Louisa Baldwin has learned a harsh lesson with the tragic loss of her 14-year-old son to the Whanganui River.
Chase Gordon (Boo) Swanson-Ewing got into difficulties soon after what may well have been his first dive off a pontoon at the Aramoho Whanganui Rowing Club last Thursday evening. He went under and never resurfaced. Police divers recovered his body nearby at around 1pm the following day.
A grief-stricken Baldwin said the accident was an ugly lesson for all New Zealanders.
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"Chase couldn't swim and there is a large population of this country who also can't swim - we need to address this as a nation," Baldwin said.
"Chase and his mates had been down at the pontoon with others in recent times, but from what I understand Chase just watched while the others dived into the river. I think he was embarrassed to let others know he couldn't swim. However, on Thursday he was down there with his mate and probably thought he would give it a go with only the two of them there, obviously with tragic consequences.
"We are an island nation surrounded by water with many lakes and rivers - we should all be able to swim. I believe it should be mandatory to be taught how to swim from primary school age. Back in the day nearly every school had a swimming pool but because of successive funding cuts to education over the years they have become an unaffordable expense to maintain them.
"To take kids to public swimming baths and have them taught how to swim is beyond a large percentage of the population and that's a shameful situation to be in. The number of drownings in New Zealand each year is deplorable and totally unacceptable. Just last week alone there were four or five drownings within days of Chase."
Baldwin said Chase had been offered a series of swimming lessons a few years ago, but they were never completed.
"For some reason he ended up finding reasons not to go to the lessons. I think it was peer pressure and he didn't want others to know he couldn't swim. I am told today by teachers that more and more kids are finding ways of escaping swimming at school - well, those with pools.
"I firmly believe that peer pressure, or bullying, is the reason. They don't want their peers saying 'oh you're dumb, you can't even swim'."
She said Chase was a fairly normal 14-year-old boy with normal teenage insecurities.
"He cared what others thought of him like anyone does and was subject to bullying like many others are, yet he would jump in and help other more defenceless kids when they were threatened - he had no hesitation helping someone in need."
Baldwin conceded it had not been easy in the early years bringing up Chase and his elder siblings.
"Chase was the youngest of four and we did it tough at times, very tough. He knew what it was like to go without, so now when he saw someone going through a tough time he would help if he could. He absolutely loved the stockcars and I would give him $10 to go - $5 to get in and $5 for some chips. But if he knew a mate couldn't afford to go, he would pay for them to get in rather than spend the $5 on chips.
"I met my current husband Gavin Baldwin about three years ago and we married last February. I was so proud to have Chase walk me down the aisle that day. From day one all my kids have loved Gav, although they have had their moments, especially Chase.
"Gav and I took Chase on a trip to Australia late last year and stayed with his older sister Stevie and her fiancee Reed. Gav, Reed and Chase went a lot of places together and it proved a great bonding session - I'm so glad we did it."
Baldwin said her husband had been her rock throughout this ordeal and had it not been for him and her loving family she would not have made it through.
"When we got the call that Chase was in the river and had gone under we immediately went down and stood vigil, I was an absolute mess. In my heart I knew we had lost him, but part of me still thought he had somehow made it out and was on his way home. When the divers finally found him and we brought him home I felt a lot calmer somehow - he was home.
"There are still some dark days ahead, I know, but the level of support shown by family, friends and the greater community has been unbelievable. I'm sure with that continued support we will get through this tragedy."
Chase is survived by his mum and stepdad, and siblings Stevie, Bailie and Zak and step-siblings Jordan, Karlei and Jakob and his best mate Shae.
A celebration of Chase's life was held on Wednesday in the Charlie Berntsen Room at the Oceanview Speedway at Languard Bluff.
Chase was one of four people who drowned in a horror 48-hour period last week. The other drownings happened at Langs Beach and Baylys Beach in Northland, and in Napier.
Please donate and help the family of Chase Swanson-Ewing in this difficult time.