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You don’t need all the bells and whistles to make a difference.

Rochelle Fineanganofo, Team Manager for the Hukula Swim Club brought a team of six swimmers from Tonga to attend meets in NZ including our Hamilton Summer Meet.  We caught up with her to find out more about this club which is based in Nuku’alofa.

Rochelle is a founding member of the Hukula Swim Club, we asked her what had inspired her to start a swim club in Tonga.

“I was born in Australia and my children learnt to swim there.  Whilst holidaying in Tonga my children rescued people from the water, even though they were very young themselves.  I was pleased that they had the skills to do that.”  She decided that if they ever moved to Tonga she would have to do something to raise the level of water awareness to save more lives.

It all fell into place when she made the move to Nukalofa in 2010.  Rochelle and her husband founded the Hakula Swim Club to actively promote water safety skills and provide a place where children could learn to swim.

Even though Tonga is surrounded by water, Rochelle explained that people just don’t swim.  “There isn’t a word for swimming in the Tongan language.  When you get your feet wet or are sitting with your feet in the water it’s classed as swimming.  ‘Kakau’ is the word that is used but it is also the same word used for ‘shower’.  Swimming is tabu, it’s an attitude that is slowly changing with time but Aunties will still say “you’ll get sick if you go in the water”,  so swimming is not encouraged and as a result there are a lot of drownings.  Many get washed out from the reefs or get caught in rips.  There are places in town where children might get in the water but often get out of their depth.  The problem is a lack of water awareness” said Rochelle.

The club runs a busy Learn to Swim school and currently has 15 competitive swimmers.  Many of the children that come to the swim school have had ‘near drownings’ and their parents have brought them along to learn to swim.  They all become confident swimmers, and many are now ‘passing it forward’ and teaching at the swim school.

The club swims in a Naval Base boat harbour/lagoon in the mornings and in a 15m hotel pool in the afternoons.  They usually swim twice a week but leading into an overseas competition they will train 4 times a week.

The harbour is tidal, at low tide it’s about waist deep but at high tide it’s too deep for the younger swimmers.  The club built a pod for the little ones, so they can teach regularly no matter what the tide was doing.  Each morning they have to swim the lane ropes out and the harbour accommodates 5 lanes.  They can only practice diving at high tide and the pontoon does rock around quite a bit says Rochelle.  They are not able to practice backstroke starts and there are no flags to help judge turns.  When the swimmers do attend a meet with good facilities and dive blocks they usually get good times.  At the Summer Meet Mosese Fineaganofo got a 21 second PB in the 200m backstroke.  “All the swimmers did really well in their backstroke events this year”, said Rochelle.

Hukula Pod

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Some of the competitive swimmers travel overseas twice a year, visiting NZ and Fiji to attend meets.  The club is constantly fundraising to make this happen and every little bit helps.  They put on a BBQ every Saturday outside the local shopping centre.  “We don’t sell soft drinks, we have coconuts to help promote healthy alternatives.”

“Once the children are old enough we have various challenge days to raise money. We do swims out to an island, it’s about 1.2km, 1.3m at low tide and 1.6m at high tide.  Sometimes we give them a 2-hour block and we see how many laps they can swim.

“Maybe we have made a little bit of a difference promoting water safety and have given children opportunities.”

Iki Tuitavake from the Hukula Swim Club qualified and went to the Youth Commonwealth Games in the Bahamas last year.

Rochelle and the Hakula Swim Club certainly prove that you don’t need all the bells and whistles, but with consistent effort and committment small swim clubs can making a difference.

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Rochelle with her two children.

You can follow the Hukula Swim Club on FaceBook  Click Here