Kerre McIvor

Kerre McIvor is a Herald on Sunday columnist

Kerre Woodham: Respect the sea or pay the price

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Police and lifesavers at Bethells Beach. Photo / Greg Bowker
Police and lifesavers at Bethells Beach. Photo / Greg Bowker

I love the sea. Summer isn't summer until I've had a swim in the ocean. There is nothing like the feeling of coming out of the water, covered in salt and sand, being utterly exhausted after been pummelled by the waves.

Mind you, my love is tempered with respect. As a kid, I used to holiday in Whangamata and I was aware that I needed to stay between the flags. Mum and Dad had drilled that into me and my brother. Seeing a couple of people die after being caught in rips and not knowing how to get out of them reinforced that message.

Fun can turn to tragedy so quickly. When my daughter was little, I had her on my hip at Piha and the water went from thigh high to nearly over my head in a matter of seconds. We, along with a number of others, had been caught in a sudden rip. If a passing surfer hadn't put Kate on his board and carried her into shore, I hate to think what might have happened.

I've signed up for the State Ocean Swim series and I had no idea what I was getting myself into: I love the sea; I love swimming; I thought I'd be a natural.

But swimming from point to point in the ocean is a different matter to frolicking like a manatee. What looks like a gentle swell from shore turns into a rough ride in the ocean as you struggle to sight the buoy you're heading towards.

You have a strong sense of your irrelevance when you're in the middle of the sea, and it's been a sharp learning right angle for me.

So when I read the drowning stats for last year, I wasn't surprised. Heading to sea, with a boat load of booze, no lifejackets and no safety equipment is just asking Tangaroa to teach you a lesson.

Going to a dangerous beach with mates, drinking away the afternoon and deciding to have a swim in your jeans and T-shirt is again tempting fate.

So many of the deaths could have been avoided if these men had shown the ocean the respect it not only deserves but demands.

- Herald on Sunday

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