When Louise Marriott took a gap year between university and teachers’ college, she had no idea it would lead her to a history-making career driving big rigs.
Twelve years on, the 35-year-old Temuka woman not only has a world-first under her belt, but she’s also become something of a stunt darling after featuring in a
viral video series.
And it’s all the more surprising given that Louise, who’s also a champion horse rider and breeder, fell into truck driving largely by accident. “I needed a special class-four licence so I could drive my horse truck,” she laughs. “My horses are the reason I drive trucks!”
While taking a year off between her science degree and training to become a teacher, Louise ran a freight company out of Kaikoura. Four years ago, she sold the business to take up a job in Christchurch, driving 680km a day between there and Picton in a 44-tonne truck known as an FH 540.
It was in this beast that Louise entered the Asia Pacific Fuelwatch Challenge, a prestigious competition for safe and fuel-efficient driving, which she won in 2015, becoming the first female and first Kiwi to do so.
The win not only gave her a place in the world finals in Gothenburg, Sweden, but it also caught the eye of the top brass at Volvo, who picked Louise to star in one of the car company’s global campaigns.
After the Fuelwatch finals, the Cantabrian was flown to Croatia, where she spent 10 days high in the Dinaric Alps, filming the video The Flying Passenger, which has been watched more than 1.6 million times on YouTube.
The clip – made by a team who have worked on Kanye West music videos and Game of Thrones – sees Louise driving a truck while towing professional paraglider Guillaume Galvani through the air, with the pair at one stage passing through a tunnel. It also features in the famous Truck Stunts series that went viral after action star Jean-Claude Van Damme was filmed doing the splits between two moving trucks, with a foot on the cab of each vehicle.
Louise may have performed a daredevil stunt of her own, but she says modestly, “My job was just to drive the truck. It was about working out the finer details around speed and what I needed to keep the paraglider at the right height.
“My speed was very dependent on the wind, even just a minimal change made a big difference, so sometimes 30km/h was enough, but sometimes we needed to get up to 60.
“We did really long days – usually about 15 hours straight, including make-up. But it was an amazing experience. I’m definitely not grizzling.”
Louise is halfway up the South Island’s State Highway 65, between Springs Junction and Murchison, when she pulls over to talk to Woman’s Day. There’s the occasional honking of a horn. It’s not, she stresses, because she’s a female in a big rig – it’s just the other truckies saying hi.
“I’ve been doing this run for four years and all the truck drivers know who’s driving which truck. When I first started, I used to get that ‘Oh, look, a female truckie’ reaction all the time, but it’s much more accepted these days.”
Growing up on a small farm near Temuka, Louise was always a “horsey person” – she’s made the national show-jumping champs and competed against Australia – but she remembers having an interest in machinery from a young age.
Family and friends have been supportive of her life on the road, she says. “Truck driving’s not exactly something people aspire to when they leave school, but I was very much raised with the idea that whatever I wanted to do, I could do. It’s certainly better than an office job.”
Unlike some other drivers, Louise’s only concession to comfort is a feather duvet on the single bed behind the cab, a sheepskin on her seat and a bag of peppermints.
“Drivers have all sorts of bits and pieces that make life more comfortable,” tells Louise. “Personally, I don’t have too much stuff. Anything that rattles drives me crazy. Most of the time, I drive in silence.”
And unlike others, you won’t find her pulling over for that most traditional of trucker lunches – the mince pie. “I’m a vegetarian” she laughs. “I make my own lunch.”