Sea safety . . . Lynne Sinclair (left) teaches Kakanui School pupils (from left) Gus Mills (6), Miro Parry (7) and Grace Taylor (6) about the importance of swim safety. PHOTO: KAYLA HODGE

For Lynne Sinclair, travel and swimming go hand in hand.

When the first lockdown hit in 2020, the Oamaru travel broker went from organising travel for people, to trying to organise refunds and credits.

While the ongoing effects of the pandemic and border closures had been tough for the travel industry, it meant Mrs Sinclair had more time on her hands to pursue her other passion — coaching swimming.

Mrs Sinclair has been giving swimming lessons at Maheno School every summer for the past 18 years, and has her New Zealand Swimming teacher’s certificate. She had updated her qualifications through AUSTSWIM, and had to send videos of her work to trainers, as there was nobody else qualified in Oamaru.

After recognising the need for more country children to learn to swim, she reached out to Kakanui and Five Forks Schools, and started teaching swimming at the rural schools during term 1 this year.

In the two schools, Mrs Sinclair is teaching 104 children, of all year levels, and will go back to Maheno School next month as the school’s pool was getting maintenance work at present.

Through different techniques — float boards, noodles, and swimming dumbbells — Mrs Sinclair takes small groups of six, teaching them the basic skills of water safety and how to swim.

Mrs Sinclair loved teaching and watching children grow in confidence in the water. Recently, a pupil at Kakanui was scared to swim and could not float in the water, but after lessons with Mrs Sinclair she was more confident and floating on her own.

‘‘I just get so excited when there’s a child that comes to you that can’t even put their nose or mouth in the water and by the end of a week, eight days, you have them so confident in the water putting their head under and then starting to learn to float,’’ Mrs Sinclair said.

If children are not confident in the water, Mrs Sinclair spent one-on-one time with them for up to 15 minutes, and the difference by taking them away from the group was obvious.

Over the summer holiday period, 14 people drowned in New Zealand — a 180% increase on the five-year average. Water Safety New Zealand chief executive Daniel Gerrard described it as a ‘‘national tragedy’’.

Mrs Sinclair said the drowning statistics were ‘‘absolutely terrible’’ . She was passionate about teaching children how to be safe in different waterways, the importance of wearing a lifejacket and making sure it was properly fitted, and what to do if they fell out of a boat. They practised falling into the pool backwards.

‘‘Some kids don’t even realise an empty lemonade bottle with a lid on it will hold them up and support them.

‘‘It’s also if they got stuck in a river, how do you float down the river? If you’re doing sculling, do you go head first or feet first and why do you do that?’’

She took private swimming coaching after school at Five Forks, and would continue helping until the school pools closed at Easter.

While Mrs Sinclair said the travel industry was ‘‘in my blood’’, she was not prepared to go back to working the long hours she once did as things slowly opened up again.

She loved helping her clients and supporting them through their airline credits, but she had a new sense of freedom being able to teach swimming as well.

‘‘I’m still in the travel industry in the long run. I work from home, start anytime I want . . . do my swimming in the summer time and come back to the office in the evening.’’