Story: Swimming

Page 1. Swimming for recreation and sport

All images & media in this story

Swimming for leisure

Most New Zealanders live within easy reach of lakes, rivers, swimming pools or the sea, so it is not surprising that swimming and associated aquatic activities are popular recreations.

A 2008 survey conducted by Sport New Zealand found that with 1.13 million participants, swimming is the country’s third-most popular physical activity, behind walking and gardening. Swimming was rated the top activity among people aged 16–24 years, second among Māori and third among Pacific Islanders.

Competitive swimming

Swimming is a competitive as well as a recreational sport. In 2011 there were 15,000 competitive swimmers, affiliated to 181 clubs nationwide. Other sports involving swimming include diving, water polo, underwater hockey and synchronised swimming.

Most competitive swimming events are held in swimming pools. Competitive long-distance swims (as distinct from solo attempts on open-water swimming records) are held in harbours, lakes or the open sea.

Modesty first

At one time, for modesty’s sake, enthusiasts had to swim at a secluded beach, river or lake. However, as the activity became more popular from the late 19th century swimming pools were built in towns and cities. Some of the earliest were sited on beaches, and took advantage of the tides. These included the salt-water pools in Oriental Bay, Wellington, which opened in 1864. At such pools swimming was segregated until around the First World War, and flags were used to indicate men’s and women’s hours.

Development of swimming

During the 19th century swimming gradually became recognised as a healthy pastime in England and its colonies. From the 1860s in New Zealand, public swimming pools were constructed and swimming races were held.

New Zealand’s first official swimming body was the Christchurch Amateur Swimming Club. Formed in October 1880 the club started a trend and at least 15 similar bodies were established throughout the country by 1895. They included Hamilton (1881), Auckland (1888), Ashburton and Gisborne (1891), Whāngārei (1893), Dunedin, Napier, Wellington and Palmerston North (all 1894).

Swimming administration

In 1890, with the creation of the New Zealand Amateur Swimming Association (NZASA), New Zealand became one of just a handful of countries to form a national organisation. Former Premier Sir William Fox was elected the first president, with Roland St Clair as secretary.

There was considerable dissatisfaction over the decision to site the national headquarters in Auckland, the home of NZASA instigator Roland St Clair. In 1896 the Christchurch clubs were successful in having the headquarters shifted south. Auckland’s administrators, led by St Clair, were so incensed that they withdrew from the NZASA. In 1898 they established a rival organisation in Auckland – the New Zealand Amateur Swimming Association Registered.

In 1904 the two organisations finally settled their differences and the NZASA became the sole controlling body. Clubs in the regions were grouped into centres, and by 1929 there were 11 centres embracing 89 clubs.

The national headquarters moved from Christchurch to Wellington in 1983. In 1988 the association was renamed the New Zealand Swimming Federation. In 1999 it became Swimming New Zealand.

A swimming carnival

The Hamilton Anniversary Swimming Races, held at the Hamilton Lake (Lake Rotoroa) in 1889, had a varied programme of competitions and novelty events, including boys’ and girls’ races, a ‘maiden’ race, a handicap race for members of the Hamilton Light Infantry Corps, an ‘All Comers Clothes Race’, an ‘Exhibition of Fancy Swimming by Professor Pannell’ and ‘Sensational Feats in the water’ by Pannell and his pupils.1

Teaching swimming

Aside from organising competitions between member clubs, the NZASA promoted swimming as a beneficial form of exercise. In 1892 the association asked the minister of education to recognise swimming as a school subject, and in 1900 the government approved money to encourage swimming in public schools. In 1903–4 NZASA clubs began teaching children to swim, issuing certificates to those who became proficient.

In the early 1970s training of swimming instructors for schools began. However, in 2012 a review of swimming administration recommended that less emphasis be placed on educational work so that Swimming New Zealand could focus on developing swimming as a high-performance sport.

Footnotes:
  1. ‘Hamilton Anniversary Swimming Races’, Waikato Times, 10 January 1889, p. 2. Back
How to cite this page:

John McBeth, 'Swimming - Swimming for recreation and sport', Te Ara - the Encyclopedia of New Zealand, http://www.TeAra.govt.nz/en/swimming/page-1 (accessed 21 November 2018)

Story by John McBeth, published 5 Sep 2013, updated 27 Jan 2015