Hewitt training kids to survive in the sea

Last updated 12:00 06/12/2013
Rob Hewitt

From left, Trevahn Ta’ufo’ou, Zane Taite, Adrian Fou and Hitaua Butler practise the survival technique of huddling together in the water for warmth in a day skipper’s course taken by Rob Hewitt.

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"Get off the side, there's no side out at sea."

Navy veteran Rob Hewitt knows better than most what it takes to survive at sea, having spent more than 70 hours in the ocean after being swept away by a current while diving near Mana Island in 2006.

Now living in Ashhurst, Mr Hewitt has spent the past year drawing on his expertise and travelling the country delivering a dayskipper's course as part of the ActivePost and Water Safety New Zealand initiative Kia Maanu, Kia Ora (Stay Afloat, Stay Alive).

Yesterday, a group of year 9 and 10 students from Tu Toa School were on the receiving end of wisdom, jumping into the pool at the Lido Aquatic Centre in Palmerston North to put into practice water safety lessons they'd learnt in class.

Maori and Pacific Islanders had a low skill level in and around the water, Mr Hewitt said.

"They've lost connection with Tangaroa [god of the sea].

"The biggest thing for them is awareness and confidence."

Students get NCEA credits for the course, but he has also been teaching adults at various marae - and has identified three other Maori and Pacific Island tutors he is training to be instructors.

Wherever he went, the mindset was the same, "it won't happen to me", or "I never go out in the water".

"But I'm saying to them, being Kiwi, sometime in their life they'll find themselves on a boat."

As students yesterday practised a "sinking boat" scenario, tossing their life jackets out into the pool and swimming a length before putting them back on, Mr Hewitt yelled: "You've got to make sure they're put on properly, you might be out there for 10 hours."

Maori and Pacific Islanders were drowning while diving, fishing and boating - "getting a feed" - not from kayaking or in pools, he said.

He followed the day skipper programme but drew on his own experience when talking about the will to live and hypothermia, he said.

While Mr Hewitt was helping half of the students learn survival techniques, Lido swimming instructor Carla L'Huillier had the other half in another pool practising survival swimming. Most of the students were used to making small, quick swimming motions, but quickly ran out of puff.

Aquatic fitness was different, and she was teaching them long slow strokes and floating techniques to help conserve energy.

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