a white belt now. And I had an MMA fight last year.”

“Wait, what?!” was my response to that final remark. “You had an MMA fight? How was it?”

“It was good!” he laughed. “I got the TKO in the second round. My game plan was to do low kicks and work his front leg. Then at some stage in the second round he went for a take down because his leg was sore, and I sprawled him and then got into the ground-and-pound. I would be keen to do it again, but a lot of time and energy goes into the training. I’m more likely to do jujitsu tournaments.”

I was impressed, and also shocked at how he manages to squeeze this training into his already busy family and work schedules. He confirmed that it’s busy.

“I do jujitsu now three times a week – normally in the mornings. And then I come back at 7:00 am and take the kids to day-care, and then get on with checking the jobs. The balance is good at the moment; I can take the kids to and from day-care, I have a good team of guys I can trust who can take care of things, and so I can just run around and do the ordering. They smash it out.”

As if all the above is not enough, Benny spends what time he has left under the water with a speargun in hand.

“My old man was into fishing,” he told me. “Our first boat was The Mighty Midget – a four and a half metre tinny. We went out fishing in the Manukau. I remember being in the front of the boat, and he was loving it, but I was freaking out coming up and down waves – we must have been close to the bar. We always got a feed of snapper and kahawai though.”

Benny now fishes regularly in the Manukau and up north with his mates, but it was a solo trip that immediately sprung to mind when I asked him about any special catches.

“We were up in Patau South for Auckland Anniversary weekend. We had a big night with the mates, and I was sleeping in my van. I got up early before anyone else and swam up off the point and managed to shoot a kingie. Then it was a 1.5km swim back, and I was worried about sharks, so I asked some guys who were pulling a cray pot to take me back in to shore. They said, ‘Yeah man,’ and took me back to the shallows. I ended up wading back to shore with a kingie on my back, and all the guys back at the house were stoked. That was the first kingie I had shot.”

Since then, Benny has ticked off plenty more trophy fish, including a bluefin tuna this year on rod and reel – not bad for a business owner, dad, and martial artist.

With our time coming to an end, my final question was the obvious one: “So, what’s next?”

“I’m pretty happy at where the business is at eh,” Benny replied. “We’ve got a good little crew. I want to keep getting local jobs and renos around Mt Albert and go from there. I also want to keep spending more time with the family, and I hope to get out fishing more as well.”

After everything he’s accomplished, I don’t doubt he will do all of the above, and more!