Boy racers: Cruising in Christchurch

Boy racers rock a utility from side to side at a gathering on Pound Rd early on Sunday.
Boy racers rock a utility from side to side at a gathering on Pound Rd early on Sunday.
Police keep an eye on the boy racers on Saturday night.
Police keep an eye on the boy racers on Saturday night.
A boy racer belly flops onto a car near Deans Ave on Saturday night.
A boy racer belly flops onto a car near Deans Ave on Saturday night.
Texting is vital to organising a boy racer meet.
Texting is vital to organising a boy racer meet.
Boy racers gather in Lyttelton on Saturday night.
Boy racers gather in Lyttelton on Saturday night.

They call it "pig hunting".

Torch lights flicker among trees as two men search for police who they think may be hiding in bushes at a rural intersection in Canterbury.

The duo are with dozens of boy racers gathered around cars parked nearby.

They make up a mobile party that travels around the region late at night, every weekend.

They're loud, obnoxious and their antics are, at times, violent and dangerous.

A car arrives and skids for the crowd but most drivers are too scared to get their tyres smoking, because if they are caught their vehicles will be impounded and they will lose their licence.

It's not long before four unmarked, silver police cars emerge from the darkness and the boy racers rush to their vehicles and leave.

The police are part of a specialist squad of seven officers set up to make life difficult for boy racers who break the law.

In the last month, they have been joined by extra staff targeting boy-racer activity in the city as part of Operation Hammer.

Police believe the group is more organised, threatening and aggressive, and their numbers have grown since the earthquake. They say the crackdown has been a success, with complaints about boy racers down about 70 per cent.

But a Facebook group which started out as the Anti Police Riot Squad and later changed its name to the Anti Police Harassment Squad is not impressed with the tactics.

They arranged a protest outside the Christchurch central police station a week ago.

Members say they are trying to clean up the negative image of the boy-racer community and believe a small minority is causing the trouble. They claim police are being heavy-handed and unfairly targeting law-abiding car enthusiasts.

Police disagree and make no apology for the crackdown.

Fairfax Media was invited to ride undercover with the group of boy racers to see first-hand how they are being treated. Only a handful of people knew the journalists were there on Saturday night.

What we found was an organised group who use social media and text messages to set up skid sites and avoid police. Rather than drinking in bars they would prefer to cruise the city's four avenues and meet to socialise with their mates on the side of a road.

We did not see much dangerous driving other than half a dozen skids. There was talk of fights and some of the boy racers said they knew the names and addresses of some of the police officers they believed were targeting them.

However, despite spending about seven hours with the group, we saw no police who were either heavy handed or targeting the boy racers unfairly.

Our driver, Kristi Jenkins, 20, who works at Calendar Girls and drives a limited-edition Subaru WRX, was sober and does not drink. She's been part of the scene for nearly five years.

"I love driving my car. I love feeling the power under my foot. It's not just a drive to the supermarket, it's getting a decent drive with my friends, listening to music and having a laugh.

"It [cruising on the weekends] is my down time."

Michael Cunneen, a builder, and Kevin Simaile, unemployed, also known as Nigz Nayra, were passengers in the car.

They believe there are up to 800 people, aged 16 to 35, who are part of Christchurch's boy-racer fraternity and, while that number is growing, there are still fewer than before the earthquakes. They believed most boy racers are "pretty civilised" but a small group of people were destroying their reputation.

"There are people out there just to cause drama that will go out looking to annoy the cops, do skids and fight people just for no reason and those are the people we're trying to get rid of," Cunneen said.

"They're out of control."

At a "park-up" on Deans Ave people were drinking and spilling out onto the road, while a man walked around with a megaphone telling drivers to "do a skid".

Two men were seen jumping on the roof of a van.

When police arrived they checked Jenkins' licence, warrant and registration and made sure everyone had their seatbelts on before we were able to leave. The Press saw nothing wrong with the policeman's handling of the situation but Jenkins said it was "horrible".

"It just feels like he's looking down at me. I'm speaking at him in a friendly manner, giving him respect, and he just talks back to me in an intimidating tone," she said.

Cunneen said there was nothing unusual about the park-up and did not believe police should have intervened.

"That was civilised. There's nothing going wrong there, just maybe a couple of people getting a bit rowdy, jumping on top of a van, but that's what you do sometimes.

"No-one's going to get pissy at them body slamming a roof, they're just going to have a good laugh about it.

"The only person they are going to hurt is themselves."

Throughout the evening the group travelled to sites including Lyttelton, Sign of the Kiwi and Pound Rd.

They knew to go there because of text messages sent by a person organising the meets for the evening.

People in each car subscribe to the messages by sending their contact details to a group set up by an anonymous person on Facebook. Their profiles are checked to make sure they are not police.

"Technology and social media is helping a lot and it's only going to get better and better," Cunneen said.

Simaile said meeting places were usually remote, industrial or rural areas, because "the less houses you have, the less chance you have of people ringing the cops [and complaining] and the meets will be longer".

But at the weekend police arrived at each meet-up only minutes after they began.

The group feared their text network had been hacked.

In Lyttelton, Jenkins received a text which said police were en route. Dozens of others had obviously also received the same message, because they all scurried to their cars and in minutes everyone was on the road again.

The group later admitted their relationship with police was like a game of cat and mouse and there was an element of "the thrill of the chase" when they were out cruising and meeting others at skid sites.

Outsmarting police and being able to evade them was part of the fun but the Government was wasting taxpayer money by dedicating too many resources to targeting boy racers, Simaile said.

Jenkins disliked being closely monitored by police but believed their presence stopped gatherings being a lot more "loose and wild".

"People wouldn't be afraid to skid up and a lot more people would be out," she said.

At times diesel is still poured on the roads when cars are doing skids but less frequently than in the past. If a dedicated skid-pad was established it would be reduced even further, the group said.

Burnouts showed a car's power and a driver's skill, Cunneen said.

"It [burning rubber] is a fantastic smell. It may be poison but it is amazing.

"We're all a bunch of car enthusiasts that love doing that [skids] and when we come together it's bound to happen.

"It's just inevitable."

The Press