Blake Signal is as happy as a pig in muck.
He’s recently been appointed the new General Manager of Bowls Wellington, and returned back to New Zealand again after having lived in Australia for the past seven years.
“It’s a great opportunity to be close to family and friends again,” he says, “Plus walk and talk the sport I love … and get paid to do it!”
“Bowls was also my job in Australia. Richard Girvan originally invited me to come over to Newcastle and play and work at the Nelson Bay Bowling Club. It ended up working out really well, so Angela and the two kids, Lily and Bella, joined me 6 months later.”
“Eighteen months ago, I went to a new job up the road from Newcastle at Maitland ... as Club Manager of the Lorn Park Bowling Club. It wasn’t a big club, but those machines with the spinning wheels in the back room kept the funds coming in. Angela was enjoying her job as an early childhood educator. We lived in a large, modern 5-bedroom house you can buy for less than $800,000. We were enjoying the Aussie lifestyle.”
“We happened to come back to New Zealand for a holiday at the beginning of the year, with two more kids in tow … twin three-year-olds Beauden and Arya. It was then we realised how much we missed our family and friends. It was just about the same time the Bowls Wellington job coincidentally came up. So I applied. And the rest as they say is history.”
Blake turned 40 this year, but he’s already a familiar face in the New Zealand bowls community … he’s been playing bowls for over 30 years here and in Australia.
“I started playing indoor bowls when I was about 5 or 6,” he says. “I also watched Dad play down at the Stokes Valley Club where we lived. I couldn’t join the club and play outdoor … those were the days when you had to be 16 to officially join a club and play.”
“Despite that I got a lot of ‘unofficial’ play in. So by the time I became a first-year Stokes Valley Bowling Club member in 1999 at the age of 17, I was already pretty good, and hit the green running, So good, that I won the 1st year Centre Singles in Wellington, and even made the quarter finals of the Open Singles
After leaving St Patrick’s College in Silverstream, Blake also took up greenkeeping, so he was able to play and work at the Stokes Valley Bowling Club. It certainly didn’t do his bowls any harm.
He won the National Fours in 2010 with Alvin Gardiner, Robbie Bennett and Clint Carroll. Two years later he won the Fours again with Andrew Kelly, Ali Forsyth and Greg Ruaporo, as well as the Pairs with Alvin Gardiner.
Blake was becoming one of the form New Zealand bowlers, and as a result was selected for the 2014 Glasgow Commonwealth Games to play in the Pairs with Richard Girvan. “We got knocked out by the eventual winners, Scotland, in the quarter-finals,” recalls Blake.
But Blake’s big moment in the sun came in 2016 when at the World Championships in Christchurch, he picked up a Bronze in the Triples with Ali Forsyth and Mike Nagy, and a Gold in the Fours with Forsyth, Nagy and Mike Kernaghan.
The following year he won the National Fours again with Peter Bellis, Richard Girvan and Lance Tasker.
Blake was selected again to compete in the Pairs (with Shannon McIlroy) for the 2018 Commonwealth Games on the Gold Coast. “Once again we got knocked out in the quarters … once again by the eventual winners (Wales).”
“I sort of became ‘unselected’ after that,” Blake laughs. “I’m still playing, and I made the semis in the Aussie Open this year. But with a wife and a family of four kids, including three-year old twins, I cant spend as much time on the green as I used to!”
“Plus, I’m really getting into my new role at Bowls Wellington.”
“There’s a fantastic team around me. Sue Way, the Chair of Bowls Wellington, has been highly supportive. So have the board members assigned to keep me out of trouble: Rod Leitch and Jason Puddick. The others in the office, Ross Gillett (Competitions & Tournament Manager) and Brady Amer (Engagement & Inclusivity Officer) are great to work with.”
“Nigel (the previous GM) did a great job setting up things.”
“It’s still my first three months, so I’ve still got a lot of listening and learning to do. And getting back to ‘jandals’ rather than ‘thongs’, and ‘chilly bins’ rather than ‘eskies’.”