Kaua’i gets first full-time female ocean lifeguard

Kaua’i waterwomen are known the world over for their prowess on waves large and small.

But it was only a few days ago when the Kaua’i Fire Department got its first full-time female Ocean Safety Bureau water safety officer.

There had been summer hires, but no full-time female ocean lifeguards until Sanoe Ho’okano was hired, said Kalani Vierra, KFD Ocean Safety Bureau co-supervisor.

And it should come as no surprise that the first female ocean lifeguard comes with a surname familiar to those both in the surfing and ocean-lifesaving ranks.

She is the daughter of Kaleo Ho’okano, the KFD Ocean Safety Bureau co-supervisor, and related to Liko Ho’okano, a former supervising lifeguard for the county who now owns and operates Liko Kauai Cruises.

Vierra said he hopes Sanoe Ho’okano is the first of many female ocean lifeguards to be hired by the County of Kaua’i. Maui County and the City & County of Honolulu have some female ocean lifeguards, Vierra said.

“Yeah, that’s great,” Vierra said of the hiring of Sanoe Ho’okano. “Hopefully other females will consider careers as lifeguards. There are a lot of good waterwomen out there.”

Sanoe Ho’okano was introduced as one of five new, full-time, KFD Ocean Safety Bureau lifeguards, during ceremonies at the Lihu’e Civic Center Mo’ikeha Building earlier this week.

Sanoe Ho’okano, a 1996 Waimea High School graduate and the mother of two sons, was born and raised in Waimea, worked at Waimea swimming pool as a summer hire at age 16, and eventually was hired as a permanent pool life-guard.

An assistant coach for the Waimea High School swim team, she taught beginning swimming and water aerobics at the pool, working there for nine years as a life-guard before deciding to take on the challenge of becoming an ocean lifeguard.

Naturally, she loves to swim, surf and paddle canoe, and in this year’s Waimea Town Celebration, she ran the five-kilometer Captain Cook Caper one day, then paddled the next day in the Kilohana Canoe Club long-distance race.

Chief Robert “Bob” Westerman of the KFD, and Mayor Bryan J. Baptiste, introduced Sanoe Ho’okano and the other new lifeguards.

“Yeah, we can use more, too,” said Vierra, saying county leaders are still four lifeguards short, and have requested two new lifeguard positions be funded in the 2006-07 budget currently being reviewed by members of the County Council.

The shortage has prevented KFD Ocean Safety Bureau leaders from staffing the Wailua Beach lifeguard tower on weekends and holidays, as there are only enough life-guards to staff the full-time towers at present, Vierra explained.

Having four new full-time lifeguards in addition to the five just named would be terrific, he said.

The full-time towers are at Ha’ena Beach Park, Hanalei Bay (two towers, at Pinetrees and Hanalei Pavilion Park), Kealia Beach Park, Lydgate Park, Po’ipu Beach Park, Salt Pond Beach Park and Kekaha Beach Park.

In addition to Sanoe Ho’okano, the new lifeguards include brothers Kaleo-O-Kalani Lopez and Kaeo Lopez, Justin Tabalno and Andrew Watt.

They are paired with experienced ocean lifeguards for six months before they will be given towers of their own, after completing six months of training.

All but first-responder training, which was done by American Medical Response professional Stacy Oho at Kaua’i Community College, was done in-house by county employees, Vierra said.

Tabalno, born and raised on Kaua’i, is a 1999 Waimea High School graduate, moved to O’ahu after graduating, and worked for nearly two years as a lifeguard at a Kane’ohe pool.

He grew up around the ocean, and loves fishing, surfing, paddling and other ocean activities. He said he became a lifeguard because he enjoys helping people.

Kaeo Lopez is a Kapa’a High School graduate following in the footsteps of two of his uncles who were lifeguards, Percy Leleo Kinimaka and Titus Kinimaka.

He also grew up around the ocean, loves to surf, dive, fish, and pretty much all water activities. He worked as a summer hire for two seasons, became a part-time water safety officer last year, and said, “I was born to be a lifeguard.”

Watt moved to Hawai’i five years ago from California to get away from the big city and pursue a career around water, loves swimming, surfing, diving, and all other sports dealing with ocean activities, and enjoys living a healthy lifestyle.

Kaleo-O-Kalani Lopez is Kaeo Lopez’s older brother, loves the ocean, and became a part-time WSO last year.

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