Drownings highlight seductive danger

Here we are again back to square one, all of us struggling together in our thoughts and in our prayers and in our guts as we try and figure out how to have meaningful empathy with the families who have been destroyed during their vacation to Kaua‘i.

Like a beautiful enchantress, Kaua‘i offers the most alluring beaches and scenery, but at times our beauty is itself the problem. This holds true in general for all of our beaches and since people of all sizes and ages and skill levels come here to enjoy these often-hidden-current beaches, there is an inevitability to the fact that tragedies will occur. A lot of people are valiantly working together to lifeguard our beaches (we’re up to 10 now, with a highly professional Lifeguard Division that tries to impact other unguarded beaches by the use of JetSkis and ATVs and communications), but the allure of either a convenient beach or of a secluded “gem” beach — unguarded — is too tempting for many to resist. This holds especially true for a couple of specific Kaua‘i locations that aren’t beaches at all, namely Princeville’s rock-ledge “Queen’s Bath” and Puhi’s “Kipu Falls.”

For those of you who haven’t been to these two places, they are really beautiful and dramatic. A pristine photo of Queen’s Bath was recently the glossy cover of one of the top luxury tourism magazines. They are better than Disney can do; they aren’t artistic stucco creations — they are real. 

Yes, their beauty is enchanting and it does provide wonderful experiences for many, but lurking beneath the beauty is the truth that they are weeping, open sores festering in our collective midst, greedily and patiently awaiting their next victim. They are killing and maiming with dreadful regularity.

Those of us who can discourage the use of these two locales know who we are. In fact, there are some of us who recommend them. I’m not pointing fingers because I don’t hold myself more righteous on this issue than anyone else. I haven’t done enough, sometimes because I’m too lazy or busy or distracted, and sometimes because, in my advocacy position, I’m not forceful enough. I urge all of us to come together and make the commitment, today, to do all we can to discourage, or better yet seal off the usage of Kipu Falls and Queen’s Bath. Some examples of things we can do:

• We can do this one-to-one with any visitor we run into, either in our workplace or in a supermarket line. We can also say something like “Hey, there’s a north swell today, do not go near any unguarded water on the North Shore.”

• We can remove Kipu Falls and Queen’s Bath from all the guide books.

• Suggest that each lobby, hotel or condo have an eye-catching red flag ready to set up on a day there is a swell. If there’s a north swell that day, there would be a bold sign by the flag stating: “Dangerous north swell today. DO NOT go near unguarded water on northern shores. Please ask the concierge if you have any questions, or visit www.kauaiexplorer.com.” Similarly for a south swell, or for eastern coastline tradewind chop/rip days.

Those of you who have read my columns know that there are many tools available which we can use to provide warnings. It’s time again for the resorts and the visitor industry (what’s left of it in these economic times) to contact Pat Durkin with his WAVE (Water Awareness/Visitor Education) project, in order to refamiliarize yourselves with these tools.  His phone number is 651-7873, e-mail is waveproject@mac.com

Doing these things and using these tools will help us have at least some degree of “meaningful empathy” with the bereft families. 

Bridges of Hawaii does a most remarkable job of this with their first-responder grief counseling service, but by the time they are called, it is after-the-fact. We need to come together to figure out how to develop proactive empathy. 

Let’s do it. In so doing, we can save others and we can save ourselves.

• Monty Downs is an emergency room doctor at Wilcox Memorial Hospital.

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