Marking 50 Years Of Water Safety

As part of its mission to save lives, American Red Cross offers its 50th annual Free Summer Swim program for children and adults every Saturday in June from 9 to 10 a.m.

“People don’t realize that accidents can happen so quickly, so you need to prepare ahead of time,” says Coralie Chun Matayoshi, American Red Cross Hawaii State Chapter CEO. “And because swimming is not an innate skill, you need to teach it to your kids, especially when they’re young, so that lifelong skill could save their life one day.


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Commodore Wilbert E. Longfellow (second from right) taught lifeguarding techniques to beach boys such as Duke Kahanamoku (second from left). Longfellow founded the Red Cross Safety and Lifeguarding program, developed the Learn to Swim program, and created the National Red Cross Life Saving Corps in 1914. Longfellow pioneered water safety on his quest to 'waterproof America' over the next 33 years. He was successful, as the drowning rates were cut in half | Photos courtesy American Red Cross

“We have the second-highest resident drowning rate in the nation, which is double the national average. In Hawaii, about 67 people drown per year, of which half are residents of Hawaii. And an average of 238 people nearly drown, and 54 percent of those people are residents of Hawaii (statistics from the Department of Health). So, it’s really important for people to learn how to swim.”

The National Red Cross Water Safety and Lifeguarding program, including the Learn to Swim program and National Red Cross Life Saving Corps, was founded by Commodore Wilbert E. Longfellow in 1914. According to Matayoshi, Longfellow traveled all across the country to “waterproof America” over the next 33 years and was successful, as the drowning rates were cut in half during that time. He also taught lifeguarding techniques to local beach boys, including Duke Kahanamoku, during a visit to Hawaii.

The upcoming Red Cross Learn To Swim summer program takes place in Ala Moana Beach Park at Magic Island (near lifeguard station 1E) and consists of Keiki Learn to Swim (for children age 3 to 12) and Adult Learn to Swim (for age 13 and up).

Parents of the younger group need to go in the water with them. Children age 5 and older will be divided into two categories: Level 1, Introduction to Water Skills, and Level 2, Fundamental Aquatic Skills. Participants in Adult Learn to Swim will learn fundamentals of aquatic skills (includes non-swimmer, beginner and advanced).

The classes are led by volunteer water-safety instructors or lifeguards. To register, visit or call 1-800-733-2767. Course fee is $40, but for free registration, enter coupon code P298HILTS0714. Registration opens May 1 (at midnight); space is limited.

Red Cross also recently launched a free mobile app for swimming that teaches water safety to parents and children, available at For more information, call 739-8179.