LIHUE — Ocean safety education is essential in the Hawaiian Islands, especially for visitors unfamiliar with potentially life-threatening currents.
In 2017, there were 10 drownings, 336 rescues, and a total beach attendance of nearly 3 million people, according to the Kauai Lifeguard Association (KLA).
Along with KLA, the Rotary Club of Kapaa has co-managed maintenance of an ocean safety video looped at Lihue Airport’s baggage claim areas for several years. The club recently stepped back, and KLA needed help in order to keep this educational project going.
“The video was started back in 2004 but was eventually dismantled due to it being motion-activated, and the keiki thought it must have been a video game,” said Paul Arrigo, past president of the Kapaa club.
“I picked the ball up in 2012 as a Legacy Project for the Kapaa Rotary Club,” Arrigo said. “With the assistance from Island Signal and Sound from Honolulu, we were able to put together a package which we believed would assist our visitors when they went to play in our not-so-safe ocean.”
Achieving that step was a big challenge until the project received approval of airport manager Dennis Neves, who has been a strong supporter since the beginning. KLA partnered with Kapaa Rotary in all phases of developing and supporting this project, and Rotarians were instrumental in buying and installing the equipment and producing the video.
“No sooner was the initial equipment installed — a console-type of set-up — when the baggage claim areas underwent an extensive remodel that lasted over a year, and the equipment had to be scrapped,” said KLA President Dr. Monty Downs. “Once the redesigned area was established, Kapaa Rotary and KLA again went to work and got it set up again.”
The video has been revised a couple of times, including last year by videographer Etienne Aurelius, always with input from the Kauai Fire Department Ocean Safety Bureau. Maui now also runs a similar, longer ocean-safety video at the Kahului Airport.
Day-to-day maintenance of the looping video has been a challenge from day one, according to Downs. At times volunteers helped, in particular Rotarian Ron Margolis, with KLA always there to support the effort financially.
“Most recently, however, the well seemed to dry up as far as either hiring a maintenance company or having volunteer Rotarians or KLA members keep up with the maintenance,” Downs said.
The organization reached out to resort developer and waterman Eric Cucchi, who jumped in immediately to help fund a major equipment upgrade with help from his friend and technical right-hand man Matt Kurtgis, who put in many volunteer hours. KLA Marketing Director Andy Melamed also played a role by helping Cucchi and his Timbers Resort management team understand the importance of purchasing new and better equipment.
“Although it is difficult to gauge just how effective the video alone might be, especially viewed solely at the airport, we looked at a larger picture,” Melamed said. “The end result would put ocean safety and suggested warnings and advice to the forefront.”
The airport safety video is now up to speed thanks to combined efforts of KLA stalwarts like Melamed and Chantal Zarbaugh, along with Ocean Safety Bureau Supervisor David “Kalani” Vierra.
They know about the challenge that Kauai’s waters offer to unsuspecting visitors.
“Having the video repeated from when they get off the plane to a variety of places they frequent is just one of the preventative measures we take to curb actual drownings,” Melamed said. “With more than double the number of beach goers over the past five years at our island’s towers, we are proud to say that the number of drownings has remained basically in check with no corresponding increases.”
The video has been made available for any business, including resorts, activities, rental car agencies and retail stores to show free of charge with captions if desired. It can be downloaded from the KLA website, and a free DVD version of the video is also available at the Ocean Safety Bureau offices in Lihue.