The ocean waves have been torrential, particularly where northern currents assault our coasts, beaches and bays. It’s thrilling to witness the “white horses” gather and rise to boom on the shore, to smell the salt heavy in the air, to feel the damp mist of the feathering spume coat skin and hair. This condition prevailed last week while my daughter and niece visited our island.
On a day too cool — and too ocean rough — for us to take the plunge, we contentedly sat on the sand shoulder of Wailua Beach among the pohuehue (beach morning glory) vines, mesmerized by the shifting blues, the rhythm of the breakers wash and pound, the foaming explosions, the sea air filling our lungs. Traffic noise was masked. Rainbow badges and bows teased.
A middle-aged couple walked gingerly out on the beach, arranged their gear and beach towels on their mats, and headed straight for the water. Three pairs of eyes watched as the tall, fair man (we assumed to be a visitor) led his woman (same assumption) by the hand into the shoreline foam and down the drop into the shore break area, where they got walloped by a wave. He stood fast and braced. She let go of him, turned her back to the sea. Another wave set crashed in, and she tumbled in the froth. Shakily, she rose, wiped her eyes, began struggling up onto the sandy beach.
I looked up the beach to where the rescue tube hangs and saw it was, indeed, there. No need to run for it: When I looked back, her man had come to her aid and both were safe. I was relieved, for none of our witnessing threesome was equipped to rescue in the way of a seasoned swimmer or lifeguard.
We started talking about the dangers of currents and other conditions in waters joining our Hawaiian islands, particularly Kauai, where many strong — and even Olympic — swimmers and beach-goers have lost their lives to ocean currents and unexpectedly high-reaching waves. Our beaches don’t have the gradual shelf effect of California or certain East Coast beaches. The steep drop-offs plunge to deep sea floor; the waters are laced with rip currents.
Someone who’s jumped the swells at San Clemente or the Jersey shore, or swum in placid lakes of the Midwest, can’t be prepared for the sudden unexpected shock of such. Possibly, they haven’t yet developed the great respect for the power of the ocean that I hold.
My daughter reminded me of the day that I nearly lost my life. When I was fairly new to Kauai, she (and the rest of visiting family) witnessed me being flushed out of a tide pool some distance up shoreline rock. During a fishing excursion on the border of Black Mountain across Nawiliwili Harbor, I’d settled in, my back to the sea. Watching small fishes swim under the bridge of my knees, I didn’t question where those fishes may have come from in that pool so high above the waves, and never expected a rogue wave.
Out of the blue, it crashed over me. My family had seen it coming and quickly climbed out of reach. They watched as I rose and staggered, in shock. She reminded me how they shouted for me to run as I searched for my sunglasses and visor — and then a second enormous wave hit, flushing me out. The backwash dragged me down the lava rock. I recalled how I was jarred out of my reverie, seeing the ocean water boil, smack and grind over the shelf edge barely a foot away.
Bruised and cut, I knew in that instant that my head would burst like a coconut being whacked by a machete if I was tossed into that hell hole, and my children would be subjected to watching their mom shredded to a bloodied rag, unable to help without joining me in such a dark fate. I ran for my life, up and up the unforgiving lava. The shock was such that I shook for hours, offering thanks for the reprieve.
A short time afterwards, I was moved to contract with a recommended Kauai waterman to write a “Guide to Kauai Beaches” for me to publish. It was to include safety warnings and information, including the official signs that were just then being made by our state to be standard postings. That little blue “Fingerling” pocket guide has been replaced by state and county web information and brochures available to visitors as they arrive; we now have lifeguards at designated beaches and warning signs placed when necessary. (Sadly, they’re often ignored.) Rescue tubes have also been placed at many beaches around Kauai.
My frightening experience brought new awareness, prompted several original poems, and continuing gratitude that I was spared the fate of being another Kauai ocean casualty. No wonder she’s a “landlubber,” readers may think. If so, you’re right. I’m extremely cautious in and around ocean waters — and river mouths, too, where currents have dragged and drowned big, strong individuals before their families.
Here I am, back to the beginning in the Mobius strip of time. The ocean waves have been torrential where currents assault our coasts, beaches and bays. It’s thrilling to witness the “white horses” gather and rise to boom on the shore, to smell the salt heavy in the air, to feel the damp mist of the feathering spume coat skin and hair.
Wailua Bay was that way last week …
Dear Readers, stay safe, unharmed and afloat.
For more on the Mobius strip, see https://www.merriam-webster. comdictionary/M%C3%B6bius%20strip
For more on beach safety, tips and life-guarded beaches, see http://www.kauai.com/beach-safety
Dawn Fraser Kawahara, author and poet, made her home on Kauai in the 1980s. She and her husband, a retired biology teacher, live with books, music and birds in Wailua Homesteads. Shared passions are travel and nature. The writer’s books may be found in local outlets and on Amazon. For further information, firstname.lastname@example.org.