A former Royal New Zealand Navy diver turned Water Safety
New Zealand ambassador will discuss how he survived four days
and three nights lost at sea, when he addresses a conference in
Rob Hewitt, of Palmerston North, will address hundreds of
delegates as a guest speaker at the inaugural International
Water Safety and Aquatic Education Conference at Rydges
Lakeland Resort on October 3-5.
''I'm going to touch on what allowed me to be [a] seaman, a
little bit of my time in the navy and to know how I survived
is to know a little bit about myself,'' Mr Hewitt said
yesterday from his home.
''What it was like to grow up the brother of an All Black
[Norm Hewitt] and the work I'm doing now, how after my
survival moved me into the realm of working with Water Safety
''What skills I've learned from that lesson and how I can
pass it on to boaties and New Zealanders on life itself.''
Asked why he thought New Zealand, as an island nation, had a
high drowning death toll, Mr Hewitt said there was a cultural
aspect when considering Maori or Pacific Islanders - a loss
in tikanga and cultural identity with Tangaroa, god of the
''My role as lead tutor of the Kia Maanu, Kia Ora programme,
in partnership with Water Safety New Zealand and ActivePost,
is I go around to marae to target Maori and Pacific Islanders
and utilise the Day Skipper, which is from Coastguard New
Zealand boating education.
''Students get a good understanding of safe boating practices
and then from there we integrate tikanga. As a Maori person,
what should we be doing under this umbrella of safe boating
[such as] making sure our whanau are safe and wearing life
Mr Hewitt said today's Maori teenagers would be out in the
water in their lifetimes to gather kai moana, as their
ancestors did, to feed their families and demonstrate they
have the same connection to the sea.
More than 400 young pupils have been tutored. Late teenaged
men, especially, responded to the programme, with an extra
incentive of pursuing a water-based career, such as in the
navy or as deep sea fishers, Mr Hewitt said.
''Around 19% of drownings are Maori and Pacific Island men
aged between 35 and 65. What are they doing? They're going
out there trying to get a feed.
''They think, if I take more people on the boat, then I'm
allowed more fish.''
The family man and 20-year navy veteran was swept away while
on a routine crayfish dive off Mana Island, on the west coast
of Wellington, in February, 2006.
''Out of the four days I was lost out at sea, it took me two
days to reconnect with Tangaroa because I'd been
institutionalised in the Defence Force, I'd come straight
from boarding school, and I'd lost contact with those
cultural elements of who I was,'' he said.
''The waves were slapping me on the back of the head, it was
raining and I'm thinking 'What the heck's going on here? Why
is this happening to me and why haven't I died yet?' because
I know no-one that survived submerged in the water at
''But after I connected with Tangaroa then everything just
calmed down. I had focus, I wasn't worried about people
judging me for who I was or what I was doing and the only
thing that mattered was that I breathed, minute after minute,
to try to stay alive.''