When three generations of a family plunge into the sea at the Ahuriri waterfront in Napier tomorrow they will be reinforcing the value added from swimming to the quality of their lives.

Grandfather David Dawson, his son, Todd, and grandson Fletcher are competing in the second leg of the inaugural Hawke's Bay Ocean Swim Series in a 9am start at Perfume Point.

For the trio, there's a rich tapestry of aquatic and marine accomplishments that has brought them together this Christmas holiday.

David, a retired school principal from Cambridge who occasionally drives trucks for Efficient Moving and Storage, is returning to swimming in the 500m race after a hiatus.


So was it difficult to entice him back into the ocean or did he take a bring-it-on attitude?

"I think I was coerced by the family," said the 73-year-old after he stopped laughing.

Todd is the chief executive of Port of Napier. His great-grandfather, Skipper Bertram Carpenter, was a sea captain for Richardson and Co which used to sail vessels out of Napier port in the 1900s.

"We used to ply up and down this coast so there's sort of salt water in our veins, I think," said David of Carpenter who sailed the Echo and Tiara as well as helped develop the railway along the coast from Ohuka, all the way up to Mahia and through to Gisborne.

David has a stellar background in aquatic sport. A former surf life saver, he has competed in elite national swim events as well as water polo.

"It was a 100 years ago," he said with a chuckle. "I actually haven't done an ocean swim since 1973."

He has competed in the Kapiti to Mainland event which began in 1963, a competition the Raumati Swimming Club has traditionally organised.

David had etched his name on the Annette Kellerman Cup after winning the national three-mile race in 1962 and 1968.


"I was just mucking around 12 months ago, I suppose," he said, revealing he was going to have a "dry run" at Perfume Point today.

He often takes a dip at the indoor pool at St Peter's School in Cambridge because he lives too far inland from the coast.

"As long as the heart and the body stand up to it, it should be all right," he said, enjoying the balmy Bay weather.

"We were water babies as children," he said.

The swimming genes come from David's maternal line.

His mother, the late Iris Dawson (nee Carpenter), whose parents lived at 14 Joll Rd, Havelock North.

"Our family were all here during the earthquake and all that sort of stuff in the 30s but we're from Hawke's Bay originally."

David said he and his siblings were swimming off the back of their mother at 3 around the Kapiti Coast area that offers beaches, rivers as well as pools.

Todd Dawson is the chief executive of Port of Napier. Photo/file
Todd Dawson is the chief executive of Port of Napier. Photo/file

The Dawsons have profited from the benefits of swimming not just as a code but the value it adds to life.

"It's doesn't matter which sport so long as children are involved in some activity, not only for health but socialisation."

David reckons idle hands make mischief.

For someone who became an office holder at surf life saving clubs, he recalled the satisfaction derived from rescuing people in distress at sea without going into specifics.

"We rescued a couple of fishermen one night in 1971 when we pulled them out in Plimmerton across from the rocks and things so, yep, it was an adventure," he said of the rescue along Karehana Bay, near Porirua.

As a former school principal, David also enjoyed watching future generations following in that aquatic time-honoured tradition of helping others.

Fletcher, a Year 5 pupil at Te Mata School, had competed in the 1km Napier Art Deco ocean swim event a month after the family arrived here from Auckland in January this year.

"There are no walls to touch when you turn around," said the 10-year-old when asked how it was different from venturing out to the beach.

Fletcher said it could be nervous swimming in sea water because of the thought of the probability of bumping into marine life but he found the new series offered a sense of assurance.

"He'll [grandfather] will probably be behind me," he said with a laugh, keen to give David a go.

Sold on freestyle in the pool, Fletcher said he could not swim in the 1km ocean swim division until he turned 12.

An endurance swimmer, he made an effort to join an indoor swim club but the hours to attend lessons didn't suit him and also clashed with the other codes he is involved with.

The series is the brainchild of Dale Long with a field age ranging from 10 to 76 competing over 500m, 1km and 2km in the opening leg staged on November 24.

"We have quite a few more entries this time so it's going to be bigger and better due to a few improvements," Long said, alluding not only to how he has become more adept at using social media as well as having a more visible finish line and a faster results process.

He said swimmers could enter on competition day if they hadn't already via www.hboceanswim.co.nz or through their Facebook page.

Long, a 52-year-old from Tasmania, who moved to a 7ha property in Tukituki Valley two years ago with wife Maria Gigney, an architect, hopes to grow the self-funded series into a sponsored event in a few years.