Home' The Wellingtonian : February 16th 2012 Contents 12 THE WELLINGTONIAN, FEBRUARY 16, 2012
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Matt swimming to safety
Rebecca Thomson talks to
Water Safety New Zealand
chief executive Matt
Claridge about water polo,
the country's drowning
statistics and what he likes
Did you grow up in Welling-
No, I was born in Dunedin. I
grew up there, and went to school
and university there.
What brought you to Wel-
I played a lot of water polo and
came to Wellington through that.
Throughout school and university
I spent more and more time here.
Wellington was the centre for
water polo then. A lot games were
What level did you get to?
I played semi-professional
water polo in the Australian
National League, in a Sydney club
Then I played professional
water polo in France. I was based
in La Rochelle on the West Coast.
It was a very good way of seeing
Europe and doing something I'd
Do you still still play?
No. As you get get older, enough
is enough. My kids' sport is more
important to me now than my
own. They're becoming quite
interested in swimming.
Do you swim?
Yes. I did a lot swimming when
I was younger. I still swim, but
not as much. Now there's a strong
personal interest in my kids
learning to swim and being
involved in water-based activities.
I'm more into running at the
moment. I do it just to keep fit. I
run up Mt Victoria or around the
bays. It's pretty nice along there.
Why did you return to New
My fiancee and I stopped off in
Sydney, but decided Wellington
was where we wanted to base our-
selves. My first job was here with
Swimming New Zealand. Then I
moved into project work with
Water Safety New Zealand.
What do like about Welling-
I like it because it's relatively
compact and easy to get around. It
has a good vibe socially and for
sport, and it's a really easy place
to raise a family.
What is Water Safety New
The ultimate outcome is to have
the number of drownings decline.
How are you doing that?
We have some major initiatives
under way. There's the Swim for
Life programme, in which we aim
to have 250,000 children learning
to swim and learning water sur-
vival skills. Also we have the Kia
Maanu, Kia Ora programme,
which encourages Maori
adolescents to act responsibly
around water. Within Maori com-
munities it's often adolescents and
older males who get into trouble
in the water.
Why is that?
Take a tangi or an event on a
marae: there's always lots of
kaimoana [seafood] and someone's
got to get it. Even if the weather's
not too good and the sea's danger-
ous, people often still go out to get
that kai. A lot of drownings hap-
pen when the weather conditions
or the abilities of the person are
not that good.
Do you try to visit those
I try to go to as many places and
events as possible, but there's a
heck of a lot of activities we're
involved in up and down the
country. I can't get to everything.
How do our drowning stat-
istics compare with the rest of
We've got the third highest
drowning rate in the OECD. Only
Brazil and Finland are higher. In
terms of our swimming abilities,
there's not enough good data to
compare. What we do know is that
our kids do not swim as well as
kids in Australia.
What do the Australians do
that's so successful?
institutionalised culture of
parents knowing it's important to
learn to swim. And in most states
the [school] curriculum makes
learning to swim happen. They try
to have all kids being able to swim
200 metres by the age of 12.
Why aren't more children
learning to swim in New Zea-
When Tomorrow's Schools was
introduced in the 1990s, schools
were given more freedom to man-
age their assets, and put financial
constraints on the curriculum.
School pools and kids learning to
swim has been a victim of that.
There are several barriers that
schools face in getting kids to
learn to swim. For some there's
the distance to travel [to a pool],
so there's a cost involved, and
then there's the congestion of
How are you working to
change those things?
We're working with the Minis-
try of Education to redevelop
existing pools and develop new
pools. We've been using portable
pools in Northland, Auckland and
Christchurch. They're at a school
for a term, get emptied, packed
up, put on a truck and shipped to
What are some of the suc-
We want to have 12-year-olds
able to swim 200 metres. A few
years ago 20 per cent of 12-year-
olds could do that after one year.
We've seen that rise to 33 per cent
of 12-year-olds. That's very pleas-
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