Be safe around the wa­ter this sum­mer

Kapi-Mana News - - FRONT PAGE -

There are some days that stick in your mind as a jour­nal­ist. For me, one was Christ­mas Day 2015, but not be­cause it was hot and sunny.

I was work­ing and af­ter an en­joy­able morn­ing meet­ing the first baby born on Christ­mas, we started to hear re­ports of emer­gency ser­vices head­ing to beaches.

By the end of that day, three peo­ple, in­clud­ing a tod­dler, had drowned and a fourth was miss­ing.

By the time the of­fi­cial Christ­mas and New Year hol­i­day pe­riod had fin­ished 10 peo­ple had died by drown­ing.

‘‘The toll is gut wrench­ing,’’ Wa­ter Safety New Zealand chief ex­ec­u­tive Matt Clar­idge said.

It was a hor­ri­ble two weeks and Surf Life Sav­ing New Zealand national life­sav­ing man­ager Al­lan Mundy said two things I haven’t for­got­ten:

1. ‘‘None of these drown­ings took place be­tween the flags.’’

2. ‘‘Con­sider the risks be­fore en­ter­ing the wa­ter. Don’t over­es­ti­mate your abil­i­ties in the surf.’’

I re­alised I was prob­a­bly one or two trips to the beach away from be­com­ing one of the hun­dreds of peo­ple who have to be saved by surf life­guards each year.

It was like a wave slap­ping me in the face.

I had often shrugged off the im­por­tance of the red and yel­low flags be­cause, in my head, I was a good swim­mer, de­spite only get­ting in the wa­ter in sum­mer and not swim­ming in a pool in years.

It was a turn­ing point for me. I have since learnt how to swim again, go­ing from crawl­ing 25 me­tres to com­plet­ing my first two kilo­me­tre ocean swim last week.

I now al­ways swim at a pa­trolled beach and be­tween the flags. I know my abil­ity and how to recog­nise when I’m tired or get­ting out of my depth.

The sea is mother na­ture at her most fierce. It can’t be con­trolled or tamed.

In the past 10 years, life­guards have spent more than two mil­lion hours on pa­trol, sav­ing more than 13,700 lives.

Last sum­mer they saved 1517 peo­ple from life-threat­en­ing sit­u­a­tions.

This year, there will be 4500 vol­un­teer life­guards who will be on duty, keep­ing an eye on those in the wa­ter and try­ing to stop the drown­ing toll from in­creas­ing.

It al­ready sits at 91, with 71 of those at rivers, beaches or ti­dal wa­ters.

Let’s make their job eas­ier and be safe around the wa­ter these hol­i­days. Let’s get to au­tumn with a sum­mer drown­ing toll of zero.

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