Kauai Ocean Hazards and Safety

There are many unknowns as I write for this wonderful magazine’s summer issue. For starters, I’m writing on March 16th with quarantine rules still in effect and therefore with visitor numbers way down from pre-pandemic years. By the time this issue is printed, however, we will have opened back up, so that you can travel here if you proved you’ve had a negative and approved covid test within 3 days prior to arrival. (This is my current understanding but things are fluid). Opening is scheduled to happen on April 5th. How long will it take for Kauai to get back to the occupancy rates that we had before covid? Many people likely will still have an overall hesitancy to travel, so it may take a while. On the other hand . . . . This is Hawaii, a dream for many people and motivation may be high to finally enjoy a good tropical getaway.

Author Monty Downs M.D.

This uncertainty obviously has a huge impact on our ocean safety challenge, since drownings = hazard X people. It feels blunt to write it and it must feel blunt to read it, but the more people at our beaches, the more drownings we will suffer. Case in point is that we suffered 4 drownings in 2020, as compared to 18 in 2019. The hazards were still here, the number of visitor beachgoers was way down.

Another huge unknown has to do with the landslide that took place 6 days ago as I write, shutting off Hanalei and all points north. The State Highways workers have pulled off what I consider to be a miracle, clearing the mud from the highway so that it can allow one lane for emergency vehicles to get through to Hanalei. When will the highway open for residents who live in Hanalei? When will it open for people who want to visit Hanalei? Totally unclear at this time.

Usually we think of Hanalei bay as a summer paradise. This is fine with me as an ocean safety advocate, since we have 2 Lifeguard towers there, not to mention the great Lifeguards who staff them. There are of course beautiful beaches north of Hanalei, namely Lumahai (with 2 different accesses), Tunnels, Haena Beach Park, and Ke’e. Also several surfer access spots. I’m fine with Haena since there is a Lifeguard tower there. I’m a little less fine with Tunnels since it is a full 1/4 mile from the Lifeguard stand. Our Lifeguards have binoculars and an ATV and they have conducted many preventions and made many rescues at Tunnels, but to me it’s a bit of a stretch to consider Tunnels as being guarded. And I’m not at all fine with beautiful Lumahai, No lifeguards there.

Ke’e. Another unknown. It’s a State Beach Park and the State used to pay for 4 County Lifeguard positions so that Ke’e would be guarded. Due to extreme covid-induced State budget shortfalls, the State no longer provides this funding. What the County plans to do is yet to be determined and there is a very real possibility that as of July 1 Ke’e will no longer be guarded. Or maybe just on weekends? Covid has had many terrible consequences and losing lifeguards at Ke’e would add to this miserable toll. Fingers are crossed that some County budget juggling will allow for continued coverage — assuming Lifeguards and people can make their way out there.

Ocean safety 2021 is full of unknowns as I’ve described, and truth is this pandemic has thrown all of us into unknown territory across many facets of our lives. Some of us have experienced death of a family member to covid. Some of us have lost our jobs, some our homes. Some of us haven’t been able to be around our peers in school. Some of us haven’t been able to play the team sports we used to play. Some of us have had trouble with anxiety and loneliness and depression because of all this. There is and has been uncertainty all around us.

Still, some certainties remain in ocean safety. An example is the ocean itself that surrounds us, and the beaches that give us access to the ocean. Another example is the Lifeguards who warn us about and protect us from these hazards, and from our own cluelessness and maybe our own recklessness, and who rescue us when we’ve overstepped our abilities. Another

example is the need for all of us to be “force multipliers” and to look out for each other and our guests.

This brings me to Junior Lifeguards, who are the very definition of force multipliers. Last summer we had to drop the program because of covid. This summer it will be running at 50% capacity of pre-covid years — and it will be underway when this issue comes out. (I therefore can’t help with sign up instructions and I hope our readers got in on it). An uncertainty though: Hanalei has always been one of our key sites for the Junior Lifeguard program and we’re not sure how that will work out, due to the landslide. Kalapaki and Salt Pond will be operational.

A quick aside: I first heard the term “force multiplier” when Captain Sullivan brought the passenger jet (whose engines failed due to a bird strike) down on the Hudson river in NYC. All hands were rescued from the frigid water. By whom? By the US Coast Guard? No. By the mighty US Navy? No. By Lifeguards and Firefighters? No. The rescuers were privately- employed ferry boat captains who were nearby and who had been trained for water safety emergencies. Ever since then I’ve loved the idea of us — you and me and our children — being the force multipliers, training ourselves to be force multipliers. Why? Because we have more beaches than our Lifeguards can possibly keep an eye on. (We have 10 towers for 70 beaches, depending on who’s counting the beaches.)

Concluding: I hope our readers are handling the uncertainty reasonably well. And if you’re struggling: (A) You are forgiven, it’s totally understandable. And (B) Please figure out how to reach out and communicate your struggle, even though “social distancing” has been the mantra for the last year. I HATE SOCIAL DISTANCING!

Please have a good summer and a safe summer.