Sink or Swim
According to the CIA, New Zealand has the ninth longest coastline in the world. This might be true but there is another list (World Resources Institute) that has us at seventeenth. I’ll take that one. Not that I have any reason to doubt the CIA but it is an organisation that doesn’t always know what it’s many hands are doing and some of those many hands may have been cut off at the wrist. I don’t have any real reason to doubt the CIA but this is an organisation that once had a ‘watch file’ on my father. My Dad?! Why on earth would they be keeping tabs on him? Well he was involved in one or two protests back in the day but I have to say the extent of his suspicious activities now extends to shingling his driveway once every couple of years. It is possible that he may be guilty of the murder of one or two innocent silver birch trees though. As he is a lifelong Greenpeace member, may I just say ‘that’s bang out of order Dad!’.
Now where was I?…Oh yeah coastlines. Ireland has the 38th longest coastline in the world which doesn’t sound quite as impressive until you compare the ratio of coastline to area. With a ratio of 93 metres of coastline per square kilometre of area (using WRI measure), that puts it at more than New Zealand’s ratio of 64 metres per square kilometre. So what do all these silly numbers mean? Well it makes these two great nations that I have called home both very accessible to the water and in so doing increases the need for the people of said nations to be water aware. Now my kids have a number of extracurricular activities but the one I put at the top in terms of importance is swimming.
I was never technically good at swimming but I was water aware and had enough proficiency to save my own life. I would hope my kids reach that same level. When we get to the end of each lesson, my daughter’s main concerns seem to be, when she will be going up to the next level and who she swam faster than today. As a parent who doesn’t intend to live vicariously through my children, I am always quick to downplay that stuff. ‘It’s not about winning gold medals, it’s about learning to save your own life’ I say. Now you might think that’s a strange thing to say to a child potentially dashing their dreams at the first hurdle but if she really wants to swim competitively she will do it whether I encourage it or not. In the meantime, I want her to be able to tread water without holding the side of the pool and be able to swim distance consistently. If she can do that I will be a hell of a lot happier letting her swim in the sea.
Statistics were released recently in New Zealand that said nearly half of beach related drowning’s were of would-be rescuers. The most publicised instance being this where a mother went to save her child and ended up drowning herself. Now the good news was the child survived. In fairness I would do that too if no help was to hand but it is the water awareness (any number of factors from depth, currents, weather conditions and how visible you are to others) that prevents any trouble in the first place. In New Zealand drowning’s occur all the time because people are in the water all the time. However the same could be said for Australians and their drowning rates are lower. New Zealand lags behind many western nations including the US, Canada, the UK as well as Australia and Ireland. In Ireland drowning’s tend to follow unusually warm periods of weather and those short couple of months where people are at the beach. There are less drowning’s in Ireland but people are no more water wise here. I hope that all three of my daughters will get to the stage where I don’t have to shadow them in the water but something tells me, that time is many years away. And if it looks like one of them has no propensity for water wisdom at all then we shall all make the big move – to Mongolia. While it is known for its sand, Mongolia is certainly not known for its beaches.