Saturday, May 28, 2022 |
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John R. Kukeakalani Clark is a former lifeguard and is currently deputy fire chief of the Honolulu Fire Department. He is the author of a definitive series of books that cover the beaches of the main islands of Hawai’i. Clark said he created the series of books in part to share his extensive knowledge of and deep respect for Hawai’i’s shoreline, and for his concern for the safety of residents and visitors to Hawai’i.
His series includes Beaches of Kaua’i and N”‘ihau, released in 1990, and Hawai’i Place Names – Shores, Beaches, and Surf Sites released in 2002; both books are published by the University of Hawai’i Press. During his work on the Kaua’i and Ni’ihau beaches book he did extensive beach surveys and researched the place names and historical accounts of the coastlines.
TGI: Since writing your book on Kaua’i’s beaches has access improved or tightened up?
JC: I’ve always thought that public beach access on Kaua’i is good. Kaua’i has public rights-of-way and beach parks all around the island, and in areas that are privately-owned, the land owners have generally been agreeable to permitting access to the public such as at Maha’ulepu. Within the last few months I was surprised to read that the county closed the public access to Queen’s Bath at Princeville and that the Navy was planning to stop public access to the beaches and surf sites at the Pacific Missile Range Facility at Barking Sands.
In regard to Queen’s Bath, I’ve always believed that all of us have to assume responsibility for our own actions, including visiting beaches and rocky shores that are dangerous during periods of high surf. If we disregard warning signs or warnings from lifeguards, then I believe we’re on our own and should not be able to sue anyone for our own negligence. I was glad to see that the county just recently reconsidered their position at Queen’s Bath and will re-open the access. In regard to PMRF, I understand that all military installations nation-wide have reaccessed their security procedures since 9-11, but I thought that some kind of security clearance compromise could be worked out for the public. I was also glad to read the other day that that’s going to happen. I’ve always regarded PMRF as a model for military/public beach access.
TGI:What is the law in Hawai’i regarding beach access, and is it being followed on Kaua’i?
JC: I’m not a lawyer. I’m just a surfer who writes about beaches, but this is my understanding of how it all works. In 1973 a landmark ruling on Hawaiian beaches by the Hawaii Supreme Court set the shoreline boundary between public and private property at the vegetation line. In 1985 this decision was further refined by Act 104 which defines the public shoreline at “the upper reaches of the wash of waves, usually evidenced by the edge of vegetation growth or by the upper limit of debris left by the wash of the waves.” This means that we are all entitled to be on almost any beach or shore as long as we are below the vegetation line or the highest wash of the waves. The exceptions are beaches and shores on military installations where, in the name of national defense, federal law supersedes state law, so the military can prohibit us from entry such as at PMRF, Pearl Harbor, Hickam, Marine Corps Base Hawaii – Kaneohe Bay, and so on. Other exceptions are beaches that are located inland of the certified shoreline such as the four beaches at Ko Olina resort on O’ahu. They are man-made and were constructed out of a rocky shore inland of the certified shoreline, making them private property.
In regard to the second part of the question, I haven’t heard of anyone on Kaua’i being challenged for being on a beach, but that’s usually not the problem. The problem is usually people crossing private property without permission to access beaches.
TGI: What are the most inaccessible beaches on Kaua’i?
JC: The most inaccessible beaches on Kaua’i are those that can only be easily reached by water. Honopu, Nu’alolo, and Miloli’i in the Na Pali Coast State Park are three good examples.
TGI: What are some of your favorite beaches on Kaua’i and why?
JC: Hanalei is one of my favorites and is one of the best beaches in Hawai’i. In addition to its length and beauty, it provides a wide variety of ocean recreation opportunities at all times of the year, not the least of which are exceptional waves during the winter surf season. I like Po’ipu for all of the same reasons, except its waves are good during the summer. I also like the comparative solitude of the inaccessible beaches such as those in the Na Pali Coast State Park.
TGI: Is there a link between place names of beaches and water safety warnings implicit in the place names?
JC: The link between shoreline place names and water safety warnings is primarily in English place names and especially at surf sites where there are dangerous conditions such as pounding shorebreaks, shallow reefs, or frequent shark sightings. Examples on Kaua’i would be Dump Trucks at Ha’ena where the waves break so hard its like having a truck dump a load on you, and Cemeteries at Nukoli’i where the waves can “bury” you. There are many more similar types of names on O’ahu such as Gas Chambers, Graveyards, Pounders, Razor Reef, Shark County, Suicides, Tiger Point, and so on.
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