Oscar Kightley learns to swim
Surrounded by splashing babies and singing mums, comedian and actor Oscar Kightley was like a fish out of water as he took the plunge to learn to swim for the first time.
"I've never learnt how to swim even though I've spent my whole life around water. And I've missed out because of that," Kightley said at an Ellerslie swimming pool yesterday.
Kightley avoided the water after he never took to his high school swimming lessons. In his 20s he nearly drowned while swimming at the beach.
But now, at 43, he hopes that he can inspire other Kiwis to get in the pool and learn.
"I hope that by learning publicly as an adult if there are any other dudes that are a bit shameful and shy about learning to swim, just learn. It's never too late."
This summer Kightley hopes he can teach New Zealanders about water safety and raise awareness about New Zealand's alarming drowning rate.
"We are an island, we should be really swimming literate."
"You should never go to the water in New Zealand and go home without one of your family members and it happens so often here."
New Zealand has the third highest drowning rates in the OECD behind Brazil and Finland. In 2011 there were 131 drowning deaths in New Zealand, so far this year, 81 people have drowned.
"We have twice as many drownings as Australia on a per capita basis. And three times the UK and US," Matt Claridge, chief executive of Water Safety New Zealand, said.
The level of in-school aquatic education needed to be improved, Claridge said.
"I would like to think that within five years there is a significant landscape change that means all New Zealand kids learn to swim."
New Zealanders' relationship with the water meant water safety had to be a priority, he said.
Men are in the water fishing and swimming much more than their female counterparts, and this means males are 80 per cent of the drowning toll.
Claridge's goal is to halve this number.
"The water is a big part of recreation and gathering kai. We have some rich and accessible seafood beds. But there is danger and that means we have a lot of incidents and fatalities," he said.
Gathering seafood is particularly important for Maori and Pacific Island communities who have a disproportionate drowning toll. Kightley hopes he can reach out to them.
"It saddens me the number of fatalities that you hear about. Particularly in Pacific people, you hear about dudes going out in the boat and not looking after themselves," Kightley said.
"A day at the beach should never end in tragedy for any family."