Water safety week now a state affair

At the risk of spilling some beans that I’m not supposed to spill, this column will be about our upcoming water safety week, May 22 to 28. Last year we put together a Kaua‘i Water Safety Week and our idea worked out so well that there will now be a statewide week. A gentleman named Stan Michaels, a big player with the State Health Department’s Injury Prevention program, has been the catalyst, and kicking it off will be Gov. Linda Lingle herself.

So, what is a Water Safety Week? Why do we need one? Shouldn’t every week be Water Safety Week? I’ll answer these questions in reverse order.

The answer to the last question is “Yes,” and in fact that’s the real goal, to have water/ocean safety be on our minds and on our visitors’ minds at all times when we’re considering going into the ocean. Unless of course you’re a big wave surfer — but they aren’t normal people.

The answer to the second question takes a little more discussion, and it has to do with the visitor industry, Hawai‘i’s No. 1 industry.

For decades, ocean safety (i.e. ocean un-safety) was hush-hush, a nasty little secret that the visitor industry wanted to keep quiet about. We are, after all, the picture postcard of gentle breezes and swaying palm trees, not hell-on-earth for too many unfortunate families every year.

I credit Kaua‘i’s own Sue Kanoho with guiding the industry to a healthier attitude about this issue. Possibly because her husband is a search-and-rescue firefighter who all-too-often feels the loss that the ocean can inflict on families.

She adopted the idea that we can present ourselves as a beautiful destination as well as one that cares about you and your safety.

This message need not be a turn-off, and in fact may be a solid selling point … a visitor industry which truly cares about you.

It takes taste and skill to present this, and here on Kaua‘i we’ve enjoyed a great partnership between talented individuals who have these qualities and who have created Web sites (kauaiexplorer.com), brochures (Beth Tokioka), car-rental advertisements (Beth again), newspaper features (Adam Harju, Todd Vines and Kathryn Peterson), and safety-information presentations (Pat Durkin). Our elected officials (and our tax dollars) have provided the backbone for our ocean safety program, namely the lifeguards and their training and their equipment and their huge role in prevention, as well as, of course, their rescues — some “easy kind,” some world-class spectacular.

And with all this we’re hopefully inching closer toward the day when there will be a minimum of what I think of as preventable drownings.

Having Governor Lingle, who is our state’s CEO and CFO, acknowledging Water Safety Week represents the culmination of this visitor-industry attitude shift toward a visitor industry that openly cares, and to me that’s the significance of this Water Safety Week.

The Memorial Day weekend is nationally known to be the highest water-usage day of the year, so having the week be just before Memorial Day is highly appropriate as well.

Now to the first question: What is Water Safety Week? It will kick off May 22 in Honolulu, featuring the Governor issuing a proclamation recognizing lifeguards and the work they do.

There will also be a formal recognition of the key new role that the internet is playing in prevention information, and Kaua‘i has been the pioneer in this.

Nowadays if you’re looking at www.kauaiworld.com you will see the link to ocean safety (i.e. to www.kauaiexplorer.com, which is rapidly becoming www.hiexplorer.com).

If you look at www.kauaidiscovery.

com you will see the link to ocean safety. We hope to soon have every hotel and vacation rental Web site carry that link so that even as people are planning their vacation they can begin hearing the words “have a great time, and be careful.” In subsequent days, each island will have its own Water Safety Day. Ours and Maui’s are both on Wednesday, May 23.

Our events will begin with a gathering at the cliff end of Kalapaki beach beginning around 2:30 p.m. Our Mayor will be issuing a proclamation and we have also invited Sen. Gary Hooser to share some time with us.

There will be rescue demonstrations with helicopter and JetSkis, there will be exhibition events by our three-peat state champion junior lifeguards, there will be demonstrations of our Web site (kauaiexplorer.com), there will be inspiring words by dignitaries, there will be pupu and refreshments … and more.

Then at 6:30 p.m. the scene will move to the Wilcox Memorial Hospital conference rooms B and C where Pat Durkin and I will host a “WAVE” presentation, which will describe the state of ocean safety on Kaua‘i, and feature Pat’s definitive collection of photographs of our beaches, pointing out each of their beauties and dangers. There will be light refreshments at that function as well.

So there you have it.

Please plan to share the events with us and thereby add to Hawai‘i’s steady continued growth towards ocean safety.

• Monty Downs is an emergency room doctor at Wilcox Memorial Hospital. His column appears every other Wednesday.

Water safety week events

Events begin at 2:30 p.m. Wednesday, May 23, at the cliff end of

Kalapaki beach with a proclamation by the mayor followed by rescue demonstrations and exhibition events.

A presentation on the state of ocean safety on Kaua‘i will be offered at 6:30 p.m. at the Wilcox Memorial Hospital conference rooms B and C.


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