Mission Towards a Safer Kauai,
Our Roving Patrol Program

I hope that 2017, the Year of the Rooster, is starting out well for all of you. I myself am a Rooster baby. Chinese culture considers it to be both a special year when you hit your every-12th-year cycle year, and at the same time it cites it as a cautious year where you’re best off being particularly careful and watchful and to wear bright colors (to ward off harmful spirits), even if it’s an undergarment or socks.

Fellow Roosters, keep that in mind, 2017 is already a good year in ocean safety, the year in which Kauai County took a major step forward by implementing our Roving Patrol program. There will be one Patrol for the North District, one for the East District, and one for the Southwest District. This program was established as an attempt to address what I call Kauai’s ocean safety challenge, namely 65 frequented beaches and 10 Lifeguard Towers. Your chances of drowning at a guarded beach are as close to zero as our human bodies will allow for (i.e. If for example you have a heart condition your day can come at any time and at any place), whereas your chances of drowning at an unguarded (often advertised as exotic and beautiful) beach are not insignificant. Unfortunately as an ER doctor I and my partners are all too aware of this.

The day to day workings of each Patrol Unit will by definition be imprecise. The idea is for these roving Lifeguards to spend time at the beaches that need the most attention that day. It might be the ocean conditions that dictate the best place for them to be. It might be the number of people at a particular beach that dictates this. A huge part of the Lifeguards’ job will be preventive. (There’s that saying that the best Lifeguard is a dry Lifeguard.) But after just a few weeks we’ve already had instances where the Rovers’ closeness to the problem spot has proven to be the seconds’ worth of difference between disaster and a happy ending and a saved person — which is to say a saved family.

But after just a few weeks we’ve already had instances where the Rovers’ closeness to the problem spot has proven to be the seconds’ worth of difference between disaster and a happy ending and a saved person — which is to say a saved family.

Our Tower-based Lifeguards have already become much more mobile than they used to be 20-30 years ago. This is because of our ATV’s and our Jetskis. For example, the Lifeguards at Haena Beach Park are frequently going back and forth to Tunnels, which is a good 1/2 mile away from the Tower. And ever since 1991, when Kauai got our first rescue Jetski, our phenomenal Lifeguards with their Jetskis and rescue sleds have responded to distress situations at every single beach on this island, and they have saved many dozens, very likely hundreds, of lives.

Our rescue tubes on their PVC beach-implanted posts have been another attempt to address our unguarded beaches. This program was initiated 10 years ago and — with great thanks to our watchful beachgoers — it too has been responsible for dozens of lives saved.

Our surfers have, over many decades, made an untold number of rescues and preventions. They have been remarkable Force Multipliers going back to the day when we had a mere handful of Lifeguards. And you readers, any one of you who has ever once advised someone to be careful, are a key part of our Mission towards a safer Kauai.

Now we have our Roving Patrol program as another arrow in the quiver. For it to succeed we needed great Administrative skill. We needed support from the Mayor and the County Council, who deserve high praise for taking on this program. We needed community support — and the Kauai Lifeguard Association asked the community to step forward with donations that would provide the equipment (trucks and trailers and Jetskis and 911-responsive audio equipment.) The community did step forward, big time, with their hearts and their wallets. We need the skill of our Lifeguards. And lastly, we needed blessing and prayer. On this front, Jade Waialeale-Battad gave the most beautiful Hawaiian blessing on the day this program was launched, December 1 of last year, in an outdoors ceremony that was capped off by a gentle Hawaiian rain-blessing from above.

To briefly change topics: “When spring comes, can summer be far behind?” (To paraphrase a famous English poem by a man named Shelley.). And with summer comes Junior Lifeguards. Yes, Kauai’s competition team got knocked off (by Oahu) in the 2016 State championships, breaking an incredible run of 12 consecutive Kauai championships. (Hey, I myself have a little trouble with the number 13). But we had over 400 Kauai youth participate in the 2016 program and they learned skills that may not only save themselves but may also save others now that they’re added to our Kauai Force Multipliers. And they had fun. And we had some great individual State champions. And we had Kelta O’Rourke, who caught the eye of the National Junior Lifeguard team organizers and who went to the World Championships in Holland, winning a 4th place in beach flags and a 5th place on the US relays team.

Who knows how this year’s State championships will go? I do know one thing: Our program will be an outstanding experience for our Kauai youth. Please keep in mind that opening sign-up date is May 1st at http//kauai.gov, and the program can fill quickly.

With thanks to Dow AgroSciences for sponsoring this article, and with thanks to you who may have enjoyed it, I extend my best wishes to all of you for an-almost-entirely-happy spring and summer. And this all starts with having a safe one. Aloha, Monty Downs, M.D. President, Kauai Lifeguard Association.