COMMENT:

I love water, I love swimming.

Beaches, lakes, pools - you name it.

I learnt how to swim at a very young age when, as a baby, as was quite literally thrown in at the deep end.

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I sank straight to the bottom, but I was rescued by my fully clothed mother, who was told I would float.

After that, there was no stopping me.

I had proper lessons. Even for a while, training with a swim club.

I would quite happily splash for hours and hours with a garden hose, in a pool, lake, ocean - wherever happened to be wet.

I've swum at cramped, busy beaches such as Surfers Paradise and the Mount, and relatively quiet stretches of beach at Ōhope.

Each beach scenario scares me for different reasons. But I've always felt safer near the lifeguards.

Being older now and not as fit, I'm not as confident around water as I used to be - especially the unpredictable ocean.

But I'm so grateful that we have such a qualified and dedicated lifeguard service in New Zealand.

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Just as I am writing this, two water rescues are unfolding: One at Mount Maunganui Main Beach; the other on Lake Rotorua. Thankfully, neither ended in tragedy and also highlights the important and heroic work our lifesavers do.

Today we launch our Between the Flags campaign aimed at raising funds for, and awareness of, the fantastic work our lifeguards do around the country.

As we report today, we have an incredibly high drowning rate compared with other countries in the OECD.

Last summer 16 people died at our beaches, but thanks to the efforts of nearly 5000 lifeguards just over 700 lives were saved. None of the drownings happened between the flags.

Each day we will be profiling our rescuers, our rescuees and the challenges of keeping Surf Life Saving New Zealand afloat.

All money donated in the Bay of Plenty region will go directly to our local clubs so we can all enjoy our beaches under the watchful eyes of our surf lifesavers.

Every dollar counts but the peace of mind that help is close by is priceless.

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