Dramatic rescue highlights dangers of North Shore surf

Tamara Grout, 16, a member of the Bikini Room Surf Team and participant in the county’s junior lifeguard program, made her first real save earlier this week.

And somewhere, probably still on Kaua’i, there is a male visitor who is thankful that Grout attends the K-12 Aloha Virtual Academy, and was out surfing instead of attending online high-school classes.

While paddling out in Hanalei Bay with some friends early Monday afternoon, Grout noticed a man, literally hanging on for his life, clinging to a buoy in Hanalei Bay normally used to secure sailboats.

According to her mother, Liz Grout, a real-estate professional with Na Pali Properties, Inc., Tamara Grout approached the man with caution, her junior-lifeguard training kicking in, and asked him if he needed assistance.

The man explained that he had lost his bodyboard, and did not have the ability to swim to shore on his own. He was nearing exhaustion from the ordeal thus far, Liz Grout said.

Waves were in the vicinity of 15 feet to 20 feet that day, with a high-surf warning in effect.

Tamara Grout got the visitor onto her surfboard, and the two of them paddled into shore, where she left the man, exhausted but otherwise OK, with lifeguards stationed at the Hanalei Pavilion Beach Park.

“She was at the right place at the right time, and was experienced in how to handle the situation, from taking junior-lifeguard classes in Hanalei,” Liz Grout said.

Asked why the lifeguards didn’t see the drama unfolding, Liz Grout said the beach and ocean were crowded with visitors and residents, and that the action took place near the Hanalei pier, possibly out of view of the lifeguards.

Liz Grout relayed the story to The Garden Island not only because she is proud of her daughter’s actions, but also to warn visitors “of how dangerous the ocean can be.”

Randy Ortiz, an acting supervisor of the Kaua’i Fire Department Ocean Safety Bureau, agreed.

Visitors especially should swim only at beaches where there are lifeguards and check with the lifeguards before they go out, Ortiz stressed.

Also, Ortiz said, experienced surfers routinely rescue distressed swimmers in Kaua’i waters, a fact that is appreciated by the water-safety professionals.

“It happens a lot. This time of year, local surfers get to the victims before we do,” because they’re out in the water and see the trouble some people get into with the high waves and dangerous currents, said Ortiz.

Many of those incidents go unreported, he said.

“Tourists going to secluded beaches is a problem,” he added, not only because there are no lifeguards there, but because there are fewer ocean-experienced residents to help if they get into trouble.

While waves yesterday were on the way down from high-surf-warning levels, there were still waves from 12 feet to 15 feet reported by lifeguards on the North Shore, Ortiz continued.

There were no other reports of rescues on Monday, though there were a few distressed-swimmer rescues by lifeguards at Lydgate Park on Tuesday, Ortiz said.

Waves of 20 feet, with some 25-foot faces, were reported by lifeguards at Ha’ena Beach Park Tuesday, at the surf spots known as Tunnels, Cannons and Bobo’s, he said.

Ortiz said this winter has been epic for swells and waves, something that he has been enjoying as a surfer. The Christmas swells that hit Kaua’i were generated by the same storm that also sent big waves to the Mexican coast, where he was vacationing and surfing, he said.

“It’s been a good year” for surfers, he added.

And what about for lifeguards? “We’ve had our hands full, but we kind of handled.”

He has some reiterated advice for visitors wishing to swim in the ocean in the winter on Kaua’i: swim at beaches where lifeguards are at work, and check with those lifeguards before going into the water.

The guards know of ever-changing ocean conditions, including big waves which are visible, and of currents which aren’t so apparent to the untrained eye, he explained.

And, while waves dropped yesterday and today, another swell is expected this weekend, he concluded.

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