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Radio star Nickson Clark learns to swim

After taking lessons with toddlers, the Edge host is finally comfortable diving in

Surrounded by toddlers with water wings on and flutterboards outstretched in front of them in his local pool, Nickson Clark had to laugh so he didn’t cry.

From taking sickies on swimming sports days through to ducking beach trips, there have been many times in his life where he’s had to think fast to conceal the fact he couldn’t swim.

“It was embarrassing,” tells the Edge host, but last year, at the grand age of 37, he decided enough was enough and it was time to learn how to swim.

“I think that people assume Pacific Islanders are great around water because, you know, islands and we’re surrounded by water,” Nickson says with a laugh.

“I was so grateful when Moana came out and her dad was like, ‘Stay away from the water – it’s dangerous,’ because that’s exactly what we were taught. I’m half Samoan and my mum couldn’t swim either, and my dad was so white, he’d get sunburnt in like two seconds, so I never learnt.”

Nickson didn’t even tell his wife Sarah, 33, that he couldn’t swim until they went to Rarotonga for their honeymoon and took a lagoon cruise that included snorkelling.

Doggy paddle, anyone? Nickson and Sarah’s pup Billie is goggled up.

“It was a bit awkward,” he recalls. “I was just kind of holding on to the side of the boat and she’s wondering why I won’t come out into the water. But then I decided there’s never an expiry date on upskilling and learning, and I didn’t want to miss out on all of those moments as a couple.

“Eventually, all of the little moments where I missed out on something built up and I decided it was time to fix the problem.”

That’s how Nickson found himself with the little nippers in his first swimming lesson, an experience he describes as “humbling”.

“I told the tutor I wanted to learn, but I didn’t know where I was at. I mean, I couldn’t even float, let alone swim. So we started from the very beginning. It was kids with their parents – I was probably the same age as some of the grown-ups and they were in there holding their kids up. I didn’t have a partner, so I had to do it with the instructor!”

The moment of truth!

Nickson then decided to talk about his experience on the radio, a move he says was in part to keep him “accountable”, but to also let listeners who might be in the same situation know that they’re not alone and that they too can learn.

“People kept telling me to ‘trust the water’ and I’m like, ‘I’m pretty sure that’s the opposite of what you’re supposed to do,'” Nickson laughs. “I’ve seen Jaws!”

However, after first mentioning his intentions to learn, Nickson decided to let the subject drop and pursue lessons in private – again, not even telling his wife what he was up to so he could surprise her.

But, of course, radio always catches up with its hosts. “My last station was too laid-back to hold us to anything, but The Edge will latch on to anything! Thank goodness I wasn’t scared of spiders!”

With new co-hosts Sharyn Casey (left) and Steph Monks.

Eventually, live on air, Nickson swam 50 metres. “I only learnt how to do 25 metres, but for the show, I had to do two laps – but I didn’t know how to turn around!”

Now Nickson is confident in the water and is looking forward to a summer splashing about – cautiously but joyfully – with Sarah. And he’s rightfully proud of himself.

“Oh, I am so proud,” he tells. “It was something that I did all by myself and I overcame such embarrassment to do this in front of people. Let me tell you, I would rather have streaked through a shopping mall without a top on than go to a lesson with kids, but I did it because it was important.

“My wife and I have a few trips planned this summer, and I’m really looking forward to them. Now I’m not the guy who can’t swim and that’s so awesome.”

And does that call for a celebratory pair of togs?

“Definitely,” laughs Nickson. “Budgie smugglers, perhaps?!”

Don’t miss The Edge Afternoons with Sharyn, Steph and Nickson, weekdays from 3pm, from 16 January.

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