MAKING a pact with herself to swim in the outdoors, 365 days of the year has “re-evoked the wonder of swimming” for Annette Lees.
It has turned into an adventure she shares with readers in her book, Swim, launched at Te Koputu, Whakatane library and exhibition centre, on Tuesday.
Born and raised in Whakatane, the consultant conservation strategist says her childhood was “steeped in water”.
“Most of our childhood activities involved swimming,” she says. Whether it was walking up the Wainui te Whara Stream in the Mokorua Gorge to find swimming holes, paddling in the river mouth at The Heads, swimming in the surf at Ohope Beach, or going to Ohiwa Harbour or Lake Rotoma.
Her book features two photos, one of her father as a toddler, swimming at The Heads, and another of herself at the same age, swimming in the same spot.
Though the former Whakatane High School student hasn’t lived in Whakatane since she left to study as a teenager in the 1970s, she still has close ties to the area through her family and spends time here whenever she can.
“Wherever I have lived, I have always found places to swim in the outdoors,” she says.
“However, one summer, when my children were teenagers, I found myself doing that adult thing, where I sat on the beach and watched.”
When she noticed this change in her behaviour it was the spur she needed to start her quest to swim every day for a year – not in heated indoor swimming pools, but in the outdoors, and in natural wilderness areas whenever possible. These included rivers, lakes, ponds, the sea, estuaries, wetlands and springs.
She kept track of her experiences in a diary, which later became the starting point for her book.
As someone who travels a lot for her job, she often found herself having to question the local people about where they went swimming. “Sometimes it would just be, ‘Oh, the kids usually just jump off the bridge’, or sometimes I would be given directions to a favourite beach.”
It wasn’t always easy, sometimes involving having to visit an unfamiliar place, such as a pitch-black forest, on a rainy night in mid-winter to take a dip.
“In winter I would go off to work in the dark and if I didn’t have the opportunity to get a swim in, I would often return in the dark at the end of the day. It was a little bit of an adventure. Sometimes it would be in a swimming pool, but it had to be outdoors.”
The adventure soon started to take the shape of a book.
“New Zealanders love swimming. I found people would start telling me their swimming stories, which I would record. I started doing some research and I realised that no one had ever written a book about swimming in New Zealand.”
She categorises the stories into “brave swims, forbidden swims, endurance swims and lost swims.” The “lost swims” refer to people’s memories of favourite swimming spots where they can no longer swim because they are too polluted or spoiled in some way.
Sometimes there had been unwelcome changes because “people had thought that they could improve on it”. Annette says many of the anecdotes in the book pertain to her childhood in Whakatane.
Signed copies of Swim, by Annette Lees, are available at Paper Plus, Whakatane.
CONTINUITY: Two photos from Annette Lee’s book, Swim, show, above, Annette’s father swimming at The Heads as a toddler (third from left) and, right, Annette swimming with her brother at the same spot at the same age. Photos supplied