Members of the Ngāti Porou Lifesaving Club are preparing for a busy summer ahead with a mission to prevent drowning rates among Māori in the Tairāwhiti region.
According to Water Safety New Zealand (WSNZ), the number of preventable drownings in New Zealand has already reached 71. This is 11 more than the same time last year.
Two recent drownings have also taken place up the East Coast including one last week where a man died near Wakatiri, police said. Another man passed away after going snorkelling in Tatapouri in September.
Ngāti Porou Lifesaving Club coordinator Peter Boyd says,
“Never turn your back on Tangaroa. You've got to see what’s coming. We had a classic example about a year ago at Waipiro.
“We had a guy coming in, wasn’t looking where he [was] and went straight onto the rocks. Lucky we were there to respond to that incident.”
Boyd was honoured this year as a Kiwibank Local Hero Medal recipient for 30 years of service to the club. He says people can underestimate the dangers of ocean, especially on the East Cape.
“Exposure up there, I guess because it’s isolated too. It’s rocky. You get a lot of high currents. So historically, if you look around East Cape all those areas, they’re renowned for taking people’s lives.”
New funding from WSNZ and the Accident Compensation Corporation has allowed the club to teach lifesaving as part of the curriculum at Te Kura Kaupapa Māori o Kawakawa mai Tawhiti. As part of the work, teachers and students are being taught how to be lifeguards.
The club is also looking to increase their number of recruits, which currently stands at around 36, says Boyd.
“Last season we were recipients of the top surf lifesaving award, the London Shield through surf lifesaving and that’s for the highest number of new recruits.”
They also have an inflatable rescue boat (IRB) to teach recruits how to become IRB crew members. This involves teaching recruits how to deconstruct a motor, how to inflate the boat and safety in the boat, says Boyd.
Their main messages for swimmers are to swim between the flags, never swim alone and tell someone where you are going.
“If you get caught into a rip make sure first of all to relax and you've just got to go with it. You may want to swim against it but the best thing is to relax, raise your hand so you draw attention to yourself,” Boyd says.
“The best bit of message I could give if your puku is not feeling well, you’re feeling nervous, don’t go.”