Between July 1, 2018, and June 30 2019, 276 people drowned in Australian waterways. Of that number, 15 percent were aged between 45-54 years, 13 percent were 25-34 years and another 13 percent were 18-24 years. Rivers/creeks/streams (29 percent), the beach (26 percent) and swimming pools (11 percent) were the top three locations the tragedies occurred. Forty-five percent of the drownings happened in major Australian cities. Therefore, water safety for adults in Australia is so important.
Those numbers are too high, given the beach and river culture that is prevalent throughout the country. Australians love to spend a summers day with their mates at the beach or getting away to the river for a weekend of jet skiing. While all those adventures are days well spent, they can turn dangerous very quickly if people don’t understand the risks that come with being near large waterways.
So, before people head out this summer, UniSA Sport wants to make sure everyone knows the dangers of getting into the water if they are unable to swim, and how easy it is to get involved in swimming lessons where you will not only learn the risks, but also how to overcome them. In this blog, Lauren Gower – UniSA Sport’s Aquatics Coordinator, Phoebe Yates – one of UniSA’s swimming instructors and Baber Majid Bhatti – a UniSA PhD candidate and a swimming lesson participant, give insights into water safety in Australia and UniSA’s lessons so that everyone can have a fun and safe day at the pool or beach during the warmer weather.
There is a common misconception that swimming lessons are only for kids to do while they are growing up, but people of all ages can, and should, learn how to swim. Whether you’re in primary school, high school, studying at uni, or a parent, everyone can get involved in lessons. Yates emphasised how vital it is to make sure everyone understands water safety. “It’s so important because we have such an outdoor and aquatic lifestyle,” Yates said. “Especially around the big cities, they are all quite coastal and not only is it important for adults and children’s safety, but if we are teaching adults how to swim properly and have that safety conscious outlook with swimming, they will be able to pass that onto their friends, their family, their children. It just promotes a much safer environment.” Majid Bhatti, who came to Australia from Pakistan in 2013, was 43 when he did the lessons and learned how to swim. “I overcame my water fear, so that was a big achievement and it was enlightening for me to get over the fear,” Majid Bhatti said. “The lessons were simple, and the coaching was good. Before that, I wasn’t comfortable being in water any higher than my shoulder, but now I know I can float.”
The reason it’s so important that people of all ages know how to swim is because of the dangers associated with being out of your depth in water and not knowing the conditions you’re in. Gower said that drowning isn’t only a risk at rivers or beaches, but also at pools. “For people that aren’t comfortable in the water, they might not know the depth of the water, what is underneath them if it’s murky or dirty or they don’t understand rips,” Gower said. “Even in a pool, they might look at it and think it’s not that deep but then they hop in they can’t touch the bottom.”
Getting educated on the risks of being in waterways and learning about how to handle any situations is a massive benefit of getting involved in swimming lessons. However, that isn’t the only one. Yates believes it is great fitness and a great way to rehabilitate from injury. “Swimming is one of the most versatile sports for an adult to do because it involves a lot of coordination that you don’t realise,” Yates said. “It’s not high impact, so once you learn the basics of learning to swim, it doesn’t matter how fast you are or how perfect your technique is, it’s a great way to keep fit and moving. If you have injuries, the water is a great place to rehabilitate them – it’s a chance to work around those injuries and keep active.”
When Yates is teaching her swimming lessons, there’s one main message she passes on to her students. “People need to keep calm and stay in a safe environment,” Yates said. “A lot of people have a tendency to want to go out of their depth to do the exciting things like flipping into the pool and trying to race each other, but people need to make sure they are comfortable and confident in their ability. A lot of students are nervous when getting in the water for the first time and are anxious and tense, but the more tense you are in the water, the harder it is to swim. If you remain calm, you can teach yourself to float and that will help those who get in fearful situations.”
As Aquatic Coordinator, one of Gower’s main piece of advice is to pay attention before getting into water. “Signage is really important, so a lot of our education is about reading signs, having a look and asking questions before hopping in,” Gower said. “Signs about not diving in shallow pools are up to prevent head injuries, so we want to get the message across that the rules are there for safety.”
Gower said one of the biggest steps towards taking swimming lessons is just going online or going to the pool to make an enquiry. “People might be nervous about admitting they can’t swim or feeling a bit uncomfortable about getting in the water at the start,” Gower said. “But the first step is acknowledging it’s something that you’re not quite good at and booking. Especially when it’s something that could save yours or your child’s life.” Majid Bhatti said it was simple getting involved in the lessons at UniSA. “It was very easy, well arranged, well communicated and well organised for the participants, everyone was well informed,” Majid Bhatti said. “It was convenient being at City West campus, it was a lucrative price and I finally got the opportunity to do something I’ve wanted to do since I came to Australia.”
UniSA Sport has a number of different options for those who want to get in the pool and learn the importance of water safety. Swimming lessons are offered at two campuses – Pridham Hall at City West and Magill. At Pridham Hall, adult lessons are run, while at Magill both children and adult lessons are offered. At Magill, there are also junior and performance squads for those who want to stay involved after their initial lessons. UniSA Sport runs BUPA International Swimming Lessons, where UniSA’s international students can take a four-week program which covers water safety, stroke learning, what to look for at the beach and safe areas to swim. UniSA Sport will also host another Beach Day in 2020 for international students – where they will learn surf awareness, beach safety and surf rescue as well as have a BBQ lunch and playing some beach games. All UniSA Sport swimming activities are run by qualified AUSTSWIM instructors.
Words: Kirralee Thomas