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Surf Life Saving NZ’s ‘Save the Males’ campaign targets ‘The Rock’ Dwayne Johnson

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A cheeky new campaign to challenge New Zealand’s “tough guy” culture that has seen hundreds of drownings in the past decade will be fronted by none other than “The Rock” Dwayne Johnson.

Well, not officially.

And Surf Life Saving New Zealand (SLSNZ) hasn’t exactly spoken to the Samoan-American Hollywood superstar, but they plan to do their best through a new targeted social media campaign “#SaveTheMales”.

SLSNZ clubs across the country will be taking photos with cut-outs of the Baywatch lifeguard actor, and posting them to social media with invitations for him to join in sharing their beach safety messages.

SLNZ National Search and Rescue manager Alan Mundy said the campaign was just a bit of fun, with the ultimate aim having Johnson engage in some manner, drawing on his Kiwi connection having briefly lived in Auckland as a child and promising to one day bring a movie here.

But behind the humour were some startling statistics borne out of our beach and “tough Kiwi bloke” cultures.

Over the past 10 years close to 90 per cent of the 320 beach and coastal fatal drownings were male.

And, in what may be a surprise to many, Mundy estimates just 0.1 per cent of their rescues involve people who cannot swim.

The biggest issue being those who overestimate their ability and underestimate the conditions.

“In general, Kiwi blokes are classic at that,” Munday said.

He recalled a rescue last summer at Omanu Beach in Northland, where they came across a young female struggling to keep a male in his mid-20s – “a fit guy” – above water.

Nearly 90 per cent of people who fatally drowned on New Zealand's coasts in the past decade were male. Photo / SLSNZ
Nearly 90 per cent of people who fatally drowned on New Zealand’s coasts in the past decade were male. Photo / SLSNZ

They pulled him into the IRB and got him ashore.

“This guy says to me, ‘Mate, I thought I could swim’,” Mundy said.

“He was certainly a fit young man, could probably pump a lot more iron than me and beat me around the track, but he just didn’t have the swimming fitness.”

Drowning snapshot. Image / SLSNZ
Drowning snapshot. Image / SLSNZ

It was a common trend, particularly with young men, Mundy said.

“We grow up around the coast, and most of us know how to swim, but unless you’re swimming every week and are constantly in the ocean, it is very easy not to recognise how dangerous some of our beaches are.

“It is one thing to be able to float, but another to swim 200 metres to shore after being swept out in a rip.”

Overall, New Zealand has one of the worst drowning rates in the OECD.

Drowning snapshot. Image / SLSNZ
Drowning snapshot. Image / SLSNZ

With an average of 32 drownings a year over the past decade, New Zealand’s rate is 70 per cent higher than that of Australia per capita.

Even more concerning was that Pasifika people were nearly 2.5 times more likely per capita to fatally drown on our coasts and beaches, and Māori almost 2 times.

“We know Māori and Pasifika males are very engaged in the marine environment, fishing and surfing and swimming, it is part of their culture and where they come from.

Beach and coastal drownings in New Zealand are on the rise. Image / SLSNZ
Beach and coastal drownings in New Zealand are on the rise. Image / SLSNZ

“We are not at all trying to stop that, but just to do so in a way that is safer, and so we are not having this awful loss of life.

“Most drownings are preventable.”

A new Surf Life Saving New Zealand campaign around beach safety is targeting Baywatch tough guy
A new Surf Life Saving New Zealand campaign around beach safety is targeting Baywatch tough guy “The Rock” Dwayne Johnson. Photo / SLSNZ

SLSNZ’s three key safety messages, or “rock solid advice”

• Know your limits – Underestimating the conditions and overestimating your ability equals disaster. No-one outmuscles the sea. Not even The Rock.

• Swim, surf and fish with friends and family – It pays to have back up if you, or your friends or family get into trouble. Don’t go alone. Always. Better. Together.

• When rock fishing wear a life jacket, the right shoes, and never turn your back to the sea – No gumboots. They’ll weigh you down if you fall in. A lifejacket will help keep you afloat. Watch those waves as you can get swept off the rocks.

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